Infernal Ramblings
A Malaysian Perspective on Politics, Society and Economics

Read the Constitution Properly!

Written by johnleemk on 2:52:21 am Sep 23, 2007.

One of the things that rarely fails to frustrate me is what happens when people are lazy to read things properly, to read things in context.

Even more annoying is when the situation in question concerns a statement or document of supreme importance. And to Malaysians, little can be more important than our Constitution.

It is extremely dangerous to misunderstand the Constitution. We have had enough constitutional crises without faulty understandings thrown in.

Most of these problems can simply be avoided by properly reading the Constitution. The Constitution explicitly and expressly defines and uses certain terms in a different way than we normally would use them, and to ignore this is to ignore the Constitution altogether.

A lot of people seem to believe that in Malaysia, the King has the powers the sultans of old had; that although we are a constitutional monarchy, we are governed by virtually absolute monarchs.

The rationale for this lies in the belief that because the Yang di-Pertuan Agong is "advised" by the Prime Minister, he has no obligation to follow said advice — that is, after all, how we ordinarily use the word.

Article 40A(1) of the Constitution, however, makes it perfectly clear that this advice must always be followed, except for those exceptions provided for by the Constitution.

This means that the King does wield substantial power; he decides who is Prime Minister, and has a major role to play in some constitutional amendments and also the calling of elections.

However, the King has no constitutional right to launch a military coup, or to unilaterally intervene in the political sphere, disregarding the advice of the Cabinet.

Sure, he is the head of our armed forces. But as always, in carrying out this role, he must follow the advice of the Cabinet — he is constitutionally bound to do so.

Our King thus does not truly receive advice; he receives instructions. The only reason we do not call those instructions is because we are keeping up with the pretentious tradition that the King, and not the government elected by the people, governs the country.

So would I support amending the Constitution to make this clear? I don't think it would hurt, though I suspect a lot of monarchists would protest.

The Agong's and rulers' roles have nothing to do with the political sphere, have nothing to do with being involved in politics outside the roles provided for them in the Constitution.

Their role is to serve as symbols of the nation, to advocate for the nation, and not for any party or group. The rulers are the servants of the people; the power to change lies with us, and not with them. To read the Constitution as something other than this on the basis of common sense language is to suggest that the earth is flat. If we disregard relevant information, we do so at our own risk.

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