Johor sultan does not have absolute powers in appointment of new MB, say lawyers

According to several lawyers, the Sultan of Johor does not have ‘absolute right’ in appointing a mentri besar of his choice. — Picture via Facebook/HRH Crown Prince of Johor
According to several lawyers, the Sultan of Johor does not have ‘absolute right’ in appointing a mentri besar of his choice. — Picture via Facebook/HRH Crown Prince of Johor

JOHOR BARU, April 11 — The Johor ruler has no absolute powers under the state constitution to appoint a person of his choice as mentri besar as he is bound to follow constitutional requirements, according to several lawyers.

The condition is that the person must be a member of the Johor state legislative assembly and commands the confidence of the legislature, said lawyer Lim Wei Jiet.

“It is true that the Sultan appoints the Johor mentri besar under Article 3, Second Part of the Johor state constitution, but such power is also explicitly qualified under Article 4, Second Part, of the same constitution that fits the above mentioned requirements.

“In that sense, the sultan’s discretion to appoint a mentri besar is not unfettered (mutlak) and limitless as it must follow the aforementioned constitutional requirements,” said Lim when contacted by Malay Mail today.

The practising lawyer had yesterday written an article on the role of the Johor ruler as a constitutional monarch and the importance of upholding the Federal Constitution.

This article was in response to a statement by Johor Crown Prince Tunku Ismail Sultan Ibrahim that the power to choose the mentri besar is the absolute right of the sultan.

Lim added that understanding the requirements is an important part in the process of appointing a new mentri besar.

“For example, if His Majesty appoints an esteemed Pakatan Harapan (PH) MP, but who is not a Johor assemblyman, such a decision can certainly be challenged in court,” he said.

Fellow lawyer Surendra Ananth agreed with Lim saying that the Sultan of Johor does not have “absolute right” in appointing a mentri besar of his choice.

He said the Johor state constitution expressly provides that the ruler “shall” appoint a mentri besar “who in his judgment is likely to command the confidence of the majority of the members of the state assembly as provided under the Article 4(2)(a), Second Part of the constitution.

“This is not an unfettered discretion. Only a person who commands the majority of the assembly can be appointed.

“As to who that person is, it is entirely up to the majority of the members of the assembly to decide,” said Surendra.

“So it is not absolute. The provision is similar to Article 43 of the Federal Constitution and all state constitutions must have a similar provision,” he said in reference to the article in the Federal Constitution that deals with the appointment of the prime minister and Cabinet members.

Another lawyer New Sin Yew is of the opinion the “rights” ― be it qualified or absolute ― do not arise in the appointment of Johor’s mentri besar.

He said the constitution is clear that the sultan does not have such absolute discretion.

“The sultan needs to follow the constitution and appoint PH’s choice.

“PH (as the party or coalition holding the most state seats) has every right to insist on their choice of mentri besar and with respect, His Majesty would not be in a position to reject PH’s choice,” added New.

New gave a scenario if the ruler has absolute discretion where PH having the majority recommends their choice.

He said assuming the ruler rejects, then PH will recommend another name.

“The ruler can keep rejecting because he has absolute discretion.

“However, the scenario will look bad and it is not democratic as the ruler can also appoint another choice instead of a PH choice,” explained New.

He also highlighted that the Sultan of Johor, and all other rulers of other states, acts on the advice of the respective state executive committee.

“We must stop perpetuating this myth that the rulers are absolute monarchs. The rulers are constitutional monarchs with their roles defined clearly under the Constitution,” said New.

Yesterday, Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad said that it was the ruling party’s right to choose the mentri besar.

The 93-year-old Langkawi MP took a strong stand, insisting the choice was solely that of the election winners and argued that Malaysia would not be a democracy otherwise.

The heated exchanges over the issue were sparked by Tunku Ismail’s earlier statement that the power to choose the mentri besar is the absolute right of the sultan.

This follows the recent resignation of Datuk Osman Sapian as Johor mentri besar.