©New Straits Times (Used
PARTI Gerakan Rakyat Malaysia produced 24,000 copies of a 40-page booklet
highlighting key points of the Federal Constitution, Rukun Negara, Vision
2020 and the National Mission this year.
It was handed out to members at the party's national delegates conference in
October. The booklet is still being distributed to the public at party
"There is a renewed interest in the Constitution and the Social
Contract," says Bar Council chairman Ambiga Sreenevasan, who has been
invited to speak about the Constitution and its "fundamental
liberties" to several groups this year.
This interest seems to have been sparked by
the rulers, who made statements on several major issues this year. Besides
promoting a culture of constitutionalism, they recommended dealing with
problems through dialogue, negotiation and enlightened social movements that
would deny support to chauvinists.
They also appeared to have played a more active role in the appointment of
judges. But they reminded groups which tried to draw them into politics that
constitutional monarchs were above such partisan politics.
"The rulers are asserting themselves
on issues close to the rakyat's hearts -- the independence of the judiciary,
race relations, religious tolerance and the defence of the
Constitution," says Dr Shad Saleem Faruqi of Universiti Teknologi Mara's
(UiTM) Law Faculty, who notes that the prime minister and deputy prime
minister are sending similar messages of tolerance and accommodation.
"This has earned tremendous admiration from the people."
At his birthday investiture ceremony in April, the Sultan of Perak Sultan
Azlan Shah reminded Malaysians that the Constitution promised that everyone
in the country, regardless of race or religion, would be accorded fair and just
At the Malaysian Student Leaders Summit in August, his eldest son, Raja Muda
Raja Dr Nazrin Shah, noted signs of polarisation along ethnic and religious
lines. This should be tackled by upholding the Constitution and ensuring
economic and social justice, as well as good governance and a thriving civil
society, he said, urging young Malaysians to get a copy of the Constitution
and to read it.
The rulers also encouraged inclusiveness. "To ensure that we continue to
enjoy peace and harmony, we must understand the religions and cultures of our
society," stressed Sultan Abdul Halim Mu'adzam Shah at the Kedah state
assembly in November.
"Underlying all the rulers' comments is a sense of inclusiveness and
respect for other races and religions," says Datuk Seri Dr Visu
Sinnadurai, a former High Court judge and adjunct professor with the
University of Malaya's Law Faculty, "This assurance is needed in a
These reminders are timely, says Shad Saleem. "We have seen a lot of assertiveness,
exclusiveness and insulting behaviour, including the use of epithets which
are unbecoming of a multi-racial society, even in parliament."
That inclusiveness extends to relations between the monarchs and the
executive. At the Khazanah Nasional Development seminar in September, Raja
Nazrin argued against the belief that the Rulers' constitutional roles were
purely ceremonial. To effectively discharge their responsibilities as
guardians of the rule of law, impartial arbiters in the democratic process
and "a healthy check and balance in the system of governance", he
said, they needed avenues for genuine and in-depth consultations with the
This has happened, says Sinnadurai, who has edited three volumes of Sultan
Azlan Shah's essays, speeches and judgments: "Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad
Badawi has engaged them in dialogue and is more inclusive. The environment is
more open. For example, the prime minister has made an effort to see all the
sultans about the economic growth corridors."
The rulers also appear to have been more outspoken on judicial appointments
this year, says Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Datuk Seri Nazri
Aziz: "I think the rulers are very much encouraged by the liberal
attitude of the prime minister and they gave their opinions."
When Tan Sri Siti Norma Yaakob retired as Chief Judge of Malaya on Jan 5, no
replacement was named. Then Chief Justice Tun Ahmad Fairuz Sheikh Abdul Halim
assumed the post.
Later, it was revealed that a Federal Court judge nominated by Ahmad Fairuz
had 33 unwritten judgments. "After the prime minister had forwarded
Ahmad Fairuz's recommendation to the Conference of Rulers, they appear to
have had reservations as to why Ahmad Fairuz hadn't considered other more
senior Federal Court judges," says an informal adviser to one of the
The long delay suggested the Conference of Rulers may not have endorsed Ahmad
Fairuz's recommendation for the position, says Nazri, who explains that the
king makes judicial appointments on the advice of the prime minister.
"The delay goes to show that the prime minister listens. If it were only
his decision or choice, it could have been done earlier."
Finally, at the end of August, Federal Court judge Datuk Alauddin Mohd Sherif
was appointed to the post while Datuk Abdul Hamid Mohamad was named Court of
Appeal president (after the death of Tan Sri Abdul Malek Ahmad on May 31).
Meanwhile, in July, Ahmad Fairuz applied to the king for a six-month
extension of his own term that was due to expire at the end of October. At
the opening of the 14th Malaysian Law Conference in October, Sultan Azlan
Shah called for major reforms in the judiciary, adding that he had heard
reports of "disturbing events".
"There have been reports that some judges have taken years to write
their grounds of judgments involving accused persons who had been convicted
and were languishing in Death Row," he noted.
Quips the informal adviser: "With the Lingam video clip surfacing at the
same time, one would have been surprised if Ahmad Fairuz's term had been
In the end, Ahmad Fairuz retired at the end of October. Court of Appeal
president Abdul Hamid became acting Chief Justice, as provided under the
Courts of Adjudicature Act and was formally appointed to the post in December
(backdated to Nov 1).
Sultan Azlan Shah, who was Lord President (now known as Chief Justice) from
1965 to 1984, also stressed in his address to the Law Conference that judges
"must be sensitive to the feelings of all parties, irrespective of race,
religion or creed, and be careful not to bring a predisposed mind to an issue
before them". He quoted the late Lord President Tun Suffian Hashim's
claim that judges at that time strove not to be too identified with any
particular race or religion.
"In some recent judgments, the judges seem to be influenced by belonging
to certain religions and do not appear to have the impartiality advocated by
Suffian," says Raja Aziz Addruse, who advised the rulers during the
constitutional crisis leading up to the amendment of Article 151 in 1981.
"What the rulers have been saying this year is that there should be
equality in the spirit of the Constitution -- a view to which all Malaysians
On Nov 10, an Istana Negara official received a memorandum from the Bersih
coalition calling for electoral reforms. But legal experts agree this should
not be interpreted as a sign of the king's support.
"It is not wrong to hand over a memo to the king but his receiving it
doesn't mean he is taking sides," says Raja Aziz. "He will then
give it to the prime minister."
The Sultan of Pahang later noted that Malay rulers would not get involved in
politics and advised Malaysians to not take part in illegal rallies and
violate the law.
Looking back at the rulers' statements this year, the Bar Council's Ambiga
says: "We need these voices. The rulers' comments carry extra weight
because of who they are -- well-respected and heads of religion in their
state. They have played a role which is very even-handed and balanced."