Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The Government and the Ruling Party Are Different Entities (Joe Chelliah)

To many Malaysians the words “government” and the “ruling party” are as synonymous as Malays and Muslims in Malaysia. This of course is not true.  The ignorance of such things has helped the ruling party manipulate many things to their benefit.

Early Malayan history is well known (or should be) especially by today’s generation. The Europeans were only interested in Melaka initially as their focal trading point.   It may not be necessary or pointless here to trace the emergence of so many sultanates from that one sultanate. The British expanded from Melaka later to include Penang and Singapore as well when these Malay territories were literally given away by grateful Malay sultans to the British.  Although Melaka had a good system of government by the standards of the day the later sultans in the Malay peninsula had much lesser systems of administering territories under them.
The mainly agrarian Malay society at the time and their feudal mentality presented little or no significant problems to the sultans and their appointed nobles to get their obeisances.  But the migrant Chinese miners became a major and uncontrollable problem for them. There was much fighting for mining area control which involved their own secret societies and the resultant Larut Wars are well documented.  There was also much anarchy caused by several succession disputes among the Malay nobility themselves.  Uncontrolled piracy in the straits too did not help. Faced with this situation and other administrative problems such as tax collection, the British were actually invited to intervene and help administer Malaya.  The rest is history of course.

 The British went on to actually rule Malaya with a very viable and efficient government machinery that lasts till today.  It covered and permeated every aspect of governance from security to all public services and of course good communications and ports to facilitate exports.  Educated and uneducated people were brought in mainly from India to assist the British manage the country through hard labor and mid-managerial and supervisory posts. The sultans could now sit back and look after mainly aspects of religion and Malay culture and adat while the British ran the country.  Looking at it this way, the sultans were never disposed in any way and remained the “rulers”.  So the system of government in Malaysia is actually very British and this legacy is with us till today on paper – in the constitution and in the governmental acts and ordinances.

Therefore, it is the government machinery that actually runs the country with its ministries and all related departments and agencies and commissions.  The employees are called government servants and are directly in the service of the Yang Di Pertuan Agung.  As such one sees “Urusan Seri Paduka Baginda” on governmental envelopes and correspondences – a literal translation of the British “On Her Majesty’s Service”.   This machinery runs the whole country based on the constitution and enacted laws of the country which also clearly define their roles and jurisdiction.

The ruling party in our system of constitutional monarchy in Malaysia is simply made up of the party or group of parties which form a clear majority at the polls and has the confidence of the Agung.  Thus these lawmakers are elected by the voters once in every five years.  It is therefore NOT the government per se although it does have some say in general policy matters and can legislate anything with a two thirds majority in parliament.  This also means that even the Prime Minister cannot legally order an arrest but a police officer can.  The prisoner then faces the law and punished or released according to the laws of the country. Thus the ruling party are the lawmakers and not the government itself.  We can change the lawmakers but not the government servants who continue with their duties even if another set of lawmakers are voted in.

In Malaysia, the demarcation line(s) between the government and the ruling party has become increasingly invisible.  Thus I can be totally loyal to the king and country but could be against the ruling party.  In this matter, Malaysians seem to be totally illiterate sad to say.

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