Sunday, October 29, 2006

Malaysian Sultans

It's rather interesting that Malaysian Sultans should behave as moral guardians of the country.

First, the Sultan of Johor essentially told former Malaysian Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad to shut up in his bickering with PM Abdullah Ahmad Badawi.

"If one has already been pensioned, just behave like a pensioner, what is the use of making more noise?," Bernama cited a source as quoting the Sultan as saying recently. The Sultan is seen in this recent pix showing off his baby crocodiles to his Singapore guests during Hari Raya.

And today, the Sultan of Selangor urged Port Klang state assemblyman Datuk Zakaria Md Deros to voluntarily relinquish his Klang municipal councillor post and mend his “wayward” ways, or risk being stripped of his Datukship. This came after the press highlighted the construction of his palatial mansion in Kampung Idaman dubbed “Istana Idaman” without obtaining approval from the local council.

Why should the Sultans lend their voice in certain public issues? What influence do they still enjoy?

One thing for sure, Malaysian Sultans no longer enjoy the power they used to wield, thanks to Dr Mahathir.

In 1993, the Malaysian parliament, which was then led by Dr Mahathir and his Barisan Nasional ruling coalition colleagues, approved constitutional amendments that stripped the country's nine Sultans of their immunity from the law. Incidentally, the watershed move was sparked by the alleged thrashing of a hockey coach by the Sultan of Johor.

The legislation reduced the Sultans to ceremonial roles. And Malaysian Sultans definitely don't enjoy the same stature as the Thai King, who is widely loved and respected.

From Wikipedia on the Sultan of Johor:
A controversial figure in Malaysia, Sultan Iskandar has led a chequered life. Appointed Tunku Mahkota or Crown Prince in 1959, he was dismissed from that post in 1961 by his father after being found guilty of assault in the Malaysian courts and sentenced to imprisonment. However, Sultan Ismail relented on his deathbed and restored Tunku Mahmood Iskandar to the succession ten days before the former died.

A keen soldier, Sultan Iskandar was often at loggerheads with the then Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad while he was Sultan of Johor. However, in 1984, upon election as Yang di-Pertuan Agong, Sultan Iskandar warmed to his Prime Minister and relationships between the two reached dizzying heights when Mahathir was invested with the first class family order of the crown of Johor, a previously unheard of honour for a commoner.

While he was Yang di-Pertuan Agong, Sultan Iskandar created further controversy by assaulting a golf caddy. A soldier, the brother of the caddy who was badly injured, subsequently ran amok in Kuala Lumpur causing a security scare. The soldier was later arrested and sent to a mental hospital.

His assault on a hockey coach and teacher, Mr Douglas Gomez (d.1999) sparked a constitutional crisis between the government and the Malay Rulers which culminated in the removal of the legal immunity from prosecution of all the rulers in March 1993.

Sultan Iskandar, however, continues to be immune from prosecution for his previous offences as the law which provides for the rulers to be stripped of their legal immunity was not made retroactive.

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