Defend our institutions

May 18, 2016

Defend our institutions

by Wan Saiful Wan Jan


Our founding fathers had the wisdom to choose a system that respects individual liberty, and chose liberal parliamentary democracy over illiberal autocracy.

THE existence and functioning of institutions are important for any democracy to flourish. The concept of “institutions” is an important one to understand.

In the academic circle, the definition of institutions has been debated by many scholars. One of the most commonly cited opinions belongs to Douglass North, a Nobel Laureate who published a seminal paper in the early 1990s defining institutions as “the formal and informal rules that organise social, political and economic relations”.

Since then, several other scholars have examined North’s work and provided further clarifications of the meaning of institutions. For example, Geoffrey Hodgson of the University of Hertfordshire builds on North’s definition by suggesting that institutions are “the systems of established and prevalent social rules that structure social interactions”.

Without going too much into the scholarly debates, it can be understood that when we talk about institutions, we are not necessarily just talking about physical entities. Instead, we are referring to rules and systems that may or may not be physical in nature.

For example, in a functioning democracy the institutions can include things like the Constitution, the Executive, Parliament as the legislative body, a free press, independent judiciary, consistent application of the laws, presence of check and balance mechanisms, respect for fundamental liberties, and more.

The institution can be an organisation, or it can be a concept. But regardless of its form, it structures how we deal with one another, how we deal with power, and how power deals with us.

When our country was formed, our founding fathers had the wisdom to choose a system that respects individual liberty. They chose liberal parliamentary democracy over illiberal autocracy.

A liberal parliamentary democracy is a system where the people can choose. In its simplest sense, democracy is rule by the people through elected representatives.

An illiberal autocracy is a system where people cannot choose. In its simplest sense, autocracy is dictatorship by one person or one group who holds a grip over the population.

Acknowledging that this nation has a history of autocracy in the form of absolute monarchies, when the Constitution was drafted, our Rulers had the wisdom to go for a constitutional monarchy. Our Rulers approved the vision of having a country founded upon the principles of liberty and justice, and their Royal Highnesses did not call for the return of rule by monarchs.

It is that wisdom that enabled us to gradually evolve into the modern society that we have today.

Britain has what is perhaps the most famous constitutional monarchy that exists today. It is amazing to see how the Queen functions in modern Britain. She never makes comments that can be construed as partisan in nature, she does not contradict the elected government.

Throughout her reign, the Queen has successfully adapted to the changing times, while always respecting the separation of roles between the monarch and the elected government.

More importantly, the British people too do not take steps that could destroy the separation of powers that is so important in a constitutional monarchy. They do not go to Buckingham Palace appealing for the Queen to intervene in matters that should be resolved in the parliamentary chambers.

They know that inviting the monarchy to intervene in day-to-day politics is not just a step back towards the medieval age, but is also a dangerous slippery slope. Democracy might be messy when compared to the seemingly smooth autocracy. But once democracy is eroded, getting it back is not going to be easy.

They also know that if the British monarch does take sides in a political bout, the country will be divided on how to react to the monarch’s partisanship and that may make the Queen lose the universal affection that she enjoys today.

This is why I am very worried about the calls made by some groups for our Rulers to intervene in our daily politics. Thankfully, our Rulers are wise enough not to respond.

Neither do they claim powers that can deny the right of our elected representatives to do their job. It is such wisdom, allowing the elected legislators to legislate as they are mandated, that will ensure the sustainability of the institution.

The institution of constitutional monarchy that we have today is precious. It helps keep the balance of power and prevents the Executive from being overly powerful, while at the same time guaranteeing that we do not slip back into an autocratic absolute monarchy.

We must resolve political and legislative issues within the institutional frameworks of parliamentary democracy and constitutional monarchy. To ensure the respective institutions are defended, every one should honour the meaning of these concepts and keep to the limits.


13 thoughts on “Defend our institutions

  1. Sorry, we are long overdue. It is down and going down.
    Actually, there is nothing to be done..all broken. –Din Merican

  2. ?? I thought that the libertarians at IDEAS believe that all social problems
    can be solved through the magic of the free market ??

    Privatise prisons — crime problem solved
    Privatise the military — battle deaths of soldiers go down (deaths of
    “military contractors” don’t count)
    Get rid of licensing of doctors (actual proposal of their guru Milton Friedman) — competition will drive down costs and increase quality
    Schools — introduce vouchers, “customer” demand will lead some schools to
    grow while others will wither and close down

  3. We need to have a new Constitution.

    We also need an anti-corruption agency that reports to the
    Legislature and not to the Executive branch of government.

  4. Well said, Wan Saiful Wan Jan.
    I think what is expressed here by Wan Saiful should be construed as new conservative position for Malaysia. We need more people to be in this camp, for both reaffirming our foundation to move forward and to displace the notion of imported Arab culture as our imagined conservatism.

