The Extent Of Power For Rulers

Battle of Lansdown Hill 5th July 1643, part of the English Civil War.

It is true, it is rife for robust debate.

Since independence, there has been an Agong. He is an appointment from the council of rulers, who’ve been around before then.

The brothers choose one among them to assume the position for five years, and rotate it.

As a constitutional monarchy, framed largely in the reflection of the British constitutional monarchy, our country has been handicapped by being a copy of the British structure, which is by large informal.

Why so? Let’s travel through the English journey.


From the Magna Carta, in 1215, when King John had to cede powers and rights while remaining as ruler; then when King Henry VIII beheading Thomas More in 1535 because he won’t consent to the king’s will; through to the English Civil War and after in the mid 1600s to the end of the century, where for a period, the monarchy was suspended, and then reconstituted, the dynamics of power between ruler and subjects has morphed and is what we have today.

Even up to the Second World War, the king had a huge role to play. But let’s be clear, the British parliament decided to fight Hitler and it was not worried about the king’s view as much on the matter.

Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair, sought parliament not the king’s acceptance to regain the Falklands and go to Iraq respectively.

The British royal family has by history, experience and self-realisation has withdrawn from the business of ruling in any shape.

At best, the family encourages a better government.

Malaysia has the same system, but without the benefit of its past.

Our limited experience

How the participation in a hockey competition kicked it all off back in 1992.

That is compounded by our own history of Umno ruling over the country, and all Malay ruler states except Kelantan till 2008.
So the harmony of power — or rather disharmony — between the monarchs and government has never been tested, not as much.

A mentri besar here or there asked to be removed, to be replaced by another from Umno. The mentri besar generally moves to federal level position, as to the whims of the prime minister.

Which is why when Mahathir Mohamad’s relationship as PM detoriated with the royal families, some families more than others, it was seen as a crisis. Throughout the 1990s.

The system has never experienced rigour, so the first sign of dissent between the factions, suddenly the country is flung into uncharted waters.

This post, is drawn from an opinion by a Facebook comments exchange, where the discussion was whether there rulers should overreach.

A lot of the constitution, where it demonstrates the role of the monarch has not been tested, when in dispute.

It becomes more trickier when it is at the state level, because states have their own constitutions. None of them adjusted to the demands of the federal constitution.

When everything went awry, during the Perak government meltdown of 2009.

For instance disqualifying certain Malaysians from assuming the office of mentri besar, according to the state constitution which is in plain read of the federal constitution egregious.

But all of these have not been reviewed, or debated or considered in a court of law enough.

So, I have to admit, when people suggest a greater level of power for our ceremonial head of states and federal government it is difficult to rebut offhand.

Always the keywords would be traditions, restrains and sensibilities.

That while powers may be spelt out, the rulers are not elected.

In a democracy, power should be with the elected.

There are seas of trouble when it is left to those without the democratic mandate of the people to decide on the assumption they will be benevolent.

The possibilities of benevolence can be equally shaded by the possibilities of self-interest.

And most importantly, the group of unelected people discussed here are totally different from politicians in another crucial manner: politicians can be voted out.

So be careful when asking for activist rulers.

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