The Nation Mourns The Passing Of A Great Ruler

His Majesty Yang Di-Pertuan Agong Sultan Salahuddin Abdul Aziz Shah passed away on Wednesday morning and to show respect for His Majesty's death, the government declared a 7-day national mourning period when flags were to be flown at half-mast. All official functions slated for Wednesday and Thursday were also cancelled or postponed.

His Majesty was the second Selangor sultan who passed away during the tenure as the Yang di-Pertuan Agong. His father Tuanku Hisamuddin Alam Shah Al-Haj passed away during his reign as the country's second Yang Di-Pertuan Agong. Sultan Salahuddin himself became the country's 11th Yang Di-Pertuan Agung on April 25, 1999.

His Majesty Sultan Salahuddin was known as a dililgent ruler who cared a lot for the well-being of his subjects. When he was the Selangor sultan, he often visited the rural areas to better understand the needs of his people, even the aborigines in the state. Consequently, he became very popular among the people in Selangor. The impression he gave to the people as the Selangor sultan and as the King was one of amicability.

At times, Sultan Salahuddin had to sacrifice the well-being of Selangor state for the sake of national interests. For instance, he ceded the city of Kuala Lumpur on the request of the late prime minister Tun Abdul Razak in 1974 so that the Federal Territory of Kuala Lumpur directly under the jurisdiction of the federal government could be established. During his reign as the Yang Di-Pertuan Agong, His Majesty again agreed to the federal government's request to cede the areas around Putrajaya as the nation's new administrative capital. The two decisions by His Majesty have significant implications on the nation's development.

As the Yang Di-Pertuan Agong, His Majesty emphasised the cordial relationship between Malaysia and other friendly nations and had officially visited a number of countries including China.

Malaysia is a constitutional monarchy where the administration is in the hand of the cabinet of ministers appointed by the Prime Minister. Since both His Majesty and the Prime Minsiter have dutifully performed their duties as provided in the Constitution, the constitutional monarchy system in Malaysia has been operating fairly well. Although Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Mahathir Mohamad has on two occasions trimmed some of the powers of the King and state rulers through constitutional amendment, the fundamental principles behind the system remains intact and the King and state rulers remain on good terms with the federal government.

On the other hand, as the symbol of the nation, the King has been an important factor in promoting inter-racial harmony and understanding in a plural society like ours. For example, His Majesty Sultan Salahuddin had on many occasions urged Malaysians of all ethnic origins to stay united.

Islam is the country's official religion. Consequently, the King takes up the duty as the protector of Islam in the country while the various Malay rulers are the protectors of Islam in their respective states. Nevertheless, Malaysians have been accorded the liberty to practise any other religion that they choose. Since non-Muslims are also loyal to the King as well as the state rulers, it follows that the country's administrative regime remains largely non-religious and secular.

However, the selection of Malaysia's head of state is quite different from that in other countries practising constitutional monarchy. The Yang Di-Pertuan Agong is selected from 9 states with sultans (Raja in the case of Perlis and Yam Tuan in Negeri Sembilan). The tenure of the King is only 5 years and the position is rotated among the various Malay rulers, a truly unique system among the many monarchies in the world.

Following the death of His Majesty Sultan Salahuddin Abdul Aziz Shah, the Conference of Rulers will meet within the next 4 weeks to select the 12th Yang Di-Pertuan Agong of Malaysia. As provided by the Constitution, when the position of Yang Di-Pertuan Agong is left vacant, his deputy will act on his behalf. Currently, the deputy Yang Di-Pertuan Agong is Sultan Mizan Zainal Abidin of Terengganu who has since taken over as the Acting Yang Di-Pertuan Agong. Sultan Mizan is seen as the most likely person to succeed Sultan Salahuddin as the country's next Yang Di-Pertuan Agong.

Sin Chew Jit Poh

Sinchew-i 2001/11/23