Sultan Johor As 17th King, Many Expect Interesting Times Ahead

As Sultan Ibrahim of Johor is installed, Malaysia is in a period of relative calm, with Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim at the head of the unity government, and millions of supporters of former Prime Minister Najib Razak waiting for news of his release/pardon from prison

Kuala Lumpur – Sultan Ibrahim of Johor took the oath of office as the 17th King of Malaysia today for a five-year term.

The ceremony of taking the oath of office and signing the instrument of office was held at the 264th (Special) Meeting of the Conference of Rulers at Balairung Seri (throne room), Istana Negara here.

At the ceremony, the Sultan of Perak, Sultan Nazrin Shah, was sworn in as Deputy Yang di-Pertuan Agong for the same period.

In the presence of the other Malay Rulers, members of the Royal family and dignitaries, Sultan Ibrahim signed the instruments of proclamation of office, the content of which was read out by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim.

Departed Johor

Sultan Ibrahim departed for the ceremony from Istana Bukit Serene, Johor at 7.45 am and boarded a special aircraft at the Royal Hangar of Senai International Airport, Johor Bahru, heading to the capital.

The ceremonial welcome of His Majesty the King began at the Royal Malaysian Air Force Subang Air Base at about 9.45 am before Sultan Ibrahim departed for Istana Negara for the oath-taking and signing of instruments.

Queen of Malaysia, Raja Zarith Sofiah, and Their Majesties’ children also graced the historic ceremony.

Sultan Ibrahim, 65, was elected as the 17th King of Malaysia at the 263rd (Special) Meeting of the Conference of Rulers in October last year, which also saw Sultan Nazrin elected as Deputy Yang di-Pertuan Agong.

Sultan Ibrahim replaced Al-Sultan Abdullah Ri’ayatuddin Al-Mustafa Billah Shah, who completed his reign as the 16th Yang di-Pertuan Agong yesterday.

Born on 22 Nov 1958, at the Sultanah Aminah Hospital, Johor Bahru, Sultan Ibrahim was proclaimed the Sultan of Johor on 23 Jan 2010, following the demise of Sultan Iskandar, with the official coronation taking place on 23 March 2015.

Constitutional Crisis

The last time a Sultan from the state of Johor was on the throne of Malaysia in the late 1980s, the country was embroiled in a constitutional crisis as then-Prime Minister Tun Mahathir Mohamad sought to clip the wings of the judiciary.

Now, as the current Johor Sultan becomes king, Malaysia is facing a corruption crackdown which has ensnared some of the most prominent political personalities of the Mahathir era, speculation of a pardon for incarcerated former Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak and continued political manoeuvring as part of a realignment that began in 2018.

He will serve for five years as part of Malaysia’s unique system of rotational monarchy under which the country’s nine hereditary rulers take turns to be the Yang Di-Pertuan Agong, or He Who is Made Lord.

While the king is a constitutional monarch who acts as the head of state and commander of the armed forces, the upheaval that followed the historic election in 2018 – when the once-dominant Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition was defeated for the first time since independence – has seen the monarch playing a more prominent role in the country’s politics.

At that time, King Muhammad V from the northeastern state of Kelantan, was on the throne, and together with Malaysia’s 6th Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Najib who graciously admitted his coalition party’s defeat, helped ensure a smooth transfer of power.

When the then-49-year-old chose to resign, his successor, King Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah from the central state of Pahang, used the monarch’s discretionary powers to name the country’s prime ministers in 2020 and 2021, and after the election in 2022 when no single party won a parliamentary majority.

State of Emergency

He also agreed to then-Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin’s request for a state of emergency, which suspended parliament in January 2021 as the COVID-19 pandemic raged.

Royal intervention has been needed to name prime ministers three times following the collapse of governments and a post-election hung parliament in recent years.

“With this oath, I solemnly and truly profess to be faithful, to rule fairly for Malaysia in accordance with the laws and the constitution,” Sultan Ibrahim said during a nationally televised event.

Noted as a no-holds barred ruler, in an interview with Singapore’s The Straits Times in December, Ibrahim said he was not keen on becoming a “puppet king”.

“There’re 222 of you (lawmakers) in Parliament. There’re over 30 million (population) outside. I’m not with you, I’m with them,” he was quoted as saying in the broadsheet.

“I will support the government, but if I think they are doing something improper, I will tell them.”

The king also wields the power to pardon. In 2018, Sultan Muhammad V, one of Ibrahim’s predecessors, pardoned Anwar, who had served a jail sentence for sodomy.

As at this moment, millions of Najib’s supporters are waiting for news of his imminent pardon or release from prison as the Pardons Board held a meeting and Najib’s pardon application was apparently discussed. However, there have been conflicting statements and media reports about the outcome of the meeting, giving rise to all kinds of speculations.

The role of king in Malaysia carries considerable prestige, particularly among the country’s Malay Muslim majority.

Criticism deemed to incite contempt of the king can result in jail time.

Sultan Ibrahim, who is of Malay-British descent, belongs to the wealthy and powerful Johor royal family, the head of which commands a small private army.

Religious Moderate

Al Jazeera reports that Sultan Ibrahim is seen as a religious moderate. In 2017, he ordered a laundrette owner to apologise for allegedly discriminating against non-Muslims.

Married with six children, he has in the past made annual trips around Johor on a Harley-Davidson motorcycle, handing out charity to the poor.

He also has significant business interests, including a stake in Forest City, a $100 billion development project off the coast of Johor.

The social media-savvy king has a vast collection of luxury and sports cars as well as private jets. He also plays polo and is an army, navy and air force officer who studied abroad in the United States.

Interesting times are certainly expected with the new King at the throne, especially when the country is facing low economic growth, exacerbated by a never-ending political upheaval. – NMH

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