Johor Makes Bid For Absolute Monarchy, Resents Being A “Rubber Stamp”?

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Johor Ruler Sultan Ibrahim Iskandar has said that among his focus when he takes on the duty as the 17th Yang Di-Pertuan Agong is to stop corruption.

In an exclusive interview with the Singapore Straits Times, he said ensuring there is no disunity in the country will be his biggest challenge.

He said a stable government must be consistent, with a sustainable policy that is needed to fix the economy.

A key cause of political instability, he said, was “sour grapes” by those at the losing end…..

“From my great-grandfather, we were great hunters. I make sure when I go hunting, I bring back nice game. But when I’m in KL, it’s a concrete jungle, so what do I hunt? I’m going to hunt all the corrupt people. I make sure I bring results,” he was quoted as saying.

He also suggested that the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission report directly to the Agong, instead of to Parliament as it does now.

“If it comes to the Agong, it means you are not under the influence of anybody from the executive. Even Petronas shouldn’t be under Parliament, report directly to me,” he said, referring to the state oil giant.

He also suggested that judicial appointments must “be separated from the executive — they must be independent”.

Judges are appointed by the king, on the advice of the prime minister after an appointment panel recommends candidates.

“We only get the list (from the Prime Minister’s Office) during the Conference of Rulers. Why don’t you bring the name down (to us) before you appoint? We are not a rubber stamp,” he reportedly said.




The Sultan of Johor will surely take a refresher course on his upcoming role in the Malaysian Constitution before he steps into his five year tenure as Agong in January.

This will doubtless remind him of the strictly limited role of a constitutional monarch as the head of state in a democratic country. His job is to preside over a system of checks and balances designed to uphold the rule of law and to protect individual citizens from the abuse of power in any quarter.

The King therefore is not in a position to choose judges, run the key investigation agencies or “go after” people he disdains using such critical instruments of power.

He is certainly not entitled to chase after people as if they were a big game sport, such as entertained his forefathers who engaged in killing animals in the jungle, subsequently felled largely to fill royal coffers and to create the ‘concrete jungle’ where he hopes to pursue his new sport – namely human targets.

As for his vow to ‘end disunity’ in the country, which he claims is caused merely by ‘sour grapes’ among those who lost elections, he appears to show an intention to intervene in politics to silence opposition parties in the name of national harmony. The job of an opposition is to hold the government to account and that role should continue to be protected, whilst the role of the Agong is to remain above such politics.

There are likewise questions over his proposed solution to perceived problems in the economy as well, i.e. that he should directly take over all the major sources of the country’s income. “Even Petronas shouldn’t be under Parliament, report directly to me”.  

It is not in Malaysia’s constitution that the King of five years should control the country’s economy nor that he should subvert the independence of the judiciary by choosing all the judges, whom he resents having to appoint from a selected list of suitable candidates.

This reduces him to a mere “rubber stamp” he complains.  Yet, the role of a constitutional monarch is exactly that. It is to be a rubber stamp/the last signature on the legislative process and a last check on the abuse of power from quarters beneath him.

In this lofty, well pampered role It will be for him to uphold the dignity of Malaysia and in so doing to remain strictly above the political fray, the daily economy and day by day administration of the law.

That is the constitution, however noble his stated intention might be to prevent kickbacks and corruption.

Stability is the Status Quo

Proclaiming his new agenda the incoming occupant of the Astana has proposed such changes as if they were minor and that placing the courts and corruption police under the direct control of himself as King would make them “independent”. Likewise the control of Malaysia’s oil reserves.

Indeed, he assumes that it is taken for granted that he as a wealthy royal, and presumably all his family and hangers on are somehow regarded as uniquely incorruptible and uncorrupted. Therefore, the pursuit of corruption can be left safely in his unsullied and disinterested hands along with absolute power over the country and its judicial process.

Unfortunately, such a perception cannot exist and the confidence and safety of the population can only be maintained in accordance with the constitution that is carefully framed to avoid any one person getting too much power, however confident the Sultan appears to be in his own capabilities and judgement when it comes to appointing the right people.

It does not help that in the recent past there have been so very many corruption scandals involving his own state or that the former prime minister, who was the longstanding ex-Menteri Besar of Johor and close ally of the Sultan, is now also mired in charges of corruption and a suspected history of dubious practice.

The Sultan ought instead aspire as King to keep to his prescribed important role as the head of state above the daily conduct of government, administration and politics. He should support the government in performing its allocated tasks, encourage the pursuit of honest administration and fair justice that he craves to see, but without interfering in all these spheres.

He can likewise look towards righting the situation regarding corrupted practices in his own state, which includes a very long list of self-interested contracts and concessions that have even benefitted his own royal household.

Any incoming King of Malaysia is reminded that theirs is a temporary post within a system where this balance of powers (together with a military that knows its role is to protect and not to interfere) has worked for over half a century to provide Malaysians with a rare stability in the region.

What is destabilising and divisive is to frighten people by using the language of dictatorship, violence and permanence in office: also promoting a major centralisation of fundamental powers under the auspices of the titular monarch as if it was a minor organisational re-jig for efficiency purposes.

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