“Malaysia is a constitutional monarchy which operates on the basis of parliamentary democracy. The monarchy in Malaysia is an integral part of the country, a symbol of identity, continuity, unity and strength. It is a symbol of identity because it is a national institution, one that distinguishes this country from all others. It is a symbol of continuity because the monarchy in Malaysia is an old institution and provides a sense of historical significance to the people. It is a symbol of unity because it is a focal point for citizens of all races, religions and political persuasions to rally around. And it is a symbol of strength because it exemplifies the virtues of justice, mercy and honour. Contrary to some opinion, the Malaysian monarchy is not all form and no function.
“Before I go further, allow me to make a short digression. Over the last five centuries, many monarchies around the world have disappeared because Rulers took their status as a divine right rather than a responsibility. They did not bother to re-evaluate and reinvent their roles as guardians of the welfare of their subjects and, not surprisingly, did not retain the public’s acceptance and trust. Monarchies came to be closely associated with autocracy, megalomania, tyranny, cruelty and feudalism. This despite the fact that in the past 100 years, leaders of all kinds, communist, socialist, democratic, republican, militaristic and even religious, have arisen who have displayed these qualities and a lot more besides. Regardless, modernisation and progress have become intimately linked with democracy and pluralistic political processes even though the reality is that the relationship is less than perfect.
“The monarchies that have survived, and I include Malaysia’s among these, have done so because they have evolved in line with social progress and contribute to public life. They have evolved by accepting the reality of, and placing themselves above, partisan politics. They contribute to public life by redefining their role as that of helping to uphold justice, maintain peace and resolve conflicts between contending parties, in much the same way as judges serve society. They function as the voice of reason, moderation and good governance, especially if there is extremism or chauvinism. In this way, the monarchy strengthens the institutions of governance and enhances, rather than detracts from, the democratic process.
“For the monarchy in Malaysia to continue to function effectively as one of the main national axes around which society pivots, it must remain fresh and vital by fulfilling the role expected of it. It is an often overlooked or under appreciated fact that the monarchy in Malaysia is supposed to play a productive role by being a healthy check and balance in the system of governance. The Federal Constitution mandates the monarchy to be the guardian of the just rule of law, an impartial arbiter in the democratic process and an overseer over the pillars of state. Some believe that the Rulers are supposed to do so only in a purely ceremonial sense, but I would argue that this contradicts the true spirit, if not the letter, of the Federal Constitution.
“While the monarchy is required to act on the advice of the executive, it must also uphold the principles of good governance and the rule of law, with credibility and impartiality. To do otherwise would be to undermine its integrity, as well as that of the Federal Constitution. What this means is that for the monarchy to effectively discharge its responsibilities, it will need to have avenues for genuine and in-depth consultations with the executive. This should pose no problem, however, given the common and unswerving aim of advancing the interests of the nation. This unity of purpose will also help ensure that the relationship will be cooperative and not marred by open confrontation.”
Taken from a public leture by DYTM Raja Nazrin Shah ibni Sultan Azlan Shah, at the Khazanah National Development Seminar ’50 Years of National Development’, organised by Khazanah Nasional Berhad on 3.9.2007 at the Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra Memorial in Kuala Lumpur.