Sunday, June 8, 2014

A royal household unmatched

The so-called legal experts may have jumped the gun in commenting on the constitutional validity of a proposed enactment in Johor.

A few days ago it was reported that the Johor State Assembly will soon be debating a proposed enactment that will give the Sultan power to get directly involved in administrative matters, if the bill is passed without amendments.

As was to be expected, the report sparked outrage from several quarters. Constitutional experts and the Bar Council expressed opposition to the move, reminding us that Malaysia is a constitutional monarchy, which means the hereditary rulers cannot interfere in the running of the state, whether directly or indirectly.

Today Menteri Besar Mohamed Khaled Nordin said the Sultan would not have direct executive control under the proposed Johor Housing and Property Board Enactment 2014.

The bill will be tabled on Monday.

So will His Highness have direct executive power or will he not? If not, what is the purpose of the bill? Why even bother with it unless it removes the status quo and replaces it with something new?

Anyway, putting aside the bill and what it hopes to achieve, the Johor Palace has always been somewhat different from the other royal households in Malaysia in the way it asserts its dignity.

It was partly to contain this free spirit that about 30 years ago the then prime minister, Dr Mahathir Mohamad, decided to push through constitutional reforms amid quite a crisis.

In short, the Johor Palace has a mind of its own.

Maybe what the Menteri Besar said today is true, that the bill to be tabled next week is not meant to allow the Sultan to interfere in the running of the state.

Nevertheless, since the royal dignity has been challenged, His Highness might just decide to assert his power even if the bill is abandoned or amended to remove the offending provisions.

All these legal eagles and constitutional experts might have made a mistake to jump the gun and publicly challenge the Sultan. Now, even if the Sultan never intended to interfere in the state administration, His Highness might feel forced to save face and demonstrate that no one tells him what he can and cannot do.

It is interesting to see whether the dog will wag the tail or the tail will wag the dog in this latest development in Johor. If it develops into a constitutional crisis, it will be because some “legal experts” have made it so.