The Fed­er­a­tion of Malaysia has re­stored the dig­nity of rulers, who now act in an ad­vi­sory ca­pac­ity and pro­vide checks and bal­ances in the peo­ple’s in­ter­est

New Straits Times - - Viewpoint - mdg­house­_­na­su­rud­din@ya­ The writer is an emer­i­tus pro­fes­sor of per­form­ing arts in the School of Arts at Univer­siti Sains Malaysia, Pe­nang

THERE have been some re­cent in­ci­dents that beg the ques­tion of au­thor­ity of gov­er­nance within the con­text of a fed­er­a­tion as well as the con­sti­tu­tional monar­chy as prac­tised in Malaysia.

To bet­ter un­der­stand this form of gov­er­nance, we need to view it from its his­tor­i­cal per­spec­tive.

Be­fore the ad­vent of the mod­ern form of gov­ern­ment, var­i­ous parts of the Malay world were gov­erned by tit­u­lar heads/chief­tains, ac­cord­ing to the un­writ­ten code based on tra­di­tion.

Their ter­ri­to­rial con­trol was pro­por­tion­ate to the strength of their power.

Ter­ri­to­rial in­cur­sions were a con­stant threat as the pow­er­ful chief­tains and po­ten­tates sought to ex­pand and ex­tend their do­min­ion; thus cre­at­ing king­doms and their sub­ju­gated vas­sals.

There emerged king­doms when th­ese tit­u­lar heads/chief­tains in­stalled them­selves as kings, sul­tans and even em­peror, in­sti­tut­ing the feu­dal sys­tem of gov­er­nance, in which the peo­ple (rakyat) lived in sub­servience at the be­hest and plea­sure of the monar­chs.

Thus, arose the king­doms of Fu­nan, Sriv­i­jaya, Ma­japahit, Malacca, Langka­suka and Riau.

Then came the Western form of gov­er­nance. Among the Western pow­ers that colonised the Malay ar­chi­pel­ago, the British and the Dutch were most suc­cess­ful in sub­du­ing the Malay king­doms to serve their eco­nomic, po­lit­i­cal and mil­i­tary in­ter­ests.

The Dutch colonised the In­done­sian Is­lands while the British reigned over Tanah Me­layu, North Bor­neo and Sarawak, which were orig­i­nally part of the Brunei king­dom.

Af­ter es­tab­lish­ing the Straits Set­tle­ments of Pe­nang, Malacca and Sin­ga­pore in the early 19th Cen­tury, the British be­gan their foray to colonise the Malay states ruled by the raja and sul­tans.

They achieved the ini­tial im­pe­tus when the Malay rulers signed an agree­ment with the British gov­ern­ment to ac­cept its pa­tron­age and ad­vice in all as­pects of state ad­min­is­tra­tion.

It brought about the es­tab­lish­ment of the Fed­er­ated Malay States in 1895, where a British res­i­dent was en­sconced in each state to ad­vise the rulers on all ad­min­is­tra­tive and fi­nan­cial matters, save for Malay cus­toms and re­li­gion, which were un­der the rulers’ pre­rog­a­tive.

This was the in­cep­tion of the cur­rent fed­eral set-up. By 1905, a Fed­eral Con­sul­ta­tive Coun­cil was set up to over­see state matters that in­cluded fi­nance and state poli­cies. The coun­cil has pri­or­ity in ad­min­is­trat­ing state matters.

And, in 1927, the Fed­eral Con­sul­ta­tive Coun­cil was amended to in­clude the power to en­act laws for all states in the Fed­er­ated Malay States.

At the same time, the Malay rulers were no longer in­volved in the de­lib­er­a­tions of the Fed­eral Con­sul­ta­tive Coun­cil, thus strength­en­ing the power of the cen­tral au­thor­ity (British gov­er­nance).

The Un­fed­er­ated Malay States of Kedah, Perlis, Ke­lan­tan and Tereng­ganu, which were ceded to the British by the 1909 Treaty of Bangkok, were ruled by their re­spec­tive rulers.

