Palace, Political Party and Power: A Story of the Socio-Political Development of Malay Kingship


Kobkua Suwannathat-Pian
2011. National University of Singapore
Softcover, 23 cm x 15.5 cm, 471 pages
ISBN 9789971695071


Palace, Political Party and Power: A Story of the Socio-Political Development of Malay Kingship traces the history of palace political power in the Malay Peninsula from the late colonial period to the first decade of the 21st century. The rulers went through a period of decline under colonial rule and during the Japanese Occupation, but the Occupation brought a heightened sense of Malay identity, and rulers were central to efforts to redefine Malayness after the war. However, when Malaysia achieved independence in 1957, they were compelled to embrace Westminster-style constitutional monarchy and their role became largely symbolic. Parliament and the executive branch handled the affairs of the nation, and UMNO – the United Malays National Organization – positioned itself as the “official” voice of the Malays.

The postwar settlement underwent a significant change after the shocking outcome of the March 2008 General Election weakened UMNO’s hold on power. The Malay Rulers responded by “reinventing” themselves as active players in the affairs of the nation and have recovered some of their traditional status. Socio-political developments since the departure of Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad have worked in favor of a continued royal resurgence, and the rulers have become an increasingly vocal element in national politics.

“A historian’s fresh and timely look at the development of Malay kingship in its present form,with a sharp focus on the position and power of royal authority in Malaysia’s state affairs, and the sometimes acrimonious relations of the Rulers with the state executive.” Cheah Boon Ham, Retired Professor of History, Universiti Sains Malaysia, Penang

Palace, Political Party and Power: A Story of the Socio-Political Development of Malay Kingship is a well documented study focusing on the palace and its power during the pre-colonial period, the colonial period and the post-1957 period. It examines the love-hate relations between the palace and the people, the rakyat, before 1874 and after; how British colonial rule relegated the Malay Rulers to mere titular heads of their states; how the Japanese military stripped bare the palace of its remaining dignity; and how the Malays turned away from the Rulers as they resisted the Malayan Union. Between 1948 and 1957, UMNO appropriated the label ‘Protector of the Malays’ and the party also managed to restore the dignity of the Rulers, but subsequent palace-rakyat relations were neither always smooth nor predictable. This book is a useful reference to scholars, researchers and those interested in Malaysia’s evolving constitutional monarchy. — Professor Abu Talib Ahmad, Universiti Sains Malaysia

“She demonstrates real courage in writing about Malay monarchy and UMNO in a true academic fashion; she proves herself objective in the context of a public university in Malaysia.” — Greg Lopez

“A welcome addition … Suwannathat-Pian has succeeded in producing a readable and wide-ranging account of Malay monarchy from the origins of colonial control, through the period of British rule, to the era of independence.” — Simon C Smith

About the author: Kobkua Suwannathat-Pian is Professor of History and Senior Fellow at the Faculty of Social Sciences and Humanities, Universiti Pendidikan Sultan Idris (UPSI), Tanjung Malim, Perak, Malaysia. She is an acknowledged authority on Thai-Malaysian relations and contemporary Thai socio-politics. Throughout her academic life that spans over 30 years, Kobkua has served as lecturer, visiting fellow and professor to some of the leading institutes of higher learning in the region, including Chiangmai University, Chulalongkorn University; Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, Universiti Tenaga Malaysia and UPSI; Universiti Gadjah Mada; and the University of Hong Kong. Her research focuses on socio-political issues in Thailand and Malaysia. She also authored Tunku – An Odyssey of a Life Well-Lived and Well-Loved (2017), a tribute to the first prime minister of Malaysia.

Weight 750 g
Dimensions 23 × 15.5 × 2.5 cm

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