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LETTER | The Agora Society views with grave concern the recent trend in which sultans of the various states are increasingly involved in political affairs. Not only does it go against the role of the Malay rulers under a constitutional monarchy, but it also undermines the fundamental spirit of democracy.

Given that a democratic society is one that is based on the rule of law, to acquiesce to the rule of man is to make a travesty of the principle of being governed by consent under a democratic system.

All policies and their amendments ought to be subject to deliberation and debate by elected lawmakers in the legislature before they can be implemented by the government. Any act that trivialises this democratic process runs counter to the collective will of the people.

We are of the opinion that the sultans are entitled to comment on government policies but their views can only be acted upon after they have been reviewed and approved by the legislature or the government.

Since independence, this democratic process has long been strictly adhered to at the federal and state levels, as manifested perfectly in the parliamentary debate on the King's speech and the state assembly debate on the sultan’s speech.

Article IV (1), (1A) and (2) of the Selangor state constitution state clearly that the sultan “shall act in accordance with the advice of the executive council” except for several situations in which the sultan is given discretionary power, including:

- the appointment of a menteri besar,

- refusal to dissolve the state assembly,

- request for the Council of the Royal Court to deliberate on the special position of the sultan or religious ceremonies,

- issues pertaining to the sultan as the head of Islam or Malay customs,

- appointment of an heir to the throne,

- awarding of honours and dignities, and

- maintenance of the royal palaces.

Quite clearly, the state constitution does not provide for the sultan to interfere directly in state or local government affairs.

It is precisely because we treasure the monarchs as a symbol of national unity that we consider it of paramount importance that they should stay above politics and avoid being drawn into conflicts over partisan interests.

The monarchs should also maintain a neutral position that transcends all kinds of disputes so as to steer clear of even the smallest political mistake, for there is no better way to safeguard the reputation of the monarchs.

The decree by the Sultan of Selangor to remove the bilingual road signs in Shah Alam, the state capital, has indeed raised the issue as to whether the monarch has acted beyond constitutional jurisdiction.

Recently, the Sultan of Johor also reprimanded Chan Wei Kjhan, an Iskandar Puteri local councillor, for issuing a bilingual letter. The sultan’s warning that the said councillor should resign if he could not perform well represents another example of royal interference in politics.

The Agora Society would like to emphasise that every party should respect the autonomy of all the local authorities, including the multilingual policies that they have enacted. Be it the state government, federal government or the monarchs, none of them should interfere arbitrarily in the decisions made by local councils.

Should any of the elected or non-elected institutions be dissatisfied with a certain local policy, they may seek to address it via official channels by discussing the issue with the local authorities, or challenge the said local policy in a judicial court and let the judiciary resolve the dispute. 

The writers are a loose network of activists who advance democratic progress through critical analyses and propositions based on the principles of democracy and good governance.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.