I am writing as an ordinary citizen of the Federation of Malaysia. Thoughts and ideas are from St Thomas Aquinas (Summa Theologica, De Regno ad Regum Cyprii) as well as Al-Ghazali (‘Ihya Uum Id Din).
A monarchy is a form of government that can be very successful or a complete disaster depending on the extent to which the monarchical authority is limited – to what extent other elements of society are able to hold authority and to hold into account the ruler and the checking of absolute monarchy by means of aristocracy and democracy. As long as the monarchy is restricted, the monarchy will be ideal as the ruler cannot be a dictator. It is the absence of accountability that leads to rulers becoming despots. It is also crucial to note that the limitation of a ruler’s power is ESSENTIAL FOR A SUSTAINED POLITICAL STABILITY, AND BY EXTENSION, THE COMMON GOOD OF SOCIETY.
Malaysia practices a Constitutional Monarchy whereby the Yang di-Pertuan Agong/the King/the Ruler is not an absolute monarchy. His powers to rule are bounded by the Constitution of the Federation of Malaysia and as such, has very few discretionary powers. As Malaysians ought to know, the Ruler rules on the advice of the Prime Minister. Technically speaking, whatever laws promulgated/policies – are all promulgated by the King because every law passed in Parliament needs the King’s consent. The Constitution has already outlined that the King of Malaysia’s power is limited to whatever that has been written in the Constitution i.e. the checking of the King’s power with democracy (elections to choose a government that will advise the King).
As rulers are humans too, naturally, some will be successful and many others will fail. Indeed, throughout the course of history, many Kings have become despots. Many people, especially Leftists and anti-monarchists, have highlighted a major issue with monarchies – the protection of people from tyranny. However, we must know that that issue is perpetual and will never end because power and position are things that people want and desire. Once attained, IT IS FULLY POSSIBLE TO ABUSE IT.
Therefore, the blending of monarchy and democracy especially in our context of Malaysia is a safeguard against the tyranny of a ruler. It allows all classes of society to reserve the right to elect and hold the ruler accountable. In a Constitutional Monarchy where the Ruler has limited discretionary powers, democracy allows the people to elect and hold the Head of Government accountable because at the end of the day, the King acts on the advice of the Head of Government.
To those who object the monarchy on the basis that it is archaic and that they are no better than any of us; let me bring us back to what I said in paragraph one – the limitation of a ruler’s power is ESSENTIAL FOR A SUSTAINED POLITICAL STABILITY, AND BY EXTENSION, THE COMMON GOOD OF SOCIETY. The ultimate goal of the entire system of government that we have inherited is the stability and peace of society. Period. Stability and peace of society can only be attained without bitter sentiments among those living in the state. In light of this, it becomes necessary for the society to act upon common values, or else, there is no unity. Now in Malaysia, the Raja-Raja Melayu institution is the safeguard of Islamic and Malay values of society. This is something that is suppose to unite every single Malaysian. And these values can be summed up in our Rukun Negara.
Kepercayaan Kepada Tuhan
Kesetiaan Kepada Raja dan Negara
Kesopanan dan Kesusilaan
Regardless of religion professed by individual Malaysians, or whatever race we are born to, these are the principles and philosophy that should unite every single one of us. The Yang di-Pertuan Agong, who is the Head of Islam in Malaysia, by upholding Islamic virtues that are for the common good of society allows for a better relationship between the government and the people because these are shared values. We live in a Muslim-Malay majority country. It is only rightful that Islamic and Malay values personified in the institution of the Yang di-Pertuan Agong become points of adherence to the people of Malaysia. That being said, the monarch (or rather, the government that advises the monarch in our country) is limited in what sentiments it should express and what actions it can take because the monarch (government) must always keep the majority in mind. The Malay Rulers being forced to act by Islamic and Malay values have only one purpose – which is to have a political authority which governs in accordance with the injunctions of the God that every Malaysian has to believe in as stated in our Rukun Negara for the common good of society.
Cleophas John Gordon is the Assistant Director at the State Government of Sabah. The views expressed here are entirely the writer’s own.