THAT the Yang di-Pertuan Agong is a symbol of national pride and unity for Malaysians is a given. It is more so because Malaysia is a constitutional monarchy and one of the oldest in the world. It is in recent years, though, that the role of the king has become more substantiated as the unifying factor, voice of reason and, ultimately, the protector of the people.
Our rulers have been exemplars, among them — the Sultan of Perak is known for his extensive educational background; the Yang di-Pertuan Besar of Negri Sembilan for his business acumen; and the Sultan of Selangor for his philanthropism.
To a certain extent, the newly installed Yang di-Pertuan Agong, Al-Sultan Abdullah Ri’ayatuddin Al-Mustafa Billah Shah, has made efforts to restore the royal institution’s dignity by rejuvenating the rulers’ image in the eyes of the people.
Breaking away from tradition, Al-Sultan Abdullah and Raja Permaisuri Agong Tunku Azizah Aminah Maimunah Iskandariah had joined thousands of people to break fast at the Kuantan Municipal Council field during Ramadan this year. A more recent incident was when he assiduously helped an accident victim in Putrajaya. A few days earlier, he had queued up at the KFC outlet in Temerloh to buy lunch after Friday prayers. Such gestures of humility have endeared him to the people, earning him the moniker, “king of our hearts”.
Contrary to some worldviews that the monarchy is incompatible with democracy, the Malaysian monarchy has evolved over the years from simply being a figurehead to an embodiment of conscience in line with the people’s aspiration for empathetic rulers.
The monarch serves a symbolic purpose, and in a multiracial and multi-religious country such as Malaysia, the monarchy unites socially diverse groups which profess allegiance to the king, just as monarchs can unite a nation in the face of war by inspiring and motivating cohesion in times of crisis and conflict.
Malaysia is probably the most modern combination of a monarchy and democracy — the selection of the king is democratically decided through a rotation system among nine royal households who take turns at the throne every five years.
Officially, the king of Malaysia is head of state, supreme commander of the armed forces and head of religion. He, however, has to act in accordance with the Constitution.
The Yang di-Pertuan Agong’s role is all the more pertinent today on the heels of division among certain segments of the population due to differences in political beliefs, religious understanding and disillusionment with the ideal concept of unity. It, therefore, needs to be stressed that the position of the rulers is not confined to palaces, offices or glitzy galas to officiate ceremonies. From the throne, there lies an influential power to serve as checks and balances in the government, the voice for the downtrodden and to bridge gaps of disunity.
Ultimately, this Leader believes that as a nation we shall collectively safeguard and nourish this royal institution as an eternal shield against disunity, corruption and foul thoughts.