By Ali Nufael and Noah Lee
The sultan of Pahang state was named Malaysia’s new king on Thursday following the unprecedented abdication of his predecessor earlier this month, the government announced.
Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah was selected as king by the Conference of Rulers, made up of nine sultans of Malaysian states and governors of five other states that do not have rulers, officials said.
“[The] Conference of Rulers in its 251st meeting held at the National Palace, on Thursday, Jan.24, 2019, has agreed to declare that His Highness Al-Sultan Abdullah Ri’ayatuddin Al-Mustafa Billah Shah has been chosen as the Yang di-Pertuan Agong XVI for a period of five years from Jan.31, 2019,” said Syed Danial, the Keeper of the Rulers’ Seal, in a statement, referring to the king by his full title in Malay.
The keeper is a government official charged with the custody and use of the symbol of the Conference of Rulers, the traditional Malaysian authority whose members select a king to a five-year term on a rotating basis.
“The Conference of Rulers has decided to continue with the rotational system and not seniority and it is why [the sultan of] Pahang was elected as the new king because he was the next in line after [the sultan of] Kelantan,” Shamrahayu A. Aziz, a constitutional expert, told BenarNews, saying the decision was not a surprise.
Sultan Abdullah, 59, who recently succeeded his ailing father, Sultan Ahmad Shah as sultan of Pahang, is to be sworn in next week.
He is succeeding Sultan Muhammad V, who abdicated earlier this month amid media reports that he had married a Russian woman and taken a two-month vacation for a medical leave late last year.
The Malaysian constitution declares that the king is the supreme head of the federation and supreme commander of its armed forces. Under Article 153, the king must safeguard the special position of ethnic Malays and the indigenous people of Sabah and Sarawak, as well as the legitimate interests of other communities.
In addition, the king presides over the opening of parliamentary sessions and has the power to swear in members of the cabinet, as well as grant royal pardons.
Sultan Muhammad V granted a pardon that allowed Anwar Ibrahim, a senior opposition leader who was imprisoned by the previous government on a sodomy charge, to be freed from custody and re-enter politics.
Following the May 2018 general election that saw the Pakatan Harapan coalition take power, the Associated Press reported that Sultan Muhammad V had offered the prime minister’s position to another candidate before swearing in Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad.
In forming a coalition to defeat a coalition led by Prime Minister Najib Razak, Mahathir and Anwar agreed that Mahathir would assume power following the election while Anwar, who needed a royal pardon to be freed from prison and return to politics, would succeed him in a couple of years.
Earlier this month, Mahathir’s government announced plans to adopt a Malaysian version of Thailand’s anti-royal defamation Lese Majeste law, setting harsh penalties for those who criticize the monarchy.
The announcement on Jan. 10 followed the arrests of three people under the Sedition Act who had allegedly insulted Sultan Muhammad V on social media after his abdication was announced, Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported.
The rights watchdog denounced the government for restoring use of the Sedition Act and looking to establish its own royal defamation law.
“Malaysia’s government is not only delaying revoking abusive laws, but is even considering enacting new laws that curtail human rights,” said Phil Robertson, HRW’s deputy Asia director. “The proposed law on the monarchy would add to the laws already restricting free expression in Malaysia.”