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Not acting on advice

Al-Sultan Abdullah Ri’ayatuddin Al-Mustafa Billah Shah

The news from across the Causeway is that the Yang Di Pertuan Agong (King) of Malaysia, High Royal Highness,“Al-Sultan Abdullah Ri’ayatuddin Al-Mustafa Billah Shah,” has just declared that there is no need for an “Emergency” to be declared in Malaysia, despite the advice of the government of Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin. A full report can be read at: [LINK]

What makes this news interesting is that puts into question of the role of the Head of State. Malaysia, like Singapore has a system of government based on the Westminster model, where all governing actions are done in the name of the Head of State, which is always “on the advice of,” the Head of Government. If you look at countries that follow the Westminster System, you will notice that the roles of Head of State and Head of Government are inevitably separate and that the Head of State, whether it’s a constitutional monarch or a president, fulfils the role of a symbol, namely something that’s good to look at but has no actual function. This division was best summed up by constitutional scholar, Walter Bagshot, who talked about the “dignified” and “efficient” parts of government.

The rationale behind this division is simple. It’s the Head of Government who has the democratic legitimacy to get things done and while the Head of State is essentially there to look good on certain occasions (in Singapore we think of our President’s wave on National Day), nobody expects them to do much. In the case of the Queen of England (whom all Heads of State in the Westminster are modeled upon), the Head of State has three rights when it comes to getting things done – namely the right to be consulted, give advice and to warn. In layman terms, it’s a case of being asked for your thoughts on a matter and being able to voice your opinion in private but nothing else.

This is not to say that unelected Heads of State can’t get their own way when dealing with an elected head of government. However, they can only really succeed if they understand their role and work within the limits of that role. This is usually done most effectively by traditional monarchs who build up “moral authority.” The late King Bhumipol was a genius at this. He made sure that he was always seen getting involved in non-political ways of helping the people and his only interventions in government were to “protect” democracy as he did in 1992, when he was seen to dress down a military appointed Prime Minster for ordering the shooting of protestors in the streets of Bangkok and he famously dressed down Thailand’s judges in 2006 by telling them “How can you let an election take place with only one political party – that is not democratic,” which was an interesting contrast to Singapore’s elected politicians who had somehow worked out that Singapore was too small to have more than one political party. The late King was revered without the need for Thailand’s Lese Majeste Laws.

His son by contrast, is rather happy to be seen to grab an increasing amount of political power and as Covid-19 hit, he was happily staying far away in Germany, locked up with his concubines. It goes without saying that the current king has a very different image from his father and he should perhaps look at what happened to the Nepalese Monarch, King Gyanendra, who seized absolute power in an effort to crush a Maoist rebellion, failed and then found his institution abolished.

Hence, there is a paradox for constitutional monarchs in that they become powerful when they recognize they are not supposed to have any form of political power and for all their regal status, they are servants of the public will. They do especially well when they show that they care, as the Queen of England did during the Grenfell Tower incident, when she showed up to comfort the victims, which was in stark contrast to the Prime Minister who stayed away.

Malaysian monarchs seem to have understood that role. In the space of my lifetime, Malaysia’s royals have gone from being seen as irresponsible party goers to people that fight for the people. When the Crown Prince of Johor got into a public disagreement with one of the federal ministers, I remember a Malaysian telling me, “At least someone is speaking for us.”

The success of Malaysia’s monarchs in transforming their image and being able to become more powerful, is seen by the Agong’s move not to declare a state emergency despite the elected Prime Minister. The unelected Agong is presented as a defender of democratic rights and avoids getting involved in the mess that is Malaysia’s political scene.

If all that is true for constitutional monarchs, what can be said of non-executive presidents, particularly those with a supposed democratic mandate. Prior to 1991, Singapore’s president had a role similar to the British monarch. The President was supposed to merely wave on National Day. However, the Presidency was transformed in 1991, when this single office was turned into an elected one.

In theory, Singapore’s President is the only person elected by every Singaporean and has no party affiliations. While the President’s powers are still limited, this gives the president a certain legitimacy that a government would have to think twice when confronting.

Unfortunately, the record of Singapore’s “elected” (in inverted comas because only two have actually faced an election) has been unfortunately less stellar than Malaysia’s unelected monarchs when it comes to disputes with the government. Our first elected President, Mr. Ong Teng Cheong voiced his disagreements with the government after he left office and for that he was punished in death when the government denied him a State Funeral (an international given for anyone who has been a head of state). The only other president who had to fight an election, was Dr. Tony Tan, who upon winning, vanished and as is often said when compared to his predecessor “At least we knew we had a president when SR was around.”

