Mahathir’s conflicts with royalty: A history

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PETALING JAYA: The current tiff between Dr Mahathir Mohamad and the Sultan of Johor is only the latest of several that the former prime minister has had with members of Malaysia’s nobility.

Furthermore, Mahathir is not the only former PM who has crossed swords with the royals, although those other quarrels were settled quietly and behind closed doors.

Constitutional law expert Abdul Aziz Bari pointed these out when he spoke to FMT on the Johor ruler’s recent criticism of the 91-year-old chairman of Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia.

Aziz recalled that the nation’s first prime minister, the late Tunku Abdul Rahman, did speak of problems he had with the nobility.

“He gave anecdotes of his encounters with some rulers in his weekly column in a newspaper after his retirement,” he said.

The Sultan of Johor, in a recent press interview, alleged that Mahathir was playing “racial politics” in an attempt to drive away investors from China from his state.

He accused the former PM of “creating fear” and “using race to fulfil political motives”.

Aziz noted that there were two constitutional crises during Mahathir’s 22-year tenure as prime minister.

In 1983, Mahathir pushed through several amendments to the Federal Constitution and these included the setting of a 30-day limit for the Yang di-Pertuan Agong to veto a law and limiting his right to declare a state of emergency.

The proposals generated a great deal of controversy. Mahathir’s government had to undertake a public campaign to pressure the rulers to assent to the amendments.

These changes ultimately reduced the powers of the Malay rulers. Royal consent was no longer needed in the enactment of laws.

The opposition alleged that Mahathir wanted to concentrate power in the hands of the prime minister during an emergency.

Given that Mahathir eventually showed a willingness to compromise, the monarchy finally decided to discuss a settlement. The constitution was amended again, restoring the King’s right to declare an emergency and giving him a total of 60 days to delay legislation.

Another constitutional crisis occurred in 1993. This was the result of an an alleged assault on hockey coach Douglas Gomez of Maktab Sultan Abu Bakar by the late Sultan of Johor at Istana Bukit Serene.

The sultan was apparently annoyed that his son, Tengku Abdul Majid Idris, was suspended from participating in all-Malaysian Hockey Federation tournaments for five years for assaulting a goalkeeper from Perak in 1992.

This resulted in the withdrawal of the Maktab Sultan Abu Bakar hockey team from the semi-finals of the Malaysian Hockey Federation-Milo Champion Schools tournament a few hours before the match began.

Gomez accused the Johor Hockey Association principal office bearers of “destroying hockey in the state” and called for their resignation.

Upon his return to Johor Baru, he was summoned to the Johor palace and held for a few hours before he was able to seek treatment for his injuries.

These events caused widespread shock among the public and Mahathir removed the immunity of the sultans from criminal prosecution.

The changes in the constitution were implemented in March 1993 and sultans who violated the law could be prosecuted in a special court.