Malaysia welcomes new king Sultan Ibrahim in unique rotating monarchy

Malaysia welcomes new king Sultan Ibrahim in unique rotating monarchy


Sultan of Johor, Sultan Ibrahim Iskandar (wearing black) sits during the oath taking ceremony as the 17th King of Malaysia at the National Palace in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia on January 31, 2024

Sultan of Johor, Sultan Ibrahim Iskandar (wearing black) sits during the oath taking ceremony as the 17th King of Malaysia at the National Palace in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia on January 31, 2024
| Photo Credit: via Reuters

Sultan Ibrahim, the wealthy and outspoken ruler of Malaysia’s southern Johor state, was sworn in as the country’s new king in a ceremony on Wednesday.

Malaysia practices a unique rotational form of monarchy, in which the heads of the country’s nine royal families take turns to be king for a five-year reign.

The monarchy plays a largely ceremonial role, but has become more influential in recent years due to prolonged political instability during which the king has wielded rarely used discretionary powers.

How is the king installed?

Nine of Malaysia’s 13 states are headed by a traditional ethnic Malay ruler, mostly known as the sultan, in one of the world’s largest monarchy systems.

The constitutional monarchy was established after Malaysia’s independence from Britain. Every five years, the nine rulers elect one among themselves to be Malaysia’s king through a secret ballot.

The order of rotation among the sultans was originally determined by seniority, based on how long they had been ruling.

But that rule was dropped after all the royal families completed a term each and they now take turns based on the initial order.

Who is Malaysia’s new king?

Sultan Ibrahim, 65, hails from the southern state of Johor whose sultanate can be traced back to the 16th century.

While the monarchy is largely seen as above politics, Sultan Ibrahim is known for his views on governance and has said he has a good relationship with the prime minister.

He owns a large collection of luxury cars and motorbikes and has wide-ranging business interests from real estate to mining. A company he has a stake in has a joint venture with struggling Chinese property developer Country Garden to develop a $100-billion project called Forest City in Johor.

The sultan has publicly advocated establishing a special economic zone between Johor and neighbouring Singapore to strengthen ties and last year said he planned to revive a stalled high-speed rail project between Malaysia and the city-state.

Johor is also the only sultanate allowed to maintain its own private army, as part of a deal for the state to join the Federation of Malaya before the country’s independence in 1957.

What are the king’s powers?

The monarch plays a largely ceremonial role and acts as custodian of Islam in the Muslim-majority country.

The federal constitution requires the monarch to act upon the advice of the prime minister and cabinet with few exceptions.

The king is allowed to appoint a prime minister who he believes has a parliamentary majority, a power never utilised until 2020 as the premier is typically picked through an election.

But a series of political shocks in recent years has forced the monarchy to play a greater role, particularly during the reign of Sultan Ibrahim’s predecessor, Al-Sultan Abdullah from Pahang state.

Al-Sultan Abdullah has appointed the last three prime ministers – the first two after successive governments collapsed and most recently, in 2022, when he chose Anwar to be premier after an election that saw a hung parliament.

The king also has the power to pardon convicted people. In 2018, the then-monarch Sultan Muhammad V pardoned Anwar, who was imprisoned on sodomy and corruption charges that he says were politically motivated.

Former Prime Minister Najib Razak, who was jailed last year after a graft conviction linked to state fund 1MDB, has applied for a royal pardon. It is not known whether Najib’s request will be reviewed by the new king.



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