Royal crisis set to drag on in Malaysia

Ian Stewart

THE dispute between the Malaysian Government and the monarchy that has plunged the country into a constitutional crisis could drag on for six months or more, according to officials in Kuala Lumpur.

There is concern that the war of words will cause lasting damage and affect investor confidence.

The constitutional amendments passed by Parliament over the objections of the country's nine hereditary rulers, which remove their legal immunity, were presented to the Yang di-Pertuan Agong, or King, Sultan Azlan Shah, for his assent at the weekend.

But he is expected to reject the amendment bill on the grounds that it does not have the approval of the rulers.

The Constitution says any bill affecting the position or status of the rulers must have their consent to become law. But the Government argues that a 1983 constitutional amendment means the current amendment bill can be passed without royal assent.

Under the 1983 amendment the King has 30 days to either give his consent or raise objections to a bill and send it back to Parliament. If Parliament again approves the bill it will become law with or without the King's assent within 30 days of being presented to him the second time.

If this process is followed and the Government gazettes the amendment bill after the second debate in Parliament, the rulers are expected to challenge its validity in the Supreme Court.

The challenge and the court's consideration of it could take another three to four months.

Meanwhile, ill-feeling has been aggravated by a strong attack on the Government by Sultan Ismail Petra of Kelantan.

''The zealousness in amending the Constitution and trying to abolish the immunity of the Malay rulers is not an aspiration of the people as has been claimed,'' he said.

''It arises from the desires of certain politicians who are still not satisfied with the power and wealth they enjoy.'' Sultan Ismail is the nephew of Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah, who fell out with the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr Mahathir Mohamad, and formed the Spirit of '46 party, which supports the rulers.

The first son of the Sultan of Johor, whose alleged assault of a school hockey coach prompted the Government to introduce the constitutional amendments, has also been on the attack.

Tunku Ibrahim Ismail, who is the heir to the Johor throne, was in turn criticised by the Deputy Prime Minister, Mr Ghafar Baba, who said members of the royalty were supposed to be above politics.