Malaysia: Abdication complicates the making of a king

  • The current situation is unique as no king has abdicated the federal throne before, presenting the rulers with their first unscheduled election not triggered by death.
  • The New Straits Times reported on 9 Jan 19 that the Pahang palace will meet 11 Jan 19 to decide whether the state will install its sixth modern sultan.
  • Such a move has been suggested since talk of Sultan Muhammad’s abdication swirled late last month, though some observers believe that pushing up Tengku Abdullah, 59, as the next king is not without controversy.
  • In the third schedule of the Constitution, which deals with the election of a king, a clause provides that “whenever there is a change in ruler of a state, that state shall be transferred to the end of the list”. But senior lawyers told The Straits Times that that provision is found in a section dealing with the first cycle through all nine states. The current rotation involving the nine houses is the second cycle.
  • Still, there is also an opinion that the clause about going to the end of the list was not activated in the case of the Perlis ruler as he ascended the throne because of his predecessor’s death.
  • The Pahang house’s plan, on the other hand, involves a living ruler abdicating in favour of his son to pave the way for the regent to become king. Then again, there is also a precedent for this. Sultan Muhammad V took the Kelantan throne in 2010 when the state’s royal council deemed his father – who had suffered a stroke – unfit. Sultan Muhammad V was subsequently elected king in 2016.
  • Should Pahang not succeed in being elected, the next in line is Sultan Ibrahim of Johor. But his family has had an uneasy relationship with Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad. They had called on Malaysians to keep Barisan Nasional (BN) in power just before May 18 general election. But Tun Dr Mahathir’s Pakatan Harapan ousted BN.
  • Given that part of the reason to get Sultan Muhammad V to step down was concerns that the royal institution’s image was sullied when Dr Mahathir claimed it delayed approving government appointments, there is some wariness in government circles about having the strong-willed Johor ruler as the next king.
  • The other candidate is Perak’s Sultan Nazrin Shah, the current deputy and acting King. Known as an urbane and learned ruler who often speaks at public events outside of his royal duties, he is popular among more liberal Malaysians.

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