Crisis of 1983


Further ammendments

Constitutional Crisis

Crisis of 1983

The 7th Yang di-Pertuan Agong
Sultan Ahmad Shah (Sultan of Pahang stat) was the Yang di-Pertuan Agong during the 1983 Constitutional Crisis.


On August 1st 1983, Mahathir constructed the Constitution (Amendment) Bill, which suggested the amendments of roughly twenty-one articles of the Constitution, including Article 66(5) and Article 150 of the Constitution. The Bill was passed by the Dewan Rakyat (Halls of Representatives) on August 3rd. And on August 10, the Dewan Negara passed the new Bill. The changes made on Article 66(5) was that the Yang di-Pertuan Agong(King) if for any reason is not available to sign a Bill after being presented with it for 15 days, the Bill will automatically become law. Prior to this, all Bills required the consent of the King to become law. Whereas amendments on Article 150 states that the power to proclaim an emergency now lies in the hands of the Prime Minister instead of the Yang di-Pertuan Agong (King). These changes ultimately reduced the powers of the Sultans (state rulers) as royal consent was no longer needed in the amendment of laws.

Even though Mahathir received the verbal agreement of the Yang di-Pertuan Agong (King), the Sultans (state rulers) of other states did not support this Bill because they would no longer be capable of obstructing Bills at the state level. Furthermore, the Yang di-Pertuan Agong (King) represents the Conference of Rulers, which made it impossible for him to consent the Bill without the support of the other Sultans (state rulers). In addition, an open letter accusing Mahathir of undermining the position of the Malay rulers was written by Senu Abdul Rahman, a United Malays National Organization (UMNO) veteran. However, the first Prime Minister of Malaysia – Tunku Abdul Rahman who is a Kedah state royalty and “a strong critic of Mahathir” [Rajendran 19] supported Mahathir on the issue.

Tunku Abdul Rahman,
the 'Father of the Nation'.

During the ensuing months of the crisis, the government, UMNO and the public were separated into two sides – supporters of the government and the supporters of the royalties. The atmosphere also became increasingly tense as it was the first time a direct confrontation took place between the Monarchy and the Government. The Opposition also took the opportunity to criticize Mahathir of wanting to concentrate more powers in the hands of the government, particularly the Prime Minister – Mahathir himself. And this could result in “centralizing all power with the Prime Minister during an emergency” leading to an authoritarian regime [Somun 111]. As according to Chandra Muzaffar, “the Parliament can’t

check the Prime Minister; the judiciary can’t counsel him; even his own cabinet can’t control him” [Somun 111].

Mahathir was in fact, not an antiroyalist as he once wrote about the usefulness of having a monarchy and even deemed them as heroes, though he never admired them. When he wrote articles under the pseudonym Che Det, he sided with the people when addressing the conflict of the leadership between UMNO and the royal family [Somun 110]. In his book “The Malays Dilemma”, he criticized the rulers of their lavish lifestyle [Somun 110]. Tunku Abdul Rahman who opposed the amendments too had a similar conflict with the Sultan of Selangor (Selangor state ruler) twenty years before this incident took place. In addition, Tunku Abdul Rahman was also in bad terms with his older brother, the Sultan of Kedah (ruler of Kedah state) – Sultan Badlishah since 1949. Being the head of the United Malays National Organization (UMNO) Kedah State branch, Tunku Abdul Rahman was offended by his elder brother who viewed United Malays National Organization (UMNO) as an illegal organization [Somun 109].

Following this event, the UMNO Wanita (UMNO Women), UMNO Youth and Anwar who was well-respected in UMNO Youth, announced their support for the government. The chief ministers of various states also gathered together and attempted to persuade their respective state rulers to support the amendment. At the end of November, the rulers openly rejected the amendments during a meeting in Sabah based on the reasoning that the Parliament would be capable of transforming the country into a republic under 15 days without the agreement of the rulers if the Bill was passed.

Mahathir then decided to start a campaign through the media, particularly those under the United Malays National Organization’s (UMNO) control. Television shows that depicted the tyranny and authoritarianism of earlier rulers were broadcasted. Mahathir also spoke at various meetings about how the people fought against the British’s plan of Malayan Union which would have robbed the nation of their sovereignty and rulers would have only served religious purposes. At a meeting in Alor Setar, Mahathir said: “It was the rakyat (people) who had protested against the Malayan Union after World War II; it was the rakyat who wanted a democratic system that would enable them to choose their own leaders. It was always the people who had fought for their destiny.” [Somun, 111]

[Lat, Berita Publishing Sdn. Bhd.]

As the issue continued, the many divisions within United Malays National Organization (UMNO) requested the government to pass the Bill without the Yang di-Pertuan Agong’s consent. The Attorney-General, Tan Sri Abu Talib Othman was consulted and in a letter directed to the Parliament, he stated that the Yang di-Pertuan Agong’s consent was not required to pass the Bill. Given that Mahathir was also willing to compromise and the issue was nowhere nearing a solution, the monarchy finally decided to discuss a compromise on December 10, 1983 to resolve the issue.

The outcome was that the Yang di-Pertuan Agong (King) maintained his power of proclaiming an emergency but was required to act on the advice of the Cabinet before declaring an emergency. The

Yang di-Pertuan Agong (King) was also given a total of 60 days to delay all legislation [Rajendran 21]. If the Yang di-Pertuan Agong (King) disagreed with the Bill, he could return the Bill to the Parliament with his objections and comments. But ultimately, the Parliament had the right to pass the bill again, with or without the Yang di-Pertuan Agong (King)’s objections or comments added to it. Consequently, with or without royal assent, the bill would eventually become law within thirty days. [Somun 112].

Further amendments to the power of the rulers
In December 1992, an alleged assault of the hockey coach – Douglas Gomez of Maktab Sultan Abu Bakar by the Sultan of Johor (King of Johor State) at Istana Bukit Serene (Serene Hill Palace) was reported. This assault resulted from the forced withdrawal of the Maktab Sultan Abu Bakar hockey team from the semi-finals of the Malaysian Hockey Federation-Milo Champion Schools tournament a few hours before the match began at Stadium Tun Razak in Kuala Lumpur on November 25 (Rajendran 24).

The main reason underlying the team’s pullout from the competition was that the Sultan of Johor (King of Johor State) was annoyed that his son, Tengku Abdul Majid Idris (the Tengku Bendahara of Johor), was suspended from participating in all Malaysian Hockey Federation tournaments for five years. The suspension was made as the Sultan of Johor’s (King of Johor State) son assaulted the Perak hockey goalkeeper – Mohamed Jaafar Selvaraja Vello during the Perak and Johor hockey finals of the Malaysia Sport’s Games on July 10, 1992 in Johor Bahru (Rajendran 24). Thus, the Johor Palace commanded the director of Johor’s Education Department, Abdul Rahim Busu to withdraw the Maktab Sultan Abu Bakar’s hockey team from the schools tournament
Following this, the coach Gomez criticized the Johor Hockey Association principal office-bearers for “destroying hockey in the State” (Rajendran 24) and further requested their resignations. But upon his return to Johor Baru, he was summoned to the Johor palace and held for a few hours before he was able to sought treatment for the bruises on his face and stomach.

These events caused widespread shock among the Malaysian public. As a result of this event, Mahathir eventually removed the immunity of the Sultans (kings) for criminal offences. In that same year, the Sultans (kings) interference in state administration, political matters and business were minimized as well.  
Back to top
Last Updated Wednesday, April 13, 2009   Contact me at teh20y@mtholyoke.edu
Copyright © 2009 Yen Ping, Teh