Malaysia’s king abdicated last month in a historic first for the country that ended weeks of speculation about his future after he took medical leave and reportedly married a Russian ex-beauty queen.
Sultan Muhammad V’s decision marks the first time a king has stepped aside during his five-year term in the Muslimmajority country. The national palace confirmed the resignation with immediate effect of the 49-year-old, who had been on the throne for two years and was known for his fondness for four-wheel driving and other extreme sports. Malaysia’s Islamic rulers will now meet to decide on the next king. Malaysia is a constitutional monarchy, with a unique arrangement where the throne changes hands every five years between rulers of the nine Malaysian states headed by centuriesold Islamic royalty.
The system has been in place since independence from Britain in 1957. Royal officials gave no reason for Sultan Muhammad V’s move but there had been a question mark over the king’s reign since he went on leave for medical treatment in November. Reports in British and Russian media then surfaced saying that he had married the former Miss Moscow in the Russian capital in a lavish ceremony.
Royal officials in Malaysia have so far not commented on the rumored marriage, or given any details about the state of the king’s health. Speculation intensified about the king’s future after his medical leave officially finished at the end of December, and the country’s Islamic royals reportedly held a special meeting. While their role is ceremonial, Malaysia’s Islamic royalty command great respect, especially from Muslim Malays, and criticizing them is strictly forbidden. Sultan Muhammad V is known for a relaxed public persona, taking part in walkathons to promote health, and has been photographed wearing a baseball cap backwards. He is also the ceremonial ruler of the conservative Islamic northern state of Kelantan. The palace statement said he was “ready to return home to the state of Kelantan to be together with the state government and… the Kelantanese people”. Malaysia’s sultans trace a lineage back to Malay sultanates of the 15th century. The king is referred to as Yang di-Pertuan Agong, or “He Who Is Made Lord”. – AFP