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Thursday, November 8, 2007

Palace march for poll reforms on Saturday

STS (7/11/2007): A coalition of political groups is planning to hold a mass march on Saturday to the palace of the Malaysian King to hand an appeal to him to speak up for electoral reforms.

It might seem an odd move to some as the King is not involved in making election laws. But the organisers see it differently.

'We see the King as another institution to address besides the Election Commission and the government,' said Mr R. Sivarasa, a leader of Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim's Parti Keadilan Rakyat.

The monarchy has been enjoying an upsurge in popularity, thanks to its recent intervention in some judicial appointments.

The country's nine hereditary rulers earlier this year refused to accept the Prime Minister's choice for a key judicial post as there were widespread concerns that better candidates were being passed over.

And last week, Malaysia's beleaguered Chief Justice Tun Ahmad Fairuz Sheikh Abdul Halim did not secure an extension of his term after the King refused to endorse it.

Even the most cynical political blogs have been peppered exuberantly with 'Daulat Tuanku', loosely translated as Long Live The King, a phrase rarely heard outside formal royal occasions.

Malaysians sat up and took notice because the Sultans rarely rock the boat.

Under the Malaysian Constitution, their consent is required for key government appointments.

'They are just doing their job, finally,' said Mr Sivarasa.

Previously, the rulers barely seemed to exist in public life, especially after their powers were steadily curbed by former premier Mahathir Mohamad.

The need for a royal assent to Bills passed by Parliament was removed in 1983, and the rulers' immunity from prosecution was curtailed in 1993.

'The balance of power fell overwhelmingly in the hand of the prime minister,' said Mr Sivarasa.

It also did not help that the image of the monarchy was severely tarnished after the press highlighted its excesses in the 1990s.

But to many Malaysians, this is less important than the current sense that the Sultans are in tune with public opinion. This has served to burnish their image to a high shine.

University of Malaya law lecturer Dr Azmi Shahrom said there was a strong sense among the public that the normal democratic processes have failed the people, and they are turning to the royalty.

The government appears to have paid attention. The last two times the rulers flexed their muscle over judicial appointments, Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi acceded to their requests.

This is despite his legal advisers, among them the Attorney-General and the de facto Law Minister Nazri Aziz, taking the view that the rulers had to comply with the government's requests.

But that would have merely created an impasse.

'If it is seen to be against the royalty on an issue that the public feels strongly about, it could be problematic for them,' said Dr Azmi.

The government clearly will tread a little more carefully now, and in Dr Azmi's opinion, that is exactly how it should be.

'That's how checks and balances work,' he said.


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