No absolute discretion for ruler in appointing MB, says lawyer

Johor ruler Sultan Ibrahim Sultan Iskandar at a meeting with Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad at Istana Serene in Johor Bahru on Jan 10. The two have differed over the role of the palace in the appointment of the next Johor menteri besar. (Bernama pic)

PETALING JAYA: Lawyer Syahredzan Johan says the Johor sultan has no absolute discretion in appointing the state’s menteri besar, amid the dispute over the role of the palace.

He said according to Article 4 of the state constitution, the ruler, being a constitutional monarch, can appoint a menteri besar who in his judgment is likely to command the confidence of the majority of members in the state assembly.

“The sultan can appoint, but there is no absolute discretion.

“He has discretion in that he does not have to act upon advice when it comes to appointing the menteri besar, but that discretion is not unfettered or absolute,” he told FMT.

Syahredzan was responding to Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s recent statement that the palace has no role in the appointment of the menteri besar.

The prime minister said when the Federation of Malaya was formed, the constitution stated that it would follow the constitutional monarchy system.

“The ruler has no absolute power. If it still says so in the Johor constitution, then it is void. Johor too agrees with the system of governance in the country,” he told reporters in Parliament.

The post was left vacant following the resignation of Osman Sapian on Monday.

Mahathir had said that the party that won the election would “determine who leads”, responding to social media posts by Johor crown prince Tunku Ismail Sultan Ibrahim that the appointment of the new menteri besar is the prerogative of the state ruler.

Johor’s Sultan Ibrahim Sultan Iskandar, in his response, urged “certain parties” to stay out of the state’s affairs.

“Do not interfere in state affairs because it is a sovereign state which has a ruler,” the sultan said in a statement issued from abroad.

Lawyer New Sin Yew said the Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition, consisting of PPBM, DAP, PKR and Amanah, holds a clear majority with 39 of the 56 seats in the Johor state assembly.

“Whoever PH nominates as menteri besar will have the confidence of the majority,” he said in a Facebook post.

This being the case, and subject to PH’s choice of candidate being a Malay Muslim, he said the Johor ruler must appoint the individual chosen by the coalition.

He added that there is no constitutional requirement for a list of names for the sultan to choose from.

“PH has every right to insist on their choice of menteri besar,” he said.

Lawyer R Kengadharan meanwhile said constitutionally, it is the 39 elected representatives who should decide on the next menteri besar.

“They should meet and decide on one name, to clearly show that the candidate enjoys their confidence,” he said, adding that any appointment must express the will of the people since an election had been held.

He said a broad definition of the word “appointment” would pave the way for heads of state to become involved in the political arena.

“A head of state needs only endorse the candidate to administer the state when the party or coalition has a clear majority in the legislature,” he said.