On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

Rules for the Rulers

Of national interest: The Conference of Rulers – comprising the nine rulers, and governors or Yang di-Pertua Negeri of the other four states – meets three times a year to deliberate on matters of national policy.

THIS may have escaped many of us, but our Rulers – be they the King or Sultans of the nine Malay states – are bound by certain rules and regulations, including taking leave, as ordinary Malaysians do.

For example, if any of them were to go on leave of absence for more than 30 days, the Sultan would have to appoint his Regent to handle his duties.

Before doing so, the Ruler must inform the Council of Rulers, which will consequently make an official announcement of his plans.

The Mentri Besar will be informed of the appointment of the Regent (to take over the Sultan’s duties), as the MB would need to meet him before the weekly state executive council meetings.

So, the Ruler can’t just pack his bags and leave for more than 30 days without revealing his plans.

At the federal level, the King, too, must appoint another Ruler to exercise the duties of the Yang di-Pertuan Agong, if he wishes to go on leave for a stipulated period.

So, during the absence of Yang di-Pertuan Agong Sultan Muhammad V for two months recently, the Sultan of Perak, Sultan Nazrin Muizzuddin Shah, took over the duties of His Majesty. Sultan Nazrin is the Deputy Yang di-Pertuan Agong. And for two months, Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad was required to seek an audience with Sultan Nazrin to brief him on the Cabinet papers.

As part of his duties, the King, or Acting King, is required to read up the voluminous Cabinet papers every week.

Last week, in a rare ceremony – the significance of which was lost on many Malaysians – Sultan Nazrin left Istana Negara, two months after exercising the duties of the Yang di-Pertuan Agong.

Sultan Nazrin, and Raja Permaisuri Perak, Tuanku Zara Salim, attended a departure ceremony before leaving the palace grounds about 5pm on Dec 31.

The ceremony, held at Dewan Seri Maharaja, began with Dr Mahathir reading out the letter of thanks before Sultan Nazrin, followed by the presentation of souvenirs by the prime minister and his wife, Dr Siti Hasmah Mohamad Ali, to the royal couple.

About 500 officials and staff of Istana Negara waved the royal couple off as they left the palace grounds for Istana Hinggap Perak.

Not many of us will remember or care about the event, but it was historic.

Like all ordinary Malaysians, our Rulers are required to perform certain roles, beyond their ceremonial functions.

While we have KPI (key performance indicators) and appraisals (conducted by our superiors), in the case of the King, he will be judged by his fellow Rulers.

The Conference of Rulers – comprising the nine rulers, and governors or Yang di-Pertua Negeri of the other four states – meets three times a year to deliberate on matters of national policy.

It is truly a unique institution, which is officially established by Article 38 of the Federal Constitution, and is the only such institution in the world, according to the Malaysian National Library.

Malaysia is also the only country where the Rulers elect the King and his deputy every five years or when the positions fall vacant (either through death, resignation, or removal from office).

In between, the Rulers can also meet among themselves for special purposes to discuss matters of paramount importance – without the presence of the mentris besar, Chief Ministers and governors – as they did last week.

What is of public interest is Article 38 (6), that “the members of the Conference of Rulers may act in their discretion in any proceedings relating to the following functions, that is to say –

  1. the election or removal from office of the Yang di-Pertuan Agong or the election of the Timbalan Yang di-Pertuan Agong;
  2. the advising on any appointment;
  3. The Yang di-Pertuan Agong shall be elected by the Conference of Rulers for a term of five years but may at any time resign from his office by writing in his hand addressed to the Conference of Rulers or be removed from office by the Conference of Rulers, and shall no longer hold office on ceasing to be a Ruler;
  4. The provisions of Part I and III of the Third Schedule shall apply to the election and removal of the Yang di-Pertuan Agong.

In our history, Kings have died while in office, including the Yang di-Pertuan Besar of Negri Sembilan, Tuanku Abdul Rahman Tuanku Muhammad, who was installed as Malaysia’s first King on Sept 2, 1957. He died in office on April 1, 1960. All of us must know him as it is his portrait that is on all Malaysian ringgit notes.

The nation’s 11th Yang di-Pertuan Agong, Sultan Salahuddin Abdul Aziz Shah, also died in office. Sultan Salahuddin, who was then Sultan of Selangor, passed away in November 2001.

But it will be unprecedented if any King would step down midway, either on his own or by being removed by his fellow Rulers, as allowed under the Federal Constitution.

Under Articles 32 and 33, Part 1 of the Third Schedule, on the election of the Yang di-Pertuan Agong,

1. A Ruler is qualified to be elected King unless:

(a) he is a minor, or

(b) he has notified the Keeper of the Royal Seal that he does not desire to be elected; or

(c) the Conference of Rulers by secret ballot resolves that he is unsuitable by reason of infirmity of mind or body or any other cause to exercise the functions of Yang di-Pertuan Agong.

(2) A resolution under this section shall not be carried unless at least five members of the Conference have voted in favour of it.

2. The Conference of Rulers shall offer the office of Yang di-Pertuan Agong to the Ruler qualified for election whose State is first on the election list described in section 4 (of the Federal Constitution) and, if he does not accept the office, to the Ruler whose State is next on the list, and so until a Ruler accepts the office.

In matters with such seriousness and deep ramifications, the Rulers would want to decide on the future of the institution on their own. Political leaders would have no say, and it will be up to them if they wish to keep to the tradition of convention in the unique rotational system or begin something unprecedented.

The Federal Constitution is clear – the Rulers have full discretion – “the election or removal from the office of the Yang di-Pertuan Agong, or the election of the Timbalan Yang di-Pertuan Agong; The advising on any appointment.”

The events that will unfold over the coming weeks will be of national interest.