THERE are 26 monarchies in the world — nine of them in Malaysia — with varying nomenclature.
Notwithstanding this, the world gets Malaysia’s monarchy wrong. At times, fundamentally wrong.
Take the simple case of the king stepping down as it happened on Sunday when Sultan Muhammad V of Kelantan resigned as Yang di-Pertuan Agong. Many newspapers here and around the world termed it abdication.
They could not have been more wrong. It is a case of being wrong so long that you think it is right.
The more discerning would use the word “resigns” or semantic variations thereof.
It is a distinction with a difference, we insist. The New Straits Times said it as it is yesterday: the “King steps down.” It bears repeating that Malaysia is a constitutional monarchy with nine hereditary sultans electing from among themselves a Yang di-Pertuan Agong for a five-year term.
On completion or otherwise the sultan returns to his state as a monarch. Or in the case of Sultan Muhammad V, he returns to his state as the sultan of Kelantan.
To speak of “abdication” in the context of Malaysia’s monarchy is incorrect. Elsewhere in the world where monarchy reigns, “abdication” it would have been. We are neither Spain nor Japan. Our monarchy is of native mint.
Our sultanate is not only unique, but is one of the oldest, too.
Hikayat Merong Mahawangsa, otherwise known as the Kedah Annals, names the Kedah sultanate as one of the oldest in the country when King Phra Ong Mahawangsa ascended the throne as Sultan Mudzafar Shah in 1136.
The sultans ruled their states in more or less the same form until the British made Malaysia a federation.
Here too, the rulers stood their ground when the Reid Commission attempted to dilute their powers in the draft constitution of 1956.
Malays and Muslims of Malaysia owe their special position to the good fight the nine rulers put up against the British.
The nine Malay hereditary rulers continue to wield considerable influence by way of the Federal Constitution.
The evolution of the institution of the Conference of Rulers has an interesting narrative, too.
Sometime in 1896 when the Federated Malay States was formed, Sultan Abdul Samad (Selangor), Sultan Idris Murshidul ‘Adzam Shah (Perak), Yamtuan Tuanku Muhammad Shah (Negri Sembilan) and Sultan Ahmad Mu’adzam Shah (Pahang) initiated a platform that can be said to be the precursor of what has come to be called the Conference of Rulers.
The first such meeting — Durbar Conference — was held at Kuala Kangsar’s Istana Negara in 1897.
Though the Conference of Rulers would not be created until Aug 27, 1957, the Durbar Conference must surely be the earliest form of the institution.
The Conference of Rulers today plays an important role in bringing together the rulers and the ruled.
Monarchy in Malaysia has prevailed in its native mint because to a large extent, the rulers and their subjects have endeavoured to preserve its sanctity. There is some wisdom in an institution that is one so old.