Government acted under wrong advice in preparing a partisan Royal Address, causing it to be booed during delivery - first time in Parliament's history - when the clear principle is that the Royal Address can be criticized but the target must be the government and not the King

Media Statement
by Lim Kit Siang

(Penang,  Monday): There seems to be considerable confusion as to the do's and don'ts in a debate in Parliament on the Motion of Thanks for the Royal Address.

Barisan Nasional MPs had protested against Opposition speeches, resulting in the ruling by the Deputy Speaker Datuk Muhamad Abdullah on Thursday that MPs should not make reference to the name or actions of the Yang di-Pertuan Agong when debating the Royal Address, although MPs can touch on the contents of the Royal Address.

The PAS MP for Tumpat, Datuk Kamaruddin Jaafar was alleged to have belittled the institution of the King when he expressed his regret at the way the Royal Address was worded, saying that it reflected that the King was being partisan to the Government, and gave examples of how the speech should have been worded.

The Speaker, Tun Mohamad Zahir Ismail said in a statement on Saturday that parliamentarians were allowed to debate the contents of the King's speech but they might not connect it with other issues.

He said: "We are aware the speech is produced by the Government. So the content is on government policy and not from His Majesty himself. So, he must not be dragged into the matter".

The Speaker is right when he said that the Royal Address is the speech of the government and not of the King personally. However, the Speaker was not being fully correct when he said that the King "must not be dragged into the matter" - as he should have pointed out that both the MPs in the debate and the government in preparing the Royal Address should not drag the King into the political arena of partisan politics.

It is undisputed convention in a system of parliamentary democracy with a constitutional monarchy that the royal address at the official opening of Parliament is a speech drafted by the Government, and not by Yang di Pertuan Agong, to outline the Government's policy for the coming session of Parliament and to indicate forthcoming legislation.

It is one of the fundamental tenets of Malaysian constitutional monarchy that the Yang di Pertuan Agong is above party politics so that he gives a non-partisan focus to all Malaysians for their loyalty to the nation.

It is therefore most improper for the government to prepare a royal address for delivery by the Yang di Pertuan Agong which goes far beyond the outlining of the government's policy for the coming session of Parliament, by dragging the King down to the partisan battleground, as making political arguments or repeating political attacks by the ruling coalition against the Opposition.

In preparing such a royal address, the government is doing a grave disservice to the office of Yang di Pertuan Agong by undermining its unique character as the non-partisan symbol of national unity, rallying Malaysians as one regardless of race, religion, class or political affiliation.

This was the government's great mistake in preparing the Royal Address this year, resulting in the unprecedented incident last Monday when the Royal Address was booed during delivery in Parliament by certain Opposition MPs - the first time in the history of Malaysian Parliament. The boos, I am sure, were not directed at the King, but at the government for its Royal Address.

The government had acted under bad advice in preparing a Royal Address this year which was highly contentious and partisan, like the issues of the People's Religious Schools, the use of English to teach mathematics and science and the Islamic State.

In the royal address, the government should have simply stated its policy intention on these issues without importing into it the politically contentious arguments in support of them so as not to compromise the Yang di Pertuan Agong's non-partisan position and dragging him down to the partisan battleground.

The pros and cons, merits and demerits, the rights and wrongs, of these controversial policies should be expounded by their protagonists and antagonists among the MPs in the parliamentary debate on the royal address, without implicating the Yang di Pertuan Agong, who must always stay above the political fray in keeping with established constitutional traditions and conventions.

The Royal Address can be criticized in the parliamentary debate but the target must be the government and not the King. MPs cannot say that the King was being partisan to the government, but MPs should be allowed to state that the government had acted improperly in preparing a Royal Address which compromised the King's non-partisan symbol of national unity above the fray of partisan politics.

In this connection, Malaysians are still waiting for answers from the MCA, Gerakan, MIC and SUPP Ministers as to why they agreed to the implicit import of the '929 Declaration" that Malaysia is an Islamic state into the royal address for the official opening of Parliament.

The royal address' statement that "the rakyat must know the true meaning of an Islamic state" was a most improper import of the "929 Declaration" by the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad at the Gerakan national delegates' conference on Sept. 29, 2001 that Malaysia is an Islamic state, on two important reasons:

(i) the "929 declaration" is against the founding principles of the 1957 Merdeka Constitution, the "social contract" and the 1963 Malaysia Agreement that Malaysia is a democratic, secular, multi-religious, tolerant and progressive nation with Islam as the official religion but Malaysia is not an Islamic state; and

(ii) The "929 Declaration" does not have a national mandate or legitimacy, presently rejected by the majority of Malaysians, whether Muslims or non-Muslims, although for different reasons.


* Lim Kit Siang, DAP National Chairman