Mahathir's feud with M'sia royalty has lasted more than 35 years

To put things in perspective, Mahathir has clashed with three generations of the Johor royal household.

Matthias Ang | April 11, 2019, 01:56 AM

Things have gotten testy between Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad and the royal family of Johor.

Tensions have come to a head recently over many issues.

These ranged from Malaysia not ratifying the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC), to Mahathir's statement that the Crown Prince of Johor is not above the law, and now, the selection of the next Chief Minister of Johor after Osman Sapian has resigned.

This is not the first time Mahathir has clashed with Malaysian royalty in such a public manner though.

In fact, Mahathir's dispute with the Malaysian monarchs is a long-running feud that has lasted for over 35 years, stretching back as far as 1983, over where the centres of political power in Malaysia really reside.

Here are some of those key moments in this decades-long feud:

1993: The alleged assault on a hockey coach that saw the royal households lose their immunity from prosecution

In 1992, during Mahathir's first tenure as prime minister, a Bill was passed in the Malaysian parliament to curb the privileges and powers of Malaysia’s royal families.

This was following the controversial Douglas Gomez incident.

Gomez, a hockey coach, was allegedly assaulted by then-Sultan of Johor, Mahmood Iskander Ismail and some of his men, at the Sultan's palace.

Mahathir wages war on the reputation and influence of the royal households

This resulted in Mahathir using the incident as an opportunity to force a code of conduct onto the Malay rulers, and strip them of their immunity from prosecution, along with the ability to pardon themselves and their families, British media The Independent reported.

In the lead up to the passage of a Bill that curbed the royals' powers, the Malaysian government waged a war on the reputation and influence of the royal households.

On the public relations front, this consisted of the government-controlled The New Straits Times (NST) reportedly focusing on the lavish habits of the Sultans, along with the encouragement of religious teachers to comment on the un-Islamic behaviours of the so-called guardians of Islam.

As such, details that were reported in the media included the private hospital wards kept for the royals' exclusive use and the RM9.3 million spent on new cutlery and bedspreads for the King, which NST stated could have built either two hospitals, or 46 rural clinics or 46 primary schools.

Mention was also made of then-Sultan Ismail Petra of Kelantan, for importing 30 duty-free luxury cars instead of the seven allowed, and his escape from customs officials in a Lamborghini Diablo on the pretext of test-driving the vehicle.

Meanwhile, on the business and political front, state governments were ordered to refuse favours to their rulers and Malaysian civil servants were told that they had to seek Mahathir's permission before seeing the Yang-di Pertuan Agong.

Bill curbing royals' powers passed into law in 1993

Subsequently, the Bill curbing the royals' powers came into law in March 1993.

Apart from stripping the rulers of their legal immunity, it also introduced limits on the royals’ ability to issue pardons, and commoners could freely criticise the royals, except when questioning their legitimacy.

What's more, the Bill also established a Special Court for the sole purpose of trying the Yang-di Pertuan Agong and the Sultans, on the basis of both criminal and civil cases.

Yet, the passage of such a Bill without the consent of the royals, however, would not have been possible had it not been for another clash between Mahathir and the royals about a decade ago.

1983: Mahathir limits the royals' right to block legislation

In 1983, two years after having become Prime Minister, Mahathir clashed with the royals for the first time, over a Bill that proposed several amendments to the Malaysian Constitution regarding the role that the royals played in passing legislation, The Star reported.

The proposed amendments involved removing the need of assent from the King for passing legislation at the national level, and the need of assent from the Sultans for passing laws at the state level.

What's more, it would also strip the King of the power to declare a State of Emergency and give it to the Prime Minister instead.

Despite the amendments having been passed by both houses of the Malaysian parliament, they were publicly rejected by the royals, after a meeting, on Nov. 20, 1983.

War of propaganda

This led to Mahathir launching a war of propaganda against the rulers.

The Star reported that rallies promoting the government's cause were organised without police permits, while UMNO-aligned media reported about the rallies in positive terms.

Rallies that had been organised in support of the royals on the other hand, went unreported.

As with what would happen later in 1993, the media also focused on tales of the royals' extravagance.

The most heated moment of the clash came when the UMNO Youth executive council called for the government to gazette the Bill without waiting for the King's assent, which meant that the rulers would have to challenge the Bill in court.

While Mahathir did not utilise this strategy, it was understood that he held it as a “nuclear option” in reserve while continuing to negotiate with the royals behind-the-scenes, The Star added.

Reaching a compromise

Eventually, a compromise between both sides was reached, resulting in a toned-down version of the Bill being passed in January 1984, The Star reported.

The removal of the need for assent from the Yang-di Pertuan Agong was watered down to allowing the King some power in delaying legislation for up to two months before it became the law of the land.

Meanwhile, the proposed removal of the need of assent from the Sultans for passing state laws, and the proposed transference of power in declaring a State of Emergency from Yang-di Pertuan Agong to Prime Minister were dropped from the amended Bill.

Nevertheless, Mahathir saw it as a victory, declaring at a subsequent rally in Malacca that the feudal system had ended.

Moreover, Mahathir would eventually achieve his 1983 aims by 1994, in which he passed yet another amendment against the royals, according to Today and The Star.

This time, the amendment stated that legislation will automatically be passed in parliament if it does not receive royal assent within 30 days, at both the national and state levels.

Here's how Mahathir and the royals are clashing in 2019:

Top image collage from Mahathir Mohamad Facebook, Crown Prince of Johor Facebook, Sultan of Johor Facebook and Wikipedia