KUALA LUMPUR — July 22, 2019: The role of Malaysia’s monarch has always been a topic of contention, with the latest buzz that occurred three months ago seeming to suggest their roles were, essentially, symbolic.
One person who said so was Prime Minister Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad following a tit-for-tat feud over a sultan’s prerogative to appoint a mentri besar or chief minister.
Mahathir said that if the power to choose the PM and MB came under the Malay rulers, then Malaysia would no longer be a democracy. The rather icy assertion by him was unsurprising to some.
It was so because, according to Professor Datuk Zainal Kling, Mahathir was the one who, essentially clipped the legislative powers of the Malay rulers through the amendment of the federal Constitution in 1994.
Zainal, when met today after a forum on the history of the Malay rulers, was referring to the insertion of Article 66 (4a) into the constitution which circumvents the Yang DiPertuan Agong’s power to return a bill to parliament for reconsideration.
Prior to the amendment, Article 66 (4) stated that the “Agong shall within 30 days after a Bill is presented to him assent to the bill by causing the Public Seal to be affixed thereto.”
Article 66 (4a) reads that “if a bill is not assented to by the Agong within the time secified in Clause (4), it shall become law at the expiration of the time specified in that clause in the like manner as if he had assented thereto.”
“The amendment was done not according to proper procedure. The Malay rulers did not agree to it but Mahathir was too strong back then. He simply bulldozed the matter,” said Zainal.
The legal way to make such an amendment, said Zainal, was to first obtain the consent of Conference of Rulers as it involves the privileges of the rulers as per Article 38 (4).
Zainal is not the only one who believes that the amendment was unlawful.
In January last year, PKR president Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim had taken steps to get the Federal Court to annul the amendment.
Similar to Zainal, Anwar argued that parliament had no power to pass the amendment as it took away the mandatory requirement of royal assent, which he said formed the basis of the constitution.
Last month a court fixed October 30 as the date to hear Anwar’s application.
Interestingly, according to parliament’s hansard in 1994, then Jelutong MP Karpal Singh had argued against the amendment.
Karpal pointed out that the amendment had contradicted Article 44, which describes the Agong as an aspect of the country’s legislative system, the other being the Dewan Rakyat and Dewan Negara.
“Many MPs were mistaken by deeming that Parliament is made up only of the Dewan Rakyat and Dewan Negara. That is not Parliament! Parliament is what has been written in Article 44.
“It states that the legislative authority of the Federation shall be vested in a parliament which shall consist of the Agong and the two houses of parliament to be known as the Dewan Negara and the Dewan Rakyat.
“He, the Agong, is the apex of the triangle,” stated Karpal.
As it is, the only bill that was gazetted into law without getting royal assent was the National Security Council Act of 2016.