THE MALAY RULERS' LOSS OF IMMUNITYI.Introduction
From its inception in 1957 the Constitution of Malaysia has provided an immunity tothe Malay Rulers (or Sultans) against civil actions or criminal prosecutions. Early in 1993the Constitution of Malaysia was amended to remove this immunity. Although the federalConstitution of Malaysia and the constitutions of the states of Malaysia leave the Rulers asmere constitutional monarchs they have wielded considerable influence due, in part, to thetraditional reverence of the Malay people for their Rulers. The ability of the Government to bring about these constitutional amendments is noteworthy in light of the traditional reverenceMalay people have for the Malay Rulers. The apparent public support for the changessuggests a shift in traditional Malay cultural values that appears to have irrevocably reducedthe significance of the Malay Rulers in Malay society and in the politics of Malaysia.This paper traces the events leading to the constitutional amendments of 1993 in thecontext of the significance of the Malay Rulers in Malaysian politics and Malay culture. The paper begins, in Part II, by providing a brief historical background to the Malay Rulers andtheir importance in Malay culture and tradition. It also outlines the position of the MalayRulers under the constitution as it stood prior to the recent amendments. Part III describesthe events leading up to the recent amendments and the nature of the amendments that werefinally made. Part IV discusses how the amendments signal a change in the attitude of Malaysto the Malay Rulers which allowed the government to act when it did and which hassubstantially reduced the significance of the Malay Rulers.
II.Historical Background of the Malay RulersA.The Malay Rulers Prior to the British Intervention
1.Origins and Structure of the Malay SultanatesThe history of the Malay Rulers can be traced back prior to the Malaka Sultanateduring the 15th century.
However, most of what is known of the history of the Malay Rulerscomes from the Malay Annals, stories of the Malay Rulers and accounts of travellers to theregion.
These deal primarily with the period beginning from the time of the powerfulMalacca Sultanate which was established in the 13th century and became a center for tradeattracting Arab, Indian and Chinese traders
and later attracting the interests of thePortuguese, Dutch and British colonial powers.