An oath of office

by KJ John
Mar 5, 2013

Wikipedia defines an oath of office as:

An oath or affirmation a person takes before undertaking the duties of an office, usually a position in government or within a religious body, although such oaths are sometimes required of officers of other organisations. Such oaths are often required by the laws of the state, religious body, or other organization before the person may actually exercise the powers of the office or any religious body.

It may be administered at an inauguration, coronation, enthronement, or other ceremony connected with the taking up of office itself, or it may be administered privately. In some cases it may be administered privately and then repeated during a public ceremony.

Some oaths of office are a statement of loyalty to a constitution or other legal text or to a person or other office-holder (e.g., an oath to support the constitution of the state, or of loyalty to the king). Under the laws of a state it may be considered treason or a high crime to betray a sworn oath of office.

Any oath of office is also usually a position of legitimate authority assigned, ascribed, or appointed, upon a qualified person to hold some public office.

Usually, to assume the office there is a ceremonial procedure for the assumption of the formal office and consequent title. Often, before the actual assumption of the new role and responsibility, the incumbent must take the oath of office. The oath is a proper symbolism for officially assuming the new appointment in public.

Mistakes in oaths of office

US president Barack ObamaThe US president has to take that oath of office, and in fact at his first inauguration, President Obama (right) had to repeat it privately, as he had not followed the exact wording, in the first and formal one the first time. In the case of the popes of the Catholic Church, it appears that the last two incumbents, including the current one, did not take read the actual oath of office. There has been many questions and debate about why this was so.

In the case of PM Najib Abdul Razak, it appears that the prime minister did not follow the exact wording of the oath of office, as it is recorded and made requisite. Malaysiakini carried a story wherein they quote a situation where in the former KL CID Chief Mat Zain Ibrahim “pointed out this discrepancy in one of his open letters to solicitor-general Idrus Harun today, following Najib’s oath-taking ceremony held on April 3, 2009, to become the sixth PM of the country.”

The report by Malaysiakini does give the exact wording of the oath of office of the prime minister as contained in the Schedule 6 of the federal constitution. But Mat Zain’s argument is that in his actual oath of office, the prime minister’s rendering was actually changed, altered, or removed for seven words contained in the Oath of Office.

Mat Zain argued: “The changes in words and structure are not in the federal constitution and this raises questions as such changes are not recognised by the constitution which is the highest document in the country.”

He further argued: “The question remains whether Najib’s oath to be the prime minister and vouch of secrecy is valid when he uses a different name from that in his identity card as the name is different from the oath which he took and recognised by the federal constitution.”

Is not such an oath of office sacrosanct?

If one goes by the letter of the law, much like in the case of the American president’s case, a private, nonetheless official re-reading or restating of the oath was deemed necessary and important; as part and parcel of the protocol of good traditions and some symbolism which is considered sacrosanct.

But in the case of the pope, especially in the case of the last two, it appears that the actual reading of the oath of office was deemed not as critical as the selection and election by the conclave of cardinals is the official process. A choice made is formal and official. No official oath of office was a necessary condition.

Now, what about in our case? Can the Malaysian PM or the office he seeks to assume, change some words or phrases as they feel like, when the federal constitution has already clearly dictated and spelled out the nature of that statement?

Let me push this question a little more and press the envelope on this. Can, for example, a new Yang di-Pertuan Agong change the tradition of his coronation as his office or officers would like him to?

Or, can a new prime minister, for example, reword the oath of office and say other things than what is already clearly recorded in the federal constitution?

This is an important point related to what we consider to be the rule of law in Malaysia. Therefore I agree with Mat Zain that it cannot be the right or responsibility of the incoming prime minister to change the words and phrases already defined and constrained by the constitution.

Such wilful and illegitimate “modifications” are what maybe has caused us to slip down the slippery slope of corruption and abuse of power in Malaysia? For example, could that not be why the amendments related to Article 121 (1A) has artificially created an equality between Syariah and Civil Laws in Malaysia today? Unless we learn to respect the laws of the nation-state as contained and crafted in our document of destiny, we are doomed into wilful corruption and abuse of the founding and history of this nation-state.

KJ JOHN was in public service for 29 years. The views expressed here are his personal views and not those of any institution he is involved with. Write to him at [email protected] with any feedback or views.

  1. #1 by lee tai king (previously dagen) on Monday, 11 March 2013 - 8:59 am

    If umno was elected in GE13, including freshly baked bumiputras of course (but excluding the defective ones who are now terrorising parts of sabah), would be required to take a simplified oath:


    I believe.

  2. #2 by lee tai king (previously dagen) on Monday, 11 March 2013 - 9:00 am

    Oops repost – error in the first posting:

    If umno was elected in GE13, everyone in the country including freshly baked bumiputras of course (but excluding the defective ones who are now terrorising parts of sabah), would be required to take a simplified oath:


    I believe.

  3. #3 by cseng on Monday, 11 March 2013 - 4:11 pm

    An oath, to a gentleman is values to hold, to a petty-man is another ‘ritual’.

    If you accompany your son to a religious oath (such as sumpah laknat). If you knew your son would lie in that ‘sumpah’, what should you do as a father?

    a) Stop you son from doing so.
    b) Wait until your son get his offer, then wait for your turn.

    Us/Canada celebrate thanksgiving in Nov everyear. M’sian celebrated thanksgiving every five years during election.

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