    Somehow we cannot get this pesky opposition to think in this direction.

  5. In the land where the King believes Cash is GOD, and even his mercenary do not see his perversion, there are no institutions. Najib’ s rule is not chaos because the people are too habitual in going about economically and other habits to really test the foundation of our very society and nation

  6. Previous government under the PMs have built Stadium Negara, Museum Negara, Istana Negara, Tugu Negara and even formulated Rukun Negara. Maybe Jibby can build a Penjara Negara to house all those who oppose him.

    All the institutions that signify democracy and rule of law have been castrated by UMNOb with their 2/3 majority in Parliament all these years. Now there are no more institutions to defend, every institution is now subservient to the PM including YDP Agong.Who was responsible for all these?
    Orang Malaya,

    My answer is a straight one. The slayer of our institutions is Tun Dr. Mahathir, on whom civil society leaders like Ambiga and Maria Chin and the Opposition now count on to get rid of Najib and kleptos.–Din Merican

  7. Been following Wan’s understanding of liberal for quite a few years. My gut feeling is that he has been using the word ‘liberal’ too liberally.If Dato Din can express his thoughts in this blog, is there anything illiberal for say the Sultan of Johor to voice his thoughts?
    The Sultan of Johor speaks for his people and has no time to spare for corrupt UMNO leaders. I speak for no one. I share my views and listen and comment on the opinions of others.–Din Merican

  8. This is probably one of the most disingenuous, cynical, manipulative pieces that Wan Saiful Wan Jan has written.

    And pray tell, Shiou, what exactly is the old conservative position of Malaysia ? Oh never mind.

    “….our Rulers had the wisdom to go for a constitutional monarchy. Our Rulers approved the vision of having a country founded upon the principles of liberty and justice, and their Royal Highnesses did not call for the return of rule by monarchs.”

    Mr. Merican, delete the obscenity if you wish, but f**k you Wan Saiful, if you can’t even acknowledge the diverse historical narratives of this country including the sub altern narratives conveniently swept under the carpet of hegemonic agendas, then your recycled garbage about institutions, liberty and rights belongs in Alam Flora .

    “We must resolve political and legislative issues within the institutional frameworks of parliamentary democracy and constitutional monarchy. To ensure the respective institutions are defended, every one should honour the meaning of these concepts and keep to the limits.”

    Oh really ? Why thank you for pointing this out to us . Jesus, what would we do if someone didn’t draw our attention to the fact that we need to resolve our differences within the legal and democratic framework of this country.

    But you know what would really impress me ? Wan Saiful could write an article about what happens when these so called institutions are compromised by the Executive and how to operate within such a system.

    Oh wait, libertarians and conservatives do have a answer for this especially American ones, but perhaps IDEAS should get the go ahead from their masters of whatever American think tanks they are aligned to. Would not want to flame the fires of armed rebellion against a fascist State without the go ahead from some Neo Imperialistic power, would we ?
    Conrad, just be authentic. If that young man deserves fcuk you, so be it. I met him at Ku Li’s place some time ago. He can be naive about ideas and politics. He and Royal colleague are students of Adam Smith,Milton Friedman, Friedrich August von Hayek, Ludwig von Mises, Gary Becker –Din Merican

  9. I am speechless at how naive this fellow is. The new mayor of London is a Muslim. 13% of the population of London are Muslims. Thousands of whites inter alia voted for this man on merit. Going back to the 1960s in the US-Thousands of white Americans walked side by side with the Black population demanding an end to discrimination-the law was changed

    See: In 1964 Congress passed Public Law 88-352 (78 Stat. 241). The provisions of this civil rights act forbade discrimination on the basis of sex as well as race in hiring, promoting, and firing!

    Can you see the democratic trend…in the US …the Founding Fathers wrote in their Constitution…”We the people…..”. Which people were they talking about-they all had slaves……look at the evolution in time….today, Obama a minority is the President. Constitution must evolve. Until and unless the Malay community realize ( and many have) that for nation to move forward -meritocracy is best. People make a democracy or a dictatorship. Malaysia is not a functioning democracy-it is defacto a dictatorship. If you talk bad about the government you cannot leave the country, worse still you may be put in jail if you talk a lot more-where is the freedom of speech..what are you talking about Saiful…throw your text books away! And get real. 4 Decades of affirmative action has failed the Malay community-it wont work!
    Blunt comment but it has to be said. I agree that meritocracy is the way to go in this competitive world.There is no political will to change policy. The Malays are too comfortable. Change means loosing their right to all goodies from a nanny state. It is going to be a slippery road to the road to social and moral decline. –Din Merica

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