Hornbill Unleashed

October 4, 2014

Royal muscle – politicians come and go, sultan for life

Filed under: Politics — Hornbill Unleashed @ 8:00 AM
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RAM ANAND

Former premier Dr Mahathir Mohamad revealed that he never encountered any problems with the country’s many palaces when he submitted his choice for the menteri besar’s posts. Then again, questioning or challenging the strongman’s judgment were rare traits during his reign.

Unlike the crisis in Selangor, when Mahathir decided on a name, veryone nodded in approval. It would be political suicide to do otherwise.

The recent menteri besar imbroglio witnessed the Selangor palace flexing its muscles, forcing Pakatan Rakyat leader Anwar Ibrahim and others to submit, albeit grudgingly.

The ruler’s speech last week sent a crystal clear message that as far as the state is concerned, Sultan Sharafuddin Idris Shah would not be a mere spectator with a symbolic presence. He also outlined the difference between politicians elected by the people and monarchs with royal lineage in their veins.

“Politicians come and go. They serve for five years and can be replaced in the next general election, but I rule Selangor until the end of my life,” he said after the appointment of the new state executive council (exco) line-up.

True to the statement, Sultan Sharafuddin probably played the most active role in a leadership transition to date.

Discretionary powers

Despite questions from political parties, NGOs and academicians about the extent to which a royal institution could get involved in choosing a leader, the ruler had insisted in playing an active role in the appointment of the MB.

Right after Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail  was chosen by the PKR leadership to be the new menteri besar-elect towards the end of July, the ruler had an audience with PAS president Abdul Hadi Awang on July 31, unbeknown to the party’s allies in Pakatan.

Hadi’s staunch opposition to PKR president Wan Azizah’s nomination as MB was reportedly a result of his audience with the sultan.

Though never explicitly stated, a front-page report in The Star on Aug 29, quoting palace sources, indicated that the sultan was not keen on appointing Wan Azizah as MB as the palace does not want a “remote-controlled MB”.

The palace also repeatedly snubbed a request by Wan Azizah to have an audience with the ruler. The first rejection was ostensibly because the letter was signed by her husband and de facto PKR leader Anwar.

Subsequent to that, the monarch gave his consent for former MB Abdul Khalid Ibrahim to continue his duties despite the latter’s sacking from PKR on Aug 9.

PAS’ support for Khalid kept him in the post, and it was not until Wan Azizah claimed to have themajority backing in the state assembly that Khalid decided to resign.

The monarch decided to delay Khalid’s  resignation until a successor was found, and despite Wan Azizah being the sole candidate put forth by PKR and DAP – backed by two assemblypersons from PAS – the palace requested for at least more than two names from each of the coalition parties to be considered for the post.

PKR and DAP persisted with their single candidate and this earned them a strong rebuke from the palace.

The palace’s statement stressed the monarch’s “absolute discretion” in appointing a new MB, and went further to state that the sultan would even consider names that were not put forth as candidates as well.

Azmin Ali appointed

While the crisis dragged on with Pakatan parties failing to reach a common understanding, the sultan made his choice to appoint PKR deputy president Azmin Ali as the new MB in a ceremony on Sept 23, with the confirmation that Azmin is the new MB only being made the night before the appointment.

In the closing hours of the appointment eve, PKR and DAP in a last-minute meeting finally endorsed Azmin as MB designate after Wan Azizah withdrew her candidacy for the post.

Malaysiakini also understands that the monarch expressed his ideas on the names that should feature in the exco line-up when he called up the PKR deputy president for an audience in the week before his appointment.

It was also learnt that the sultan conveyed his displeasure with Anwar to Azmin when the latter had an audience with the ruler.

And after the excos were sworn in to finally complete the new state government, the sultan had choice words for Pakatan for not being united, their refusal to submit more than one name, and stressed that his role was not merely symbolic.

He also flayed PKR for orchestrating the Kajang Move, clearly expressing his support for ousted MB Khalid.

Sultans more hands-on now

However, the Selangor monarch’s case is not the first time a state ruler had stepped in and made his opinions known in the appointment of a new state chief.

Both the Terengganu and Perlis rulers had been firm in refusing to appoint Idris Jusoh and Shahidan Kassim as MBs after the 2008 general election, exercising their discretion to appoint different candidates.

In 2009, the Perak sultan also played an active role during the Perak constitutional crisis, holding closed-door meetings to determine the assembly majority and choosing to appoint a new MB from BN following defections of three Pakatan assemblypersons.

All this happened right after Pakatan, for the first time in history, denied BN a two-third majority in the general election.

PKR had expressed its disappointment with the Selangor palace’s treatment of Wan Azizah during the saga, and there have already been calls for constitutional amendments to be made to ensure the MB crisis does not repeat.

But the political dynamics in Malaysia has opened up space for the monarchs to exercise their discretionary powers in the absence of a strong coalition whose decisions is not disputed or challenged by component members.

The debate on whether the discretionary powers could override the need for a House majority has been raging.

Constitutional experts such asAbdul Aziz Bari and Gurdial Singh Nijar have both succinctly argued the sultan has little choice apart from picking Wan Azizah as MB due to the majority requirement.

But the Selangor monarch has been firm in defending his actions. Those who disagree with the royal activism are clearly at a disadvantage – to criticise sultan’s role would be seditious.


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