A King with great wisdom and foresight

Sultan Abdullah having an audience with Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin in Istana Negara in October 2020. — Photo courtesy of Istana Negara

THE institution of the Yang di-Pertuan Agong, which was formed as a constitutional monarchy in 1957, is intended to be used as a symbol of sovereignty for the Malay Federation as an independent state.

Constitutional expert Assoc Prof Datuk Dr Shamrahayu Abdul Aziz said the institution of the Yang di-Pertuan Agong also serves as the highest pinnacle of the country’s administration at the federal level.

“Through the provisions of the Federal Constitution, the Yang di-Pertuan Agong is the nation’s Supreme Head of Federation (Article 32 of the constitution).

“As the head of state, the Constitution stipulates that the executive authority of the Federation shall be vested in

him as per Article 39 of the Constitution,” she told The Star in an interview.

On Jan 24, 2019, the Conference of Rulers during its 251st meeting elected Al-Sultan Abdullah Ri’ayatuddin Al-Mustafa Billah Shah as the 16th Yang di-Pertuan Agong.

Sultan Abdullah took his oath to mark the start of his reign at the Istana Negara on Jan 31, 2019, and throughout the two years of his reign, there have been many challenges.

“Among them was the political uncertainty that led to a change of government in the early part of last year.

“Right after that, there was a huge threat to public health

which led to the declaration of Emergency,” said Prof Shamrahayu, who is also the incumbent Institution of the Malay Rulers chair at Universiti Teknologi Mara.

For the purpose of this article, Prof Shamrahayu cited three major events that featured and reflected Sultan Abdullah’s type of reign based on the provisions in the Constitution.

Firstly, there was the controversy involving the ratification of the Rome Statute under the Pakatan Harapan government.

Initially, the government had wanted to ratify the statute but later decided to withdraw

following the decision made by the Conference of Rulers, which was expressed by the Yang di-Pertuan Agong to the then prime minister.

Secondly, there was the change of government which was triggered following the decision by Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad to hand in his resignation. The King later had to appoint a new prime minister.

Thirdly, there was the declaration of Emergency due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The declaration was approved by the King following the start of the pandemic although initially, His Majesty had rejected the proposal by the government.

Prof Shamrahayu said she wanted to highlight the three major events as they involved the interpretation of the Constitution based on the actual current situation.

“Aside from that, the three events attracted high public attention as it was the first time they had happened at the federal level.

“The Yang di-Pertuan Agong had also acted to set a precedent of the relevant provisions in the Constitution,” she said.

According to her, during the controversy involving the Rome Statute, Sultan Abdullah had initiated a meeting with his fellow Rulers to discuss its impact on the royal institution and the position of the Constitution.

The government later withdrew and the issue did not prolong, she said.

Prof Shamrahayu added that the announcement by the then prime minister had sparked public discourse involving the role of the King in the process of ratifying international agreements.

“The episode had shown the King’s wisdom and great foresight in realising the provisions of the Constitution.

“The situation demonstrated his wisdom and high intelligence in realising the provision of the Constitution and his firmness on important matters involving the position of the royal institution and monarchy in this country.

“He placed the sovereignty of the royal institution at the forefront in handling differences in the approach adopted by the government,” she added.

Prof Shamrahayu said the King also managed to bring about stability when the country was facing political uncertainty due to conflict among certain parties.

She said Sultan Abdullah faced a situation that needed to be addressed by interpreting the provisions of the Constitution regarding his powers in determining the new head of the government or appointing the prime minister.

“The general public and the international audiences were watching the development of the situation with full interest.

“The King’s wisdom in managing the democratic conflict had ended the episode peacefully.

“Although there were opposing voices, in the end, the situation became less tense,” she said.

On the declaration of Emergency to check the spread of Covid-19, Prof Shamrahayu said Sultan Abdullah had initially rejected the suggestion by the government.

She said although there seemed to be a bit of tension between the two parties early on, the situation de-escalated quickly.

“This once again proved a sign of the King’s wisdom and resilience in handling differences with the government leadership.

“The wisdom of the King had contributed to the social and political stability of the country,” she said.

Prof Shamrahayu said the aspects of Sultan Abdullah’s wisdom in managing the relations between the royal institution and the political leaders in interpreting the Constitution while facing political challenges and public health threats must be given due attention.

“Adapting the provisions of the Constitution with the real situation is not an easy task, especially in such a tense political situation,” she said.

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