12/01/2008, 00.00
MALAYSIA
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Political uncertainty and corruption favor greater role for sultans

Opposition leader Anwar is seeking their support, promising to restore their old privileges. In the face of government excess and weakness, the public role of the royals is increasing.

Kuala Lumpur (AsiaNews/Agencies) - Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim is seeking the support of the sultans, in order to overthrow the government. Scandals and political uncertainty favor a gradual recovery of power by the royals.

Wan Azizah, Anwar's wife and the president of his Keadilan Party (in the photo, next to her husband), has told them that "we are willing to return royal immunity and power to veto laws in the spirit of constitutional monarchy."

The proposal comes just one day after Tunku Naquiyuddin, the regent of Negri Sembilan, presented the government with the request to restore royal powers. The government's response was tepid: justice minister Nazri Aziz responded only that such proposals must come from the Conference of Rulers, a body that represents all nine sultans.

Veto power was taken away from the sultans in 1984 by prime minister Mahathir Mohamad, through a constitutional reform, making the government the highest authority in the country. In 1993, royal immunity was eliminated. The sultan nevertheless has the discretionary power to convene and dissolve parliament and to appoint the chief minister, judges, and other public officials.

Wan's initiative has ignited debate, because part of society is in favor of giving more power back to the royals. Provided that - as constitutional law expert Shad Saleem Faruqi comments - there is a strict code of conduct that would prevent the abuse of power.

For some time, the royals have been taking on a more active role in the country's politics: for example, against the decision of the national council for the fatwa (highest religious authority) to prohibit Muslims from practicing yoga, as well as against widespread judicial corruption.

Political expert Ramon Navaratnam tells the South China Morning Post that "the royals have an expanding role as a check on government excesses. We should not reject their suggestion outright, but examine it carefully."

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