Thursday, September 23, 2021

Flowers and emergency ordinances

All quarters should endeavour to develop a better understanding of procedures and processes related to constitutional matters.

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It was reported that His Majesty the Yang di-Pertuan Agong sent a bouquet of flowers as part of his get-well wishes to the minister in charge of law and parliamentary affairs Takiyuddin Hassan who is recuperating from heart surgery. It is a gracious act which given recent political developments would have been received well by the people. It is the sort of magnanimity which will heal rifts and restore harmony between Istana Negara, on the one hand, and the Prime Minister’s Office, on the other.

This “flowers” episode, one hopes, will encourage Takiyuddin to apologise to the king and Parliament for the mistake he made about certain procedures pertaining to the abrogation of various administrative ordinances. The Cabinet had advised the king to abrogate the ordinances which is its duty on July 21, 2021 but the actual abrogation is done by the king himself. It is within his jurisdiction.

From this storm in a teacup, all quarters should endeavour to develop a better understanding of procedures and processes related to constitutional matters. More importantly, there should emerge a deeper appreciation of Malaysia as a constitutional monarchy. Our status as a constitutional monarchy is a defining attribute of our nation.

What this means is that the constitution, the supreme law of the land, decides and determines the rights and the roles of the king and other principal office-bearers. While the king has discretionary powers in certain specific areas, he acts most of the time on the advice of the prime minister and the Cabinet. His Majesty’s powers are largely symbolic, not substantive.

It is significant that leading Malay politicians from earlier eras were deeply committed to a concept of Malay monarchs as constitutional rulers. This was reflected in the speeches and writings of Onn Jaafar, the founding president of Umno, and later in the mid-50s in the views expressed by Tunku Abdul Rahman, the first prime minister of independent Malaya (then Malaysia) in his exchanges with the Conference of Rulers and the Reid Commission.

There were occasions in the late 50s and 60s when the Tunku had to resort to his status and authority to ensure that rulers adhered to constitutional norms. It was helpful that the first Yang di-Pertuan Agong, Tuanku Abdul Rahman, the nation’s first Malay lawyer, was also an ardent believer in the principles of constitutional monarchy.

While constitutional principles are clear, it is obvious from the recent controversy over the emergency ordinances that a lot of Malays still subscribe to the notion of monarchical power that is pre-modern and feudal. Whenever they employ terms such as “menderhaka” (to rebel) and “penderhaka” (rebel), they are implying that the party concerned has failed to obey feudal authority whether right or wrong and has therefore committed a grave sin.

Many politicians in particular, including non-Malays, are now exploiting this archaic idea of menderhaka in order to enhance their standing within a segment of the populace. They do not care how negative its impact is upon Malaysian political culture and the maturing of democracy.

Indeed, this feudal conception of obedience to authority is the antithesis of the essence of Islamic thought. This is why in the early years of Islamic civilisation there was unequivocal rejection of blind loyalty to monarchical power.

Chandra Muzaffar is president of the International Movement for a Just World (JUST).

The views expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the position of MalaysiaNow.

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