Malaysia’s royal families will meet on January 24 to pick a new king after Sultan Muhammad V abdicated unexpectedly after just two years on the throne, an official said Monday.
The 49-year-old ruler resigned Sunday as Malaysia’s 15th king, marking the first abdication in the nation’s history and cutting short his five-year term. No reason was given, but the move came after he reportedly married a 25-year-old former Russian beauty queen in November while on medical leave.
Keeper of the Ruler’s Seal, Syed Danial Syed Ahmad, said the Council of Rulers held a meeting Monday and set January 24 to elect a new king. He said in a statement that the new king would be sworn in on January 31.
The council comprises nine hereditary state rulers who take turns as Malaysia’s king for five-year terms. Malaysia is the only country in the world to have a rotational monarchy under a unique system maintained since the country’s independence from Britain in 1957.
Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said earlier Monday that it was up to the Council of Rulers to pick the new king, but added that he hoped it would be done quickly.
During his first stint as prime minister for 22 years until his retirement in 2003, Mahathir pushed through constitutional amendments that stripped the sultans’ power to veto state and federal legislation, and curbed their legal immunity. The monarch’s role is largely ceremonial, since administrative power is vested in the prime minister and parliament. But the monarch is highly regarded, particularly among the ethnic Malay Muslim majority, as the supreme upholder of Islam and Malay tradition.
Still, some sultans have in recent years become more active in business and politics. Sultan Muhammad V delayed Mahathir’s swearing-in as prime minister after a historic election victory in May last year, and also delayed giving his consent to the appointment of a non-Muslim attorney general.
Sultan Muhammad V was installed as king in December 2016. He was one of Malaysia’s youngest constitutional monarchs and has a love for extreme sports.
Reports in Russian and British media and on social media featured photos of his wedding with a former Miss Moscow that reportedly took place in Moscow. Neither the sultan, the palace, nor the government had officially confirmed the wedding.
Speculation that Sultan Muhammad V would step down emerged last week, shortly after he returned from a two-month leave, but Mahathir had said Friday that he was unaware of any abdication plans.
National police chief Mohamad Fuzi Harun warned the public Monday not to speculate on Sultan Muhammad V’s abdication. He was quoted as saying by local media that police had received several reports of provocative statements being made on social media and were investigating.
Next in line for the top job is Sultan Azlan Shah of central Pahang state, who was king from 1979 to 1984, but the 88-year-old is now unwell and didn’t attend Monday’s council meeting. Some observers said he can abdicate in favor of his son, who can become king. After Pahang is the billionaire Sultan Ibrahim Ismail of southern Johor state, who is involved in business, owns a fleet of jets, and loves Harley-Davidson motorcycles.
By Eileen Ng for Associated Press