So, how is it such that our elected Heads of State have had such a poor record of being seen to do something different, when the unelected ones in the region have actually taken on elected politicians for their people and gotten away with it?

The standard Singapore answer would be the fact that our governments have been much better and more honest than those in the region, hence there’s never been a need for the Head of State to confront the government.

That may be true an extent. However, Singapore’s government is not perfect. The late President Ong went on record to state that he asked what was in the reserves and was told that it would take the machinery of government 54 man-years to provide an answer. It seems that the machinery is right because since President Ong left office in 1999, we still have no figure as to what is in our reserves. However, both President’s Nathan and Yacob have allowed the government of the day to draw down on the reserves. The question remains, what exactly did President’s Nathan and Yacob allow the government to draw down?

Unelected Head’s of State in the region are showing that they are willing to offer and alternative point of view in the name of benefiting the people. Surely, our Heads of State with a democratic mandate should be able to do something similar. Otherwise, the question remains – why do we have a Head of State to begin with.

 

Tang Li

*Although I’ve been based mainly in Singapore for nearly two decades, I’ve had the privilege of being able meet people who have crossed borders and cultures. I’ve befriended ministers and ambassadors and worked on projects involving a former head of state. Yet, at the same time, I’ve had the privilege of befriending migrant labourers and former convicts. All of them have a story to tell. All of them add to the fabric of life. I hope to express the stories that inspire us to create life as it should be.

 

 

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12 Responses to “Not acting on advice”

  • Harder Truths:

    Communism is a Marxist model has nothing to do with the Westminster system. It is a one-party rule forever of despots controlling everyone and everything for their own benefit.

    You can only vote once to get them into power; they have control of the legal and law enforcement and will make sure they are never removed from power ever again.

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  • Ali ah, Ali!:

    You asking Harimau to be like the Malaysian king?
    Surely you jesting or out of touch?

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  • kopi0:

    King is actually *figure-head* and still is able to have moral courage to turn down GOVT/PM ADVICE.
    In $IN CITY,ELECTED PRESIDENT,supposedly independent non-figure head ALWAYS ABIDE BY GOVT/PM ADVICE,NO MATTER IF IT IS UNJUST N SETRIMENTAL TO COMMON sgs???

    Might as well dont waste time n taxpayer money to elect ELECTED PEESIDENT,just remain as ERECTED president?

    Ong Teng Cheong tried his best to be THE ELECTED PRESIDENT ,THE HIGHEST STATE OFFICE,BUT GOT THUMPED DOWN BY LOWER OFFICIAL$$$???

    WHERE IS THE REAL HONOUR N RESPECT FOR OUR NATION’S HIGHEST OFFICE,WHERE?
    Should the disrespectful officials be punished by LAW?

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  • TUMASIK Patriot:

    An Elected President was the Brainchild of a Bastard to show a little democracy in his tyrannical Lie dynasty…he set up a RELUCTANT unknown to contest Ong Teng Cheong an ex-minister and Union Chief…

    Lo and Behold The Reluctant( reliable source who know him personally) candidate collected QUITE a number and some inside INFO said he even WON the Elections but then that is History and Ong went on to Prove himself a Worthy Elected President until he Challenged the System and was DAMNED for his action…

    Today a Monkey from the zoo, like, Ah Meng will do a Better & Cheaper job as President no MILLION$$$ just banana will do and you can have pictures taken while having Breakfast with Ah Meng @ the zoo for a Price

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  • My $8 heart bypass:

    Just a damn waste of tax dollars to feed and cloth these parasites in the Istana.
    Paid millions just to wave on NDP, can get a Bangla or train a monkey to do that.
    Just how many millions for the Istana budget ???

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  • Tracey Ching:

    What did you expect from someone who is a mama but can overnight became a Malay?
    Singapore Govt is not better than other govts in the region. Singapore size is small thus easier to administrate. Given other regional countries whose size is many time bigger than Singapore, Singapore governing abilities and policies may not work in those bigger countries. 61.2% of singaporeans are stupid, unthinking and unquestioning and thus easy to rule over. Blah, blah….etc. So many reasons…..

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  • Head of State Must Not interfe:

    Dear Tang Li,
    If you enjoy interference by Head of State into the smooth running of the country by democratically elected leader, then you should also support ROC Taiwan (呆湾)

    See, ROC Taiwan (呆湾)Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Premier Su (蘇貞昌) also do not tolerate media who are critical of their DPP government.

