Webinar on “Political Instability and Enhanced Monarchy in Malaysia”

In this webinar, Emeritus Prof Datuk Dr Shad Saleem Faruqui talks about the role and function of the Yang di–Pertuan Agong and how, due to a trust deficit by Malaysians in most political and public institutions, there are calls for the monarchs to become constitutional auditors and to provide check and balance against discredited political institutions.


14 December 2021, Tuesday – At this webinar, Prof Shad Saleem Faruqi, Tunku Abdul Rahman Foundation Chair at the Faculty of Law, University of Malaya, and former Visiting Senior Research Fellow at ISEAS-Yusuf Ishak Institute, provided a methodical and illuminating presentation on the constitutional functions of monarchy in Malaysia, historical context of changes in recent decades, and analyses of current political developments, including calls for the Malay rulers to play a more enhanced role.

Prof Shad Saleem noted that both governments since February 2020 were created in the Istana rather than as a result of the electoral process or a vote of confidence in the Dewan Rakyat. Dr Lee Hwok Aun moderated the webinar. (Credit: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)

Prof Shad Saleem briefly noted that the Merdeka Constitution provided for a “mostly British-style constitutional monarchy” that requires the King to act, for the most part, “on advice”, “in accordance with advice” or “after considering advice”. At the same time, the Constitution bestows on the federal King, the State Rulers and the Conference of Rulers, “discretionary powers in some critical areas.” In the 1980s and 1990s, under Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, some powers of the monarchy were diminished, including enabling Parliament to bypass the king in the legislative process after 30 days of delay or refusal to grant royal assent, and the removal of immunity in civil and criminal proceedings.

However, subsequent to Mahathir’s first retirement from politics in 2003, the monarchy, especially at the state level, began to reassert itself, notably in the appointment of Chief Ministers. This assertiveness intensified in 2018, as evidenced by delays in the appointment of Tun Mahathir as Prime Minister, and in consenting to Mahathir’s Attorney-General and Chief Justice nominations. On the most consequential issue of Prime Ministerial appointment, Malaysia’s constitution provides little guidance on hung parliament scenarios, but Prof Shad Saleem noted, with concern, that “both governments since February 2020 were created in the Istana rather than as a result of the electoral process or a vote of confidence in the Dewan Rakyat.” Other developments that enlarge the scope of the monarchies’ roles include more frequent and prominent issuance of public statements, such as an exhortation for all MPs to support then PM Muhyiddin’s budget in November 2020, and efforts to secure consent of the Conference of Malay Rulers prior to tabling legislation related to Islam, despite the Conference’s constitutional role in this matter at the post-enactment stage.

Wide support in society for enhanced roles of Malaysia monarchies, among citizens’ groups and even reformist initiatives, further complicate this issue. While it is understandable for people to turn to the Sultans when they have lost faith in politicians, and in light of some royal families calling for moderation amidst extremism, Malaysia’s constitutional monarchy predominantly vests executive, legislative and judicial powers in the hands of elected government. Prof Shad Saleem observed that the authority and legitimacy of Malaysia’s monarchies, particularly as guardians of Islam and defenders of Malay special position, remain unshaken. Political instability further strengthens their position, but the scope and limits of their constitutional roles need clarity.

The presentation was followed by a Q&A session, moderated by Dr Lee Hwok Aun, Co-coordinator of the Malaysia Studies Programme at ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute. 

Over 80 participants attended the webinar. (Credit: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)