“Identity monarchy”: Interrogating heritage for a divided Malaysia

Anthony Milner*

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    6 Citations (Scopus)


    Malaysia, it has been observed, is currently experiencing a “revival” of “Malay kingship” with the growing importance of “proactive and participating constitutional rulers.” In fact, modern Malaysia has since independence been characterized by monarchy—by a multiplicity of Rulers and elaborate royal ceremony and hierarchy —as well as by its “plural society.” But the modern monarchs—though they have never become quite “constitutional Rulers”—cannot be seen as merely “traditional,” because the institution of monarchy was transformed in a fundamental way during the British colonial period. Monarchy continues to be an underexamined feature of the Malaysian polity, and when it is discussed there is a tendency to focus on issues of power and to neglect its sociocultural role. One pre-colonial dimension of monarchy that continues to be significant today—though in a manner less psychologically profound than before—is its identity-giving role. The principal concern of this article is to determine— through a process of hermeneutic retrieval—if this role is merely relevant to the Malay community, or does it possess more inclusive possibilities? Are the Rulers of Malaysia essentially “Malay Rulers” or has the institution a nation-building potential that has so far not been fully utilized? The question is important for a country that many see as becoming increasingly divided.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)191-212
    Number of pages22
    JournalSoutheast Asian Studies
    Issue number2
    Publication statusPublished - Aug 2012


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