    DPP government is now shutting down media who are critical of DPP government.
    Singaporeans must be proud of PAP because we SG are democratic and SG policies are now copied by Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).

    中天代表方12度遭駁! 不給用、沒資料、拒回答 公平嗎?《大新聞大爆卦》精華片段
    (DPP deploy own KaKi into NCC)
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lYqg4g6LIZQ

    中天換照要開聽證會?民進黨昔爭取言論自由今關新聞台? 張友驊:墮落的開始!《大新聞大爆卦》精華片段
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F58lzXlBEjU

    Hooray, welcome ROC Taiwan (呆湾)to join SG in shutting down media that are critical of the government.

    SG is fully democratic just like ROC Taiwan (呆湾).

    Ah hahahahahahahahahahahahahaha
    GE2024.PAP.Guarantee.Win.Again
    Majullah $PAP$ $PAP$ Huat$ Huat$ Huat$
    Lazy Singaporeans must be Cheaper, Better, Faster

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  • Send Liew Mun Leong to jail:

    Straits Times: Parti Liyani not seeking compensation from Liew Mun Leong; lawyer says her losses amounted to $71,000

    “Instead, she is seeking compensation from the Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC) under a provision that caps the sum at $10,000, the High Court heard on Tuesday (Oct 27).

    Justice Chan suggested that the parties try going for mediation, bearing in mind that the sum Ms Parti can claim is limited to $10,000.”

    The “end” of this saga should not be just in money. The rightful and just end is jail time for Liew Mun Leong and his son for illegal deployment of their maid, attempting to frame her to keep her quiet, and lying to the Court.

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  • Harder Truths:

    Send Liew Mun Leong to jail:
    Straits Times: Parti Liyani not seeking compensation from Liew Mun Leong; lawyer says her losses amounted to $71,000

    “Instead, she is seeking compensation from the Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC) under a provision that caps the sum at $10,000, the High Court heard on Tuesday (Oct 27).

    Justice Chan suggested that the parties try going for mediation, bearing in mind that the sum Ms Parti can claim is limited to $10,000.”

    The “end” of this saga should not be just in money. The rightful and just end is jail time for Liew Mun Leong and his son for illegal deployment of their maid, attempting to frame her to keep her quiet, and lying to the Court.

    How can Team Gestapo’s evildoing be ‘capped’? Not in a Westminster system. Definite proof we are living in a tyranny.

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  • Sinful nation:

    You are not going to get out of this situation, any nation for that matter, till the head bow to the god of daniel

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  • PAP.GUARANTEE.FLOP.NEXTGE:

    So you aree saying Taiwan mirrors Singapore’s faux democracy?

    Head of State Must Not interfe:
    Dear Tang Li,
    If you enjoy interference by Head of State into the smooth running of the country by democratically elected leader, then you should also support ROC Taiwan (呆湾)

    See, ROC Taiwan (呆湾)Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Premier Su (蘇貞昌) also do not tolerate media who are critical of their DPP government.

    DPP government is now shutting down media who are critical of DPP government.
    Singaporeans must be proud of PAP because we SG are democratic and SG policies are now copied by Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).

    中天代表方12度遭駁! 不給用、沒資料、拒回答 公平嗎?《大新聞大爆卦》精華片段
    (DPP deploy own KaKi into NCC)
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lYqg4g6LIZQ

    中天換照要開聽證會?民進黨昔爭取言論自由今關新聞台? 張友驊:墮落的開始!《大新聞大爆卦》精華片段
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F58lzXlBEjU

    Hooray, welcome ROC Taiwan (呆湾)to join SG in shutting down media that are critical of the government.

    SG is fully democratic just like ROC Taiwan (呆湾).

    Ah hahahahahahahahahahahahahaha
    GE2024.PAP.Guarantee.Win.Again
    Majullah $PAP$ $PAP$ Huat$ Huat$ Huat$
    Lazy Singaporeans must be Cheaper, Better, Faster

    GD Star Rating
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  • Free Press Index for Idiots:

    https://rsf.org/en/ranking

    Taiwan is 43rd in the world, Japan 66th, Malaysia is 101st, Bangladesh is 151st, Sinchiapor Incorporated is 158th. South Korea is 42nd, North Korea bottoms out at 180th, CCP China is 177th, Vietnam at 175th….. OK? Ah Huat Gong Tow?

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