(Bloomberg) -- Malaysia’s king, who is known as the Yang di-Pertuan Agong, has abdicated in an unprecedented move, with his successor set to be elected in January.
Sultan Muhammad V is stepping down immediately as the 15th King of Malaysia after serving since Dec. 13, 2016, according to a statement from the palace on Sunday which gave no reason for the abdication. Malaysia’s Conference of Rulers will convene on Jan. 24 to choose a successor, who will be inaugurated on Jan. 31, state news agency Bernama reported.
While the position is mostly ceremonial, it holds special discretionary powers, including swearing in the prime minister and pardoning convicts. Sultan Muhammad V pardoned Anwar Ibrahim, who is expected to become the nation’s next premier. It’s also prestigious among the country’s Malay Muslim majority, with Sultan Muhammad V, aged 49, one of the youngest to ascend the throne.
Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said the election of the new king had to be expedited as he needed to consult the monarch “on certain matters.” The government, he said, won’t interfere in the selection, Bernama reported.
On Friday, Mahathir declined to comment on rumors that Sultan Muhammad V had married a former Miss Moscow during the king’s leave late last year, saying he had no official knowledge of it.
“The royalty is a key issue for Malays, and the protection of this institution by the ruling political power is very important.” said Johan Saravanamuttu, an adjunct senior fellow at Singapore’s S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies. “But we also know that Mahathir has always taken a strong stance when it comes to the royalty. He pushes back, rightly or wrongly, when he sees that the rulers have done something unacceptable.”
Malaysia’s nine Malay state rulers elect the king among themselves through a rotational monarchy, with each term lasting for five years. They held a meeting on Monday to decide the next steps for electing the new monarch, according to the statement published by Bernama.
Mahathir’s had a thorny relationship with Malaysia’s royalty since 1993, when he changed the constitution to remove their legal immunity and scrapped laws barring people from criticizing the king.
The tension resurfaced in May, when Mahathir was made to wait for hours at the palace for his swearing-in as prime minister the day after his shock election victory, which led to Malaysia’s first change in government since its independence in 1957. He demanded to be inaugurated by 5 p.m., but was only confirmed close to 10 p.m. Former premier Najib Razak, who the king reportedly called “uncle”, had stopped short of conceding defeat earlier that day, saying instead the king could decide the next prime minister because no party achieved a simple majority.
The Sultan of Perak, Nazrin Muizzuddin Shah, has carried out the king’s duties as acting monarch since November, when Sultan Muhammad V went on leave for medical reasons. Based on the historical rotation, the next kingship term may go to the Sultan of Pahang, Ahmad Shah, who didn’t attend the Monday meeting of Malay rulers for health reasons.
Sultan Muhammad V’s resignation was in accordance with Article 32(3) of the Federal Constitution, comptroller of the Royal Household Wan Ahmad Dahlan Ab Aziz said. He added the king had officially notified the other Malay rulers via letter.
(Updates with timeline of the new king’s ascension in first and second paragraphs.)
--With assistance from Anisah Shukry.
To contact the reporter on this story: Anuradha Raghu in Kuala Lumpur at email@example.com
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