Protect constitutional monarchy with clearer govt formation methods

Rayner Sylvester Yeo

As the Yang di-Pertuan Agong’s reign is set to end, the current administration should explore reforms to government formation methods to ensure political stability. – The Malaysian Insight file pic, June 5, 2023.

TODAY is the official birthday of Yang di-Pertuan Agong Al-Sultan Abdullah Ri’ayatuddin Al-Mustafa Billah Shah.

This is also his last official birthday celebration as king as his reign ends in January. He will be succeeded by another ruler, most likely the Johor sultan according to the rotating precedent.

On this occasion, let us wish the king good health and a long life. Daulat Tuanku! 

The last few years under his reign was without a doubt a turbulent time for Malaysia, and we have been fortunate to have his wisdom guiding us through the storm.

During his reign, two prime ministers had to resign because they lost their governing majority.

Then in the general election (GE) last year, we had our first hung parliament and the king worked hard to ensure a new prime minister was appointed with a workable majority.

However, we cannot take for granted that we would be this lucky to have a safe pair of guiding hands if similar instability recurs.

It would therefore be prudent for the government to consider putting to law a clearer procedure for dealing with events such as a hung parliament and loss of governmental majority mid-term.

Under the current system, many precedents for government formation are not conducive to political stability and democracy.

For instance, in one of the state elections before the GE, the incumbent menteri besar led his coalition to win a two-thirds’ majority in the state assembly.

He also unambiguously played the role of poster boy and menteri besar candidate for his coalition in the elections.

In accordance with democratic practice, there would be no reason why he should not be reappointed. Nonetheless, he was passed over in favour for another assemblyman from his coalition.

No matter how you look at it, this is a usurpation of the voters’ democratic rights.

What if Pakatan Harapan won two thirds of seats in the GE but the king appointed Rafizi Ramli as prime minister instead? Or if Perikatan Nasional won the GE but the king appointed Radzi Jidin as prime minister instead of Muyhiddin Yassin?

You could say that it is within the rights of the king to do so. It will not change the fact it is blatantly against the democratic principles as we know them today.

As I wrote in this column previously, in a situation where the lack of good precedents is a problem, the government should consider making new laws that will supersede the bad precedents.

We are long overdue for new laws that will crystallise the process of government formation and respect voters’ democratic rights.

The government should consider following the example of some other parliamentary democracies in which the prime minister is selected in the first parliamentary sitting after the GE.

This should not be viewed as an affront to the rights of rulers. Rather, this is a way of upholding our system of constitutional monarchy and enshrining the role of rulers as respected figureheads who sit above petty politics.

It should be noted that Japan and Thailand, two Asian countries where the royal family is highly respected, are among countries that adopt such a process to select a prime minister.

A law should also be enacted to deal with the midterm loss of a government’s majority.

Instead of allowing a government to be toppled by the practice of collecting Statutory Declarations, it should be dealt with in a manner similar to a vote of no confidence in parliament.

It should be a constructive vote of no confidence, which means the name of the alternate prime minister is submitted together with the vote of no confidence.

If the vote is passed, the new prime minister will immediately take office, thus avoiding political instability in which the government falls without a replacement.

Finally, let us take a trip down memory lane to four decades ago, to 1983.

The king then was the Pahang sultan, father to our current Agong.

With his reign then set to end in 1984, there was fear the next king would be too headstrong to act within the constraints of a constitutional monarchy.

So before the new king ascended, the government introduced and passed in parliament a constitutional amendment bill to deal with royal powers. Although it led to the constitutional crisis of 1983-1984, the matter was eventually resolved with the passage of the amended bill.

It sowed the seeds for further amendments in 1993 to deal with royal powers and immunity.

Today’s government should consider enacting reforms before the end of the current king’s reign. – June 5, 2023.

* Rayner Sylvester Yeo is a member of Agora Society. He was born in Sabah and is currently residing in Kuala Lumpur. Having grown up in a mixed-ethnic, multi-faith family and spent his working life in public, private and non-profit sectors, he believes diversity is the spice of life.

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