Actually the Council of Sultans mentioned in the title is inaccurate. What we really mean is “Conference of Rulers” or Majlis Raja-Raja, but early attempts at using this in our title made people think we were talking about measuring tape.
The Conference of Rulers is kinda like a meeting between the Malaysian Sultans which takes place three times a year. We should also point out that they’ve have been increasingly vocal about certain issues in our country, such as:
(If you noticed, even major news outlets don’t use “Conference of Rulers” 😆 )
So why are the Sultans questioning how the country is being run such a big deal? How different is it from a politician making the same statement? But first… some of you (really) might not know the the difference between a Sultan and an Agong. The fact that we’d even need to make sure readers know what we’re talking about indicates that there’s little interest (in cilisos.my‘s audience at least) in learning more about Agongs and Sultans beyond what’s required in schools.
Well, here’s an easy way to remember. Sultans rule each state, whereas the Agong represents Malaysia. To prove that, here’s evidence that the Agong is with you 24/7… not just in your wallet….
…But also in your day-to-day life as a Malaysian citizen. Really wan. All those rights you argue about, all the things you take for granted today, all dat…. Federal Constitution stuff? Well that’s all with the blessing of the Agong (he appears 249 times inside it). In fact, you can’t even PRINT the Federal Constitution without the Agong’s permission:
So how much power do the Sultans and the Agong have? Well, in order to answer this, we first have to say:
The AGONG concept is quite a modern one, actually.
Some of you might find it surprising, but we didn’t always have an Agong. In fact, the role of the Agong was created during the first Conference of Rulers in 1948, and officially elected on Merdeka Day 1957.
And yea, you read that right – elected.
While most of us think that the Sultans take turns to be the Agong, it’s only half true. The other Sultans have to vote in agreement, and also have the power to remove the Agong.
“The Majlis Raja-Raja has the great and dramatic power to dismiss the Yang di-Pertuan Agong. Though never exercised, this remarkable power under Article 38(6) [of the Federal Constitution] probably exerts a significant pressure on the King to respect the wishes of his brother rulers. – Shad Saleem Faruqi, as quoted in an article by The Sun, reproduced by The Malaysian Bar.
In other words, the Agong is in a way the FIGUREHEAD for the Malaysian Sultans – he doesn’t RULE them, but he REPRESENTS them. And in the conference of rulers they’re all considered equals, with the Sultans taking turns becoming Chairman of the meeting. It’s kinda like a mini-democracy amongst the Royalty 🙂
Vote for what? Aren’t royalty just ceremonial?
For starters, they can literally talk about anything during the Conference – even sensitive issues that would usually get anyone else in trouble:
[The] very fact that the Constitution explicitly authorises the Conference of Rulers to deliberate on questions of national policy and on “any other matter it thinks fit” points to the possibility that the conference can ask the government to supply information and justify policies.” – Shad Saleem Faruqi, as quoted in an article by The Sun, reproduced by The Malaysian Bar.
Among some of the outcomes of these discussions were changes to the Federal Constitution to improve the conditions of Malays after the May 13 incident, as well as giving Lim Kit Siang a royal pardon to allow him to continue serving as an MP.
However, the power of the Sultans (and Agong) were greatly reduced in the 80’s, due to some Rakyat questioning why we needed Royalty, unhappiness over legal immunity given to them, and Dr. Mahathir’s own disagreements with the Sultans. One of the main changes was the loss of an Agong’s power to reject a law passed by Parliament– he can only postpone and suggest improvements to it – a problem recently highlighted in the approval of Najib’s controversial NSC ‘dictator law’ this year.
So if you think that the Sultan or Agong is “ceremonial” or “just for show” – yea, that’s a pretty recent development.
Then why does the Gomen STILL care so much about what the Council of Rulers think?
Considering that the Sultans are not affiliated to any political party (meaning they’re neutral), they’re still the best “moral compass” in terms of advice and views. Also, they still command a high degree of respect among the rural Malay community:
“The sultans are especially influential among rural Malays who see them as guardians of their culture and religion.” – Quoted from The Straits Times.
“Although the King receives counsel from legislation experts, the King’s ruling to approve their appeal gives the impression that the perception and hopes of the Malay community are great and meaningful.” – Fatimah Zainab binti Dzulkifli & Nazrul Dadziruddin bin Mohd Zameri, Political Managements and Policies in Malaysia
Considering that the rural Malay community makes up the bulk of Barisan Nasional’s voter base, the loss of support from the Council of Rulers would be quite damaging in terms of votes during the elections.
You could argue that it’s for this reason that the Gomen even admitted to writing the Agong’s speeches for him…
While this was confirmed by Dewan Rakyat Speaker Pandikar Amin Mulia, he also said that it was a long standing practice that didn’t need to be mentioned:
“It is after all, [the Agong’s] government. Even the Parliament is headed by him … Is [Lim Kit Siang] saying the King is lying? Or is he trying to say that the King is the government’s puppet?” – Tan Sri Pandikar Amin Mulia, as quoted by Free Malaysia Today.
We’ll leave you to your own conclusions because we don’t wanna go to jail :P, but essentially… when the Agong says something, it’s arguably seditious to even go against it.
However, with the current economic and political conditions, some Sultans are already becoming more vocal on issues such as the 1MDB crisis,
“Raja-raja Melayu setelah berbincang bersama, merasa bertanggungjawab untuk mengeluarkan satu kenyataan berkaitan dengan persoalan dan kontroversi yang sedang melanda negara ketika ini, iaitu isu 1MDB. … Jika terbukti terdapat sebarang perbuatan yang menyalahi undang-undang, maka Kerajaan hendaklah mengambil tindakan tegas yang sewajarnya terhadap pihak-pihak yang terlibat.” – Statement from the 239th Council of Rulers meeting
Or government spending.
“I am curious to know – if it is true – why [does JAKIM] need a RM1 billion budget? … During my next Conference of Rulers, I want them to show me their breakdown for expenses. I want to know if they are financing our religious schools here.” – Sultan Ibrahim of Johor, as quoted by The Malaysian Insider.
And with fewer and fewer powerful voices of dissent in recent times, it’s kinda curious that our old Royal Monarchs, who were seen as remnants of an old bygone era are now being regarded as the last fortress to hold the government in check.
*Special thanks to Yin Shao Loong of Institut Rakyat for his help in this article.
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