Analysts dismiss talk of Mahathir-palace tension if Johor ruler is Agong

Dr Mahathir Mohamad welcoming Sultan Iskandar of Johor in this picture taken in 2001. (Bernama pic)

PETALING JAYA: Political analysts have dismissed the likelihood of tension between Putrajaya and Istana Negara if Sultan Ibrahim of Johor becomes the 16th Yang di-Pertuan Agong.

Azmi Hassan of Universiti Teknologi Malaysia said the Johor ruler would stop sparring with Dr Mahathir Mohamad once he becomes the nation’s king.

“It’s going to be a different scenario,” he said in reference to frequent references to the public spats between Mahathir and the Johor palace.

Azmi said he believed Sultan Ibrahim Sultan Iskandar, as the Agong, would not react to the prime minister the way he had been doing as the ruler of his state.

“There is a clear separation of powers between the prime minister and the Agong,” he said.

“Both have very clear missions in terms of their responsibilities. In a way, they complement each other.

“The combination of Sultan Ibrahim as Agong and Mahathir as prime minister will be a good combination in terms of governance.”

He was commenting on online chatter that followed last Sunday’s announcement of the Sultan of Kelantan’s decision to step down as the Agong.

There is talk that the next in line, the Sultan of Pahang, is unlikely to take over because of ill health. If that is true and tradition is followed, the office goes to Sultan Ibrahim. If he rejects it, Sultan Nazrin Shah of Perak will take over.

Sultan Muhammad V of Kelantan’s resignation as Agong came three years before he was due to be replaced under a unique system of rotating the post among the nine Malay rulers.

Oh Ei Sun of the Singapore Institute of International Affairs gave an opinion similar to Azmi’s.

He noted that the Malaysian monarchy is “strictly constitutionally prescribed” and a largely symbolic institution.

“This is in somewhat of a contrast to the constitutional arrangement and tradition in Johor, which sees a more enlarged role for the sultan,” he said.

“Whoever steps into the role of the monarch would have to follow the tradition and principle of a constitutional monarchy, especially when the prime minister is a very robust and popular one.”

Political commentator Kamarul Zaman Yusoff however pointed out “unresolved issues” between Mahathir and the Johor palace.

He also reminded about Sultan Ibrahim’s call on the government to heed the dictates of the Malay rulers and not the other way around.

The spats have been many, and can be traced back to the constitutional crisis in the early nineties, when Mahathir as prime minister then led a vigorous campaign to strip rulers of their immunity under the law. The move was triggered by an incident involving the Johor royalty.

Since then, Mahathir’s relationship with the Johor palace has not been smooth.

Two years ago, for example, Sultan Ibrahim accused Mahathir of playing race politics in an attempt to drive away Chinese investors from his state. This followed criticism from Mahathir, then in the opposition camp, on the Forest City project to lure property investors from China.

Mahathir had also several times traded jibes on the media with Tunku Ismail, the vocal Johor crown prince who often takes to the social media to comment on current affairs.