5 things to know about Malaysia’s Conference of Rulers

Malaysian King Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah waves to media members waiting outside the National Palace in Kuala Lumpur, on Nov 21. PHOTO: REUTERS

KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysia’s King, Sultan Abdullah Ahmad Shah, met his fellow rulers at a specially convened gathering at the national palace on Thursday.

Sultan Abdullah had sought opinions on the impasse in the formation of a federal government following the Nov 19 General Election.

Here are five things to know about the Conference of Rulers.

What it is

The Conference of Rulers is a council comprising the nine rulers of the Malay states of Negeri Sembilan, Selangor, Perlis, Terengganu, Kedah, Kelantan, Pahang, Johor, and Perak, and the governors of the other four states, Penang, Melaka, Sabah and Sarawak. However, today’s special meeting was attended by only the nine Malay rulers, sometimes referred to as the Conference of Malay Rulers.

How it works

The sultans are the hereditary Malay rulers and the heads of Islam in their respective nine Malay-majority states. As the titular heads of their states, they perform largely ceremonial roles, but in recent years have had to intervene in the political crises that have taken place since Feb 2020, as an independent body that can provide a check-and-balance role against the government and Parliament.

Under the Federal Constitution, the Conference of Rulers has been vested with a number of key constitutional functions, including veto power over some constitutional amendments, the right to be consulted on some key government appointments and the right to deliberate on national policies, including matters relating to Islam and Malay privileges.

The governors of the other states do not participate when the Conference of Rulers meets to decide matters related to the election or removal of the king or his deputy; those related to privileges of the Malay rulers; and those related to the observance of Islam.

How it has acted in past key events

In February 2020, the Conference of Rulers met the King to discuss the political crisis following former premier Mahathir Mohamad’s shock resignation. The King appointed Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin after a week-long political impasse.

In June 2021, Sultan Abdullah again convened the Conference of Rulers amid public discontent over the government’s handling of the Covid-19 crisis during an ongoing state of emergency.

A few weeks later in August, a special meeting of the Malay rulers was held after the King met all the Members of Parliament to verify their support for Barisan Nasional’s (BN) Ismail Sabri Yaakob as prime minister, after several BN MPs withdrew support for Mr Muhyiddin.

How it helped to resolve the current crisis

Sultan Abdullah met his fellow rulers at a special gathering of the Conference of Rulers at the national palace on Thursday to seek the opinions of the rulers on the impasse in the formation of a federal government.

The monarch had been trying to put up a unity government comprising Pakatan Harapan (PH) and Perikatan Nasional (PN) but had failed prior to the meeting.

PH, led by Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, won 82 parliamentary seats and PN, led by Mr Muhyiddin, won 73 seats.

A minimum of 112 seats are needed to win control of the 222-strong Parliament.

The influence it has on Malaysian politics

The top leadership of the former ruling Umno agreed on Thursday to the decree of Sultan Abdullah to form a unity government, which brought Mr Anwar one step closer to the premiership that he has waited for for nearly 25 years.

Mr Muhyiddin, however, said he had turned down an offer from the King for PN and PH to work together in forming a unity government.

It was hoped that Thursday’s meeting would bring clarity on who will lead the next government.

Mr Muhyiddin had previously clashed with the palace in 2021 over the revocation of emergency ordinances.

Malaysia’s politicians are normally wary of courting potential accusations of treason against the rulers, who are revered by the Malay Muslim majority as guardians of their ethnic and religious interests.

PN, in a U-turn on Thursday, said it had agreed to consider the suggestion of forming a unity government for the sake of national stability.

At around 1.30pm, following the special meeting of the Conference of the Malay Rulers, the palace issued a statement declaring Mr Anwar as the country’s 10th prime minister.

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