Malaysian PM Mahathir addresses recent tensions with Malay rulers and their constitutional role


Malaysia's Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said that if any of the nine rulers did something wrong, they should be subject to the rule of law.
Malaysia's Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said that if any of the nine rulers did something wrong, they should be subject to the rule of law.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysia's Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad has said he is not rejecting the country's royal institution but is trying to save it, amid tensions that have surfaced between his new government and the royal houses.

He said if any of the nine rulers did something wrong, they should be subject to the rule of law. Tun Dr Mahathir was speaking to Malay daily Sinar Harian in an interview published on Friday (June 8).

He said: "We must take care, the King should not be involved in things that the people do not like. The people have no power, so when they are angry, they will rebel.

"We cannot let that happen."

Dr Mahathir added: "I do not reject the rulers but I believe that if they do something that is wrong, we should take action to save them."

His comments followed events that started with the surprise electoral victory of the Pakatan Harapan (PH) alliance at the May 9 general election. There were perceptions of delays in the swearing in of Dr Mahathir as the new prime minister, and a two-week delay in the appointment of Tommy Thomas as Attorney General.

Dr Mahathir said these "should not have happened".

The nine sultans of their respective states, as titular heads, must act according to the Constitution but there were times that the government had to rein them in.

Dr Mahathir, when he was Malaysia's prime minister for the first time, went through two constitutional crises with the rulers in 1983 and 1993.

In 1983, Dr Mahathir pushed through constitutional changes that reduced the King's power to veto laws.

And 10 years later, he removed the royals' immunity from criminal prosecution.

Dr Mahathir in the interview with Sinar Harian said: "We have laws. We have a Constitution. We want to get back to the rule of law.

"When something happens that is against the law, then there will be anger."

He said he believes most of the nine Malay rulers disagreed with the recent delays in the appointments.

"There were some who came to meet me, some of them tried to calm the situation," he said, adding that the situation was resolved by advice among the rulers.

Adding to the flux in ties between the PH government and the royal houses, a Supreme Council member of Dr Mahathir's political party, Datuk A. Kadir Jasin, this week raised eyebrows by writing in his personal blog that RM256.9 million (S$86 million) was spent for the upkeep and personal expenditure of Sultan Muhammad V in the 16 months since he became Malaysia's King.

Financial figures on how much the government spends to maintain the nine royal houses are considered sensitive and rarely publicised.

Mr Kadir wrote that the rulers "are guaranteed by the Constitution, lavishly provided for, wealthy and even Anwar (Ibrahim) kissed their hands!"

He concluded that "our constitutional monarch has nothing to fear if they understand their special position and stick to their duties as spelt out by the Constitution".

The comments by Mr Kadir was slammed by Datuk Seri Anwar, the de facto leader of PH's biggest faction in Parliament, Parti Keadilan Rakyat.

"We have worked very hard to get the Malay rulers to appreciate this new administration," Mr Anwar said, adding that the views held by Mr Kadir were "unhealthy".

"While I support democracy and freedom of expression, what was said was inappropriate," Mr Anwar told reporters on Wednesday.