Sultan Abdullah is the new king of Malaysia. The peculiarity: Abdullah is king with a limited term of office. 2024 is another Sultan’s turn. That’s how it is in Malaysia.

Tengku Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah is the new king of Malaysia

The Sultan of Pahang, Tengku Abdullah, was elected ruler until 2024. The 59-year-old takes over from former King Muhammad V., who unexpectedly resigned at the beginning of January. Not bad health forced the only 49-year-old and thus youngest king in Malaysia’s history to renounce, but apparently his liaison with a former “Miss Moscow”, which he secretly married. From his first wife, a Muslim princess from Thailand, he had split in 2008, so that he was the first unmarried king to the throne. The private life of the king, which is not compatible with Islamic values, has convinced the remaining sultans of Malaysia to persuade Muhammad V to resign.

King Sultan Mohammed v. Malaysia (Getty Images / M. Rasfan)

Malaysia’s King Mohammed V resigned in January

Colonial heritage

As a former part of the British Empire, today’s Malaysia has adopted some basic political structures of its former colonial rulers. These are the majority vote and the constitutional monarchy. The latter with a decisive deviation, because it is an electoral monarchy. The Malaysian head of state, the king or, in Malay, Yang di-Pertuan Agong (“The One Who Became Lord”), is elected every five years in a rotation process from the ranks of the traditional rulers of the Malaysian federal states. There are 13 of them, but only nine, all on the Malay Peninsula, have a head of royal families, mostly called Sultan.

Malaysia longtime opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim gains parliamentary seat (Reuters / Lai Seng Sin)

Back in politics after a royal pardon: Anwar Ibrahim, who shares an eventful (judicial) history with Prime Minister Mahathir

“Conference of the rulers”

Die neun Herrscher bzw. Sultane führen ihre Herkunft auf die Zeit der Islamisierung Malayas im 15. Jahrhundert und teilweise noch davor zurück. Sie wählen seit der ersten unabhängigen Regierung Malaysias im Jahre 1957 das nominelle Staatsoberhaupt, als Symbol der nationalen Einheit und als Wächter des Islam. Diese herausgehobene Stellung in dem neuen Bundesstaat war das Ergebnis des Entkolonialisierungsprozesses seit 1948. Die Briten räumten den Sultanen bestimmte Sonderrechte ein, etwa das Zustimmungsrecht zu Verfassungsänderungen und bei der Ernennung des britischen high commissioner. Diese Sonderrolle wurde dann in die moderne Verfassung übernommen, wobei heutzutage die staatlichen Funktionen des Königs hauptsächlich zeremonieller Art sind.

Malaysia Mahathir Mohamad, Prime Minister Inauguration in Kuala Lumpur (Reuters / R. Awang / Bernama)

Muhammad (r) in 2018 reluctantly took the oath of office of the new (old) Prime Minister Mahathir

Limited privileges

His duties include the appointment of the head of government and, at the behest of the prime minister, the dissolution of parliament. The king also has the privilege of pardoning offenders, which played a role in the recent change of government from Najib Razak to Mahathir Mohammad. His former opponent Anwar Ibrahim, who was imprisoned for alleged homosexual acts and corruption, was released after a royal act of grace and became the deputy to the new (old) Prime Minister Mahathir. Other privileges of kings, such as immunity from prosecution and the possibility of a binding veto against lawmakers, were abolished in the 1980s and 1990s when Mahathir was also prime minister.

Miss Moscow 2015 - Oksana Woevodina (picture-alliance / dpa / Sputnik / E. Chesnokova)

The Russian beauty queen Oksana Woewodina is said to have twisted the king’s head and even persuaded him to marry

King Muhammad V, who has now resigned under boulevard circumstances, had delayed the swearing-in of Mahathir, the clear election-winner in the parliamentary elections, last May for almost a full day. But the state structures in Malaysia are stable and can not be endangered by rebel sultans. So Muhammad V wanted to prevent the appointment of a non-Muslim Attorney General, but head of government Mahathir insisted on his decision and the king had to relinquish.

Malaysia Putra Mosque in Putrajaya (Imago / imagebroker)

“Islam First”: The new Putra Mosque, with room for 15,000 worshipers, is located right next to the Prime Minister’s office

Safer of the interests of Muslims

The significance of kingship lies primarily in its symbolic function as protector of the interests of the Malay-Muslim majority population, which is also laid down in a constitutional article (Article 153). “Many people in Malaysia see the sultans as the embodiment of the traditions of the majority Muslim-Malay population, and the monarchy as the guarantor of reason,” said Serina Rahman of the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute in Singapore told The New York Times. “That’s why politicians often seek the support of the sultans to secure voices from the Malaysian camp.”

Malaysia |  Diwali Festival (picture-alliance / NurPhoto / C. Jung)

Hindu celebrations in Malaysia – the relationships between the ethnic groups and religions are not always so harmonious

Politics under ethnic sign

For Malaysia’s society and domestic politics are still characterized by ethnic tensions. 60 percent of Malaysia’s 32 million inhabitants are Malays, the so-called “sons of the earth” (Bumiputras), 23 percent are Chinese and 7 percent Indian vote, the latter mostly Hindus. The economic dominance of Chinese entrepreneurs and artisans has resulted in claims for protection of the Malay majority.

The “Pact of Hope”, the coalition of election winner Mahathir, must defend itself against allegations of alleged neglect of the rights and interests of the Malays. In the May elections, only 30 percent of Malay voters voted for Mahathir’s coalition. In order to secure the support of the important Malay population, Mahahir and his potential successor Anwar Ibrahim will not be able to get along with the new king.

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