KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — Malaysia ‘s royal families have elected the powerful and wealthy ruler of southern Johor state as the country’s new king under a unique rotating monarchy system, the palace said Friday.
Sultan Ibrahim Iskandar, 64, will ascend to the throne on Jan. 31 for a five-year term. the palace said in a statement. His election had been widely expected, as the ruler of Johor state bordering Singapore was next in line based on a rotation order established among the country’s nine state rulers.
He succeeds incumbent Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah of central Pahang, who presided over a tumultuous period that included COVID-19 lockdowns and political instability that has seen four prime ministers since 2018 general elections.
Nine ethnic Malay state rulers take turns serving as Malaysia’s king for five-year terms under the world’s only such system, which has been maintained since the country’s independence from Britain in 1957.
Known as the Yang Di-Pertuan Agong, or He Who is Made Lord, Malaysia’s king plays a largely ceremonial role, since administrative power is vested in the prime minister and Parliament. But the monarch is highly regarded as the guardian of Islam and Malay tradition, particularly among the ethnic Malay Muslim majority.
Despite the ceremonial nature of the post, the king has become more active in politics in recent years. Current King Sultan Abdullah had to intervene in the past few years to decide who became prime minister. This included naming Anwar Ibrahim as prime minister after 2018 general elections led to a hung parliament.
Sultan Ibrahim, a ruler who takes annual road trips to meet people in his state, has expressed his readiness to be king.
“It is not a promotion. It is a responsibility I am prepared to undertake,” he told national Bernama news agency last month. “The (people) will always come first.”
Sultan Ibrahim has an extensive collection of luxurious cars and motorcycles. He also owns a private army and is involved in many business ventures. This includes a stake in the multibillion-dollar Forest City development project in Johor with China’s beleaguered developer Country Gardens.
The Johor ruler also has close ties with Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim, and has said Anwar’s year-old government should be given more time to strengthen the economy.
The king is the nominal head of the government and armed forces. All laws, Cabinet appointments and the dissolution of Parliament for general elections require his assent. The king also issues pardons for criminals. Malaysia’s Constitution allocates some 5 million ringgit ($1.21 million) a year for the expenses of the king and his household, including palace maintenance, although the sum can be increased with Cabinet approval.