LIKE the prime minister, the monarch is constitutionally defined.
Despite its rotational nature, it is a check-and-balance institution par excellence, further erosion of its power by Malaysia’s fourth prime minister notwithstanding.
The removal of the institution’s power to veto legislation left the country without recourse to legislative abuse.
Nevertheless, the Yang di-Pertuan Agong remains an institution for all Malaysians; apolitical, with the interests of the rakyat as its first priority, irrespective of who the incumbent is.
To then refer to the sultans who take turns to be the Agong for a five-year period as “Malay rulers”, is a misnomer in terms of its function.
Such reference harks back to history, a concern to demonstrate that despite European colonisation, continuity exists.
While those intent on sedition would like the people to believe that it is exclusivism, representing, if at all, only the Malays, the fact remains that the Agong, despite a five-year term reign is head of state to all Malaysians.
If this is the received perspective then the importance of the institution to the nation is manifest: the king symbolises not just the strength of the majority but the inclusion of the minority. That all incumbent prime ministers have a pre-cabinet meeting with the king is testimony to His Majesty’s role within the Federal Constitution.
He is no puppet. Though constitutional the monarch retains residual powers exercised, for the most part, upon the advice of the prime minister.
But the prime minister comes after an election. Where the outcome is a hung Parliament then the king’s discretion comes into play.
Appointing the party leader most likely to hold sway over Parliament clearly demonstrates that the king acts to protect the interest of the people.
Often decried by its detractors as anachronistic, the monarchy is even more pertinent today in preserving democracy.
Yes, it is a hangover of feudalism, but it has been adapted to modern democratic needs.
That the bloodline determines who presides over the interests of the people during an “emergency” lends the institution a unique neutrality not present in an elected or appointed office.
The king exercises just enough power to ensure the nation’s security and stability when politics temporarily fails to deliver; when the people’s will is unclear.
Politicians are, too, sometimes lost in the pursuit of power trapping themselves in the needs of the moment.
They lose sight of the public interests and wellbeing sometimes inciting their supporters to reckless behaviour.
The system takes cognisance of this and bestows upon the king the wherewithal to re-establish a lasting peace by working closely with the prime minister.
The outgoing Yang di-Pertuan Agong reminded his audience, during the recent farewell banquet, of his role when last he was Malaysia’s king working with Tun Abdul Razak Hussein, the then prime minister.
The monarchy is not a redundant institution but one explicitly designed to protect the people against boisterous politicians.
It is no exaggeration to say that Malaysia is blessed to have this unique, substantive, rotating institution of head of state.