But a Malay of­fi­cer re­ferred to as men­teri be­sar ad­min­is­tered the states on ad­vice of a British of­fi­cer on all matters of gov­er­nance, ex­cept those on Malay cus­toms and Is­lamic af­fairs.

Af­ter the Ja­panese oc­cu­pa­tion, the British en­gi­neered the for­ma­tion of the Malayan Union, which com­bined the nine Malay states with Malacca and Pe­nang.

With the es­tab­lish­ment of the Malayan Union, the power of the Malay rulers, which had been pro­gres­sively eroded, was fur­ther re­duced to a mere cus­to­dian of Malay cus­toms and re­li­gion.

How­ever, be­cause of the strong protest or­ches­trated by Datuk Onn Jaa­far and the Malays to safe­guard their in­ter­ests, and to re­store the dig­nity of the Malay rulers, the Malayan Union was aborted. And on Feb 2, 1948, Perseku­tuan Tanah Me­layu (Fed­er­a­tion of Malay States) was in­sti­tuted, re­plac­ing the pro­posed Malayan Union.

The next de­vel­op­ment in gov­er­nance was the for­ma­tion of the Fed­er­a­tion of Malaysia, which in­cluded the nine states of Penin­su­lar Malaysia, Sabah and Sarawak, giv­ing the cen­tral gov­ern­ment pow­ers over all matters of cru­cial sig­nif­i­cance for na­tional se­cu­rity and well­be­ing.

State ju­ris­dic­tion was con­fined to lo­cal matters.

How­ever, within the fed­er­a­tion set-up, each state is an in­vi­o­lable en­tity, whose bound­aries can­not be al­tered or sub­sumed un­der any ex­ist­ing ter­ri­tory with­out the ac­qui­es­cence of the state as­sem­bly and the con­sent of the peo­ple.

There is no re­stric­tion of move­ments among the states of bona fide cit­i­zens to un­der­take work, so­cial or po­lit­i­cal ac­tiv­i­ties, ex­cept for Sabah and Sarawak, which sub­ject Malaysian cit­i­zens from Penin­su­lar Malaysia to immigration con­trol.

The role of the Malay rulers as ab­so­lute monar­chs had long been ab­ro­gated when they signed the agree­ment to ac­cept British pa­tron­age in the early 19th Cen­tury. But the Fed­er­a­tion of Malaysia re­stored the dig­nity of the Malay rulers.

How­ever, the rulers of their re­spec­tive states must abide by the ad­vice of the elected menteris be­sar, who rep­re­sents the state as­sem­bly. And the Yang di-Per­tuan Agong must ac­cede to the ad­vice of the cab­i­net in the per­son of the prime min­is­ter.

This means that the power and au­thor­ity of ad­min­is­ter­ing the states and na­tion is vested in the elected rep­re­sen­ta­tives. The rulers act in an ad­vi­sory ca­pac­ity and should pro­vide checks and bal­ances in the in­ter­est of the peo­ple.

And the need to main­tain their dig­nity pre­cludes them from be­ing em­broiled in the riff-raff, schism and tur­bu­lence of par­ti­san pol­i­tics. Fur­ther, they are not bur­dened with the run­ning of the state, which is best left to the elected rep­re­sen­ta­tives.

The relationship be­tween the rulers and the elected rep­re­sen­ta­tives should be cor­dial and har­mo­nious to en­able the im­ple­men­ta­tion of poli­cies for the bet­ter­ment of the peo­ple and the state.

The relationship be­tween the rulers and the elected rep­re­sen­ta­tives should be cor­dial and har­mo­nious to en­able the im­ple­men­ta­tion of poli­cies for the bet­ter­ment of the peo­ple and the state.


The Malayan Union was aborted be­cause of strong protests led by Datuk Onn Jaa­far and the Malays to safe­guard their in­ter­ests, and to re­store the dig­nity of the Malay rulers.

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