Saturday, November 15, 2008
Above all else
In recent times, certain factions of the Malaysian opposition have increasingly resorted to appealing to the monarchy for help in stating their cause, operating as they are under the assumption their actions are for 'the greater good' of the people, given the compromised nature of Malaysian democracy. To pursue this fete to royalty as a means to an end, however, seems very much akin to substituting a rock for a hard place, for if the opposition is truly of the opinion that the current administration is too authoritarian and not beholden enough to the judiciary—the judicial system having lost its independence as a result of the 1988 constitutional crisis—it seems counter-productive in principle to want to appeal to a higher power over which the courts have even less influence. (Despite the fact that Mahathir revoked royal veto powers and the immunity of royalty from prosecution during his tenure, members of royal families are still tried in special courts and, if found guilty, may be granted a pardon by the Conference of Rulers, taking into consideration the written opinion of the Attorney-General.)

In allowing the rulers more say in political matters which, with no disrespect intended, do not concern them in the slightest the opposition has created a political condition which may lead to unintended outcomes difficult to undo once they have achieved their short-term goals. One minor botheration is the the increasing exposure afforded to what amount to proclamations by members of the royalty in the media (recent examples here, here and here), which serve to muddy the waters with commentary from persons who play no substantive role in the
trias politica and whose only claim to significance is to have been born in the right family. The more serious consequence of this, however, is nothing less than the undermining of the democratic process in Malaysia.

The concept of responsible government, under which Malaysia and other Westminster systems operate, means that the government is necessarily responsible to the representatives of the people as elected to Parliament rather than to the monarch, who lies outside the chain of accountability. Regardless of the few vestigial reserve powers wielded by the monarch, the Constitution clearly identifies the role of rulers as being merely ceremonial in nature—they are nothing more than figureheads, despite pretensions to the contrary. In this light, the act of beseeching them to interfere in affairs of state can be seen as one that carries with it the implicit danger of returning to them some measure of power, be as it may in an informal guise at this point. This, in turn, would open the door to a possible (admittedly, worst-case) scenario in the near future in which royalty are seen as final arbiters of justice whose sole value comes from the fact that they can and will operate outside the rule of law, as is the case in Thailand.

No doubt, seeking royal support in order to push through reforms may seem an appealing course of action to the opposition right now due to the intransigence of the current administration with regards to such matters but political reliance on individuals whose powers are untrammeled by law and whose positions are incontestable will only devitalise Malaysian democracy in the long-run. We would be nothing less than fools to supplant one group of autocrats with a greater one so readily.


Update, 4th December 2008:
PKR has now made explicit their desire to restore to the monarchy the power to veto bills, only a few days after the Regent of Negri Sembilan publicly stated his belief that full royal immunity from civil and criminal proceedings should be restored as it is 'essential' to safeguard 'good governance'.

posted by Hong at 9:24 am | Permalink |