It’s in the Constitution

BRAVE NEW WORLD
By AZMI SHAROM
Sultans and Rajas are constitutional monarchs and have powers determined by the Federal Constitution.

I WISH that all those people calling for Karpal Singh’s head would just take a minute and pick up the Federal Constitution. Turn to Article 182 and you will see provisions for a “Special Court”.

The job of this Special Court is to try civil proceedings brought against the Yang di-Pertuan Agong or any of the Sultans.

This was not always the case. Before 1993, the rulers had absolute immunity. And before 1984, they actually had the power to veto legislation. These powers were taken away by the Barisan Nasional government headed by Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad.

DAP chairman Karpal Singh’s desire for the Sultan of Perak to be brought to court is reasonable and allowed for by law. Besides, I think it is a good thing that the King and the Sultans can be brought to court.

You see, the days of the all-powerful king is gone now and that is, for me at least, progress. It shows that we are a society that values democracy.

Yes, we have Sultans and Rajas, but they are constitutional monarchs. This means that they have powers determined by the Constitution and not some divine power to do as they wish. This being the case, surely if they overstep their boundaries, if they behave in an unconstitutional manner, they should be challenged – respectfully, properly – in a court of law.

Now, did the Sultan of Perak act in a way that was unconstitutional when he appointed a new Mentri Besar? It is arguable.

The power to appoint a Mentri Besar is clearly at the discretion of the Sultan. This is one of the few real powers that he has. A power that he does not have is to dismiss an existing Mentri Besar.

Usually this does not raise many problems. During the last general election, we saw the Sultan of Perak and the Sultan of Terengganu both deciding on who should be the new Mentri Besar of their respective states.

They made decisions that went against the desires of the majority party in both state legislative assemblies. The two monarchs thought that their choices commanded the confidence of the two Houses and were the best men for the job. It was their prerogative.

But the current case in Perak is different. The Sultan chose a new Mentri Besar while the old one was still in office. By appointing a new man, he was in effect sacking the old one. And sacking the Mentri Besar is not within his constitutional powers.

I think there is room for debate on this matter and, ideally, it should be settled in the Special Court.

Actually, I am rather curious as to why the Sultan did not just dissolve the state assembly when requested. All this party-hopping business was wreaking havoc on the public’s faith in the democratic system.

Surely, the clearest and fairest way out of the debacle was to have fresh state elections.

For the sake of continued faith in democracy, I would have thought the Sultan, who has spoken many times so eloquently about democracy and rule of law, would have just said “right, let the people decide again”.

After all, the greatest threat to political, and thus national, stability are a people who have lost their faith in the democratic system. It is only when such faith is lost that extreme behaviour emerges.

Anyway, what is done is done; legal battles are being fought over the Perak matter and that particular crisis will be settled in its own time.

Meanwhile, there is much that can still be achieved. The states ruled by Pakatan Rakyat must continue to push their agenda forward and live up to their election promises.

For example, I notice with a little dismay that the new Selangor government has yet to withdraw the case against Sagong Tasi.

In 2002, Sagong obtained a judgment in his favour by the Court of Appeal which held that his Orang Asli community had a propriety interest in their customary land. This meant that when the land was taken by the government, they should have been properly compensated.

This case was against the former state government and, of course, Datuk Seri Khir Toyo and his men appealed the decision.

Considering the fact that Pakatan Rakyat is concerned about justice and fair treatment to all Malaysians, and considering also that the last MB of Perak was making headway in granting proper titles to the Orang Asli in his state, the current Selangor government should just stop the action.

Yes, the battle of Perak must continue. But there are many other battles to be fought and won. Fairness and justice must be striven for on all fronts, continuously. It’s easy to forget this amid the shrill cries of “traitor” by the ill-informed.

> Dr Azmi Sharom is a law teacher.

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