JOHOR’S Sultan Ibrahim Sultan Iskandar is going beyond the traditional meet the menteri besar on Wednesday for a briefing of affairs of the state. He announced yesterday that Wednesdays will be an “open day” for officials to brief him on developments in the state.
That the state ruler has a deep and abiding concern for Johor is a given. He has been vocal about the physical infrastructure in the state and even voiced his thoughts about the new train system linking Johor to Singapore.
The reality is, it is another example of the sultan exerting influence and clawing back powers and control against a tapestry of a weak central leadership. The rulers are now moving into a vacuum of leadership.
That can be seen from a post on the ruler’s Facebook page saying the open day will “ensure development projects by the Johor state government and its agencies truly benefit the people”.
The post on the ruler’s Facebook page said: “At these meetings, Sultan Ibrahim will go through various documents and/or presentations given to him, especially those relating to development programmes and initiatives for the people”.
The Facebook page also had photographs of the ruler’s meeting with top state officials, including Johor Menteri Besar Mohamed Khaled Nordin. Nothing unusual except Wednesday is traditionally cabinet day.
The thing is, the Malay rulers have had largely ceremonial roles since Merdeka with the state executive running the show. And the central government at the federal level. But all this is changing now.
The days of a strong and decisive executive appear to be over and the royals are seen as the leadership now. The Johor laundromat that caused a controversy for saying it would only serve Muslims is a case in point.
No government politician took a position on the matter until the Johor ruler gave the laundromat owner a dressing down. Putrajaya then weakly agreed that the Johor ruler was right to do so.
Previous Barisan Nasional (BN) governments would have immediately criticised the laundromat owner, and cite that it is against the spirit of muhibbah and national harmony.
But the concerns of national unity and harmony now seem to be the provenance of the Malay rulers and not the politicians. They are asserting themselves in matters of the state beyond just being ceremonial rulers, notwithstanding that Malaysia is a parliamentary democracy with a constitutional monarchy.
But things could change if the federal and state executive remain weak and mired in their own troubles to take charge of the state administration and policies that matter to the people.
More rulers could step in, perhaps to the delight of the people but at the expense of the constitution that defines the role of every sector that makes up the government.
In the end, it is about leadership. And only the rulers seem to be showing that now.