The climb down by the Agong over the appointment of the new Attorney General was as inevitable as expected. The Constitution is crystal clear on this matter.
The incident may, however, be just a signal of more and significant separation between the system of parliamentary democracy which exists in Malaysia and the anachronistic presence in the constitutional mix of hereditary rulers. In the eighteenth century, the rulers in question possessed absolute powers over the inhabitants of their States and exercised it.
Some agitators appear still to be labouring under the delusion that this power is other than nominal and act as though nothing has changed since before the British era. It may be legally correct to argue that, within their home States, the Rulers have some wideranging powers, notably over who makes up and leads their State governments. Indeed, there has been some public abuse of such powers by some Rulers, who appear to think that their judgment cannot be questioned.
Whatever the merits of such arguments, there is no question at all about the position of the Rulers on the Federal scene. There the status, powers and obligations of the Agong are closely prescribed by the supreme law, the Constitution. In effect the monarchical system currently in place closely mirrors that of the United Kingdom; from which is was derived. The Monarch is Head of State but must do what the Prime Minister, as chef elected representative of the people, tells him to do. Not only that but the democratic electorate, who pay the Agong’s bills, are and must remain, the final arbiter, through their Parliament, of the nation’s Constitution.
It is therefore somewhat alarming to see there are those are encouraging the present Agong to conduct his constitutional office as though he, and not the people, are the final arbiter. In particular staggering extravagance in the expenditure of public funds has occurred and must stop. Showers of very expensive Mont Blanc fountain pens have been handed out as gifts as have expensive Swiss made watches. All as apparent gestures of monarchical largesse and splendour. But all, equally, charged to the taxpayer.
It is time to draw a line under the past of Malaysia’s monarchical institutions and for the holders of these offices to adjust their behaviour, lifestyles and expenditures to the twenty first century. If a model is sought it is to be found in London where the Monarch enjoys popular support by reason of a sensitive lifestyle appropriate to this century rather than centuries past. Many democracies today manage the matter of headship of State, whether actual or ceremonial, through a Presidency elected by the people. It is democratic and relatively cheap. Food for thought.