Monday, March 24, 2008

Editorial: Who's in charge?

WITH the outcome of election night itself portending such a raft of difficult changes and transitions for the nation, would anyone have imagined the royal houses stepping out as a major influence on the post-polls course of events? Surely not.

After a half-century as a constitutional monarchy, we might have believed the system was operating like a well-oiled machine: the palaces would simply endorse the people's choice at the polls and thereafter serve at best as a go-to element in the system's checks and balances. While the palaces' approval is important to the smooth and amicable operation of a state or federal assembly, this need not be true of their disapproval.

In the unexpectedly tortuous process of re-establishing state administrations this past fortnight, however, the palaces of Perlis, Perak, Selangor and Terengganu, in differing circumstances, sent similar messages.

As expressed by the Regent of Perak, Raja Dr Nazrin Shah: "The harmony in the relationship between the royalty and the government is one of the prerequisites to ensuring the stability of a government and the prosperity of a state." This was a reminder of a menteri besar's role as prime intermediary between a state's people and their palace. No doubt, it makes for better governance all round for the palace and menteri besar to get along. Conversely, an unhappy relationship between these two institutions augurs trouble and acrimony, with consequences such as are being witnessed right now in Terengganu.

In Perlis, too, the palace recognised as menteri besar someone other than the ruling party's choice - but the Raja of Perlis Tuanku Syed Sirajuddin Putra Jamalullail was able to rest on his constitutional role in acknowledging the alternative candidate as one who "commanded the confidence of a majority of the state assembly".

"For those who knew and understood the law," Tuanku Syed Sirajuddin said later, "it was a simple matter."

In Terengganu, it's not so simple. The ruling party's choice for menteri besar was rejected by the palace, which instead recognises an assemblyman who lacks the support of his party and assembly colleagues.

This person is now facing disciplinary measures from his party, whose assemblymen in Terengganu are adamantly behind Datuk Seri Idris Jusoh for menteri besar.

For Kijal representative Datuk Ahmad Said to have found himself trapped between a rock and a hard place in having to decide to whom he owed his loyalty - party or palace - was just another of the grinding realities of the present time.
© Copyright 2008 The New Straits Times Press (M) Berhad. All rights reserved.

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