Sports-loving sultan picked as Malaysian king after shock abdication

Malaysia’s royal families on Thursday picked a sports-loving sultan as the country’s new king after the last monarch abdicated in a historic first following his reported marriage to a Russian former beauty queen.

The previous king, Sultan Muhammad V, stepped aside this month following just two years on the throne after reports surfaced he had married the former Miss Moscow while on medical leave.

There was great shock across Malaysia at the first abdication of a monarch in the Muslim-majority country’s history.

Sultan Abdullah Ahmad Shah, a keen athlete who holds a string of positions on sporting bodies, including at world football governing body FIFA, was elected as the new king during a special meeting of Malaysia’s Islamic royalty.

Sultan Abdullah “has been chosen as the 16th Yang di-Pertuan Agong (king) for a period of five years starting from January 31, 2019,” said a statement from the Keeper of the Rulers’ Seal, Syed Danial Syed Ahmad.

Malaysia is a constitutional monarchy, with a unique arrangement where the national throne changes hands every five years between rulers of the country’s nine states headed by Islamic royalty.

Eight of the state sultans earlier met at the national palace in Kuala Lumpur for the so-called “Conference of Rulers” to select the new king.

The only one absent was Muhammad V, who remains the sultan of the northeastern state of Kelantan despite having abdicated as the national monarch.

Abdullah was widely expected to become king as the central state of Pahang was next in line to provide the monarch

The 59-year-old was named Pahang’s new ruler — replacing his elderly, ailing father — several days after Muhammad V’s abdication, paving the way for him to become the next national monarch.

The deputy king was named as Sultan Nazrin Shah of Perak state, according to the statement.

Command great respect

As well as being a member of FIFA’s council — which lays out the vision for global football — he is president of the Asian Hockey Association and a former head of the Football Association of Malaysia.

After attending school in Malaysia, the keen polo player went on to study in Britain, where he attended the Sandhurst military academy, according to a biography published on Bernama.

After Pahang, the next state due to provide a king is Johor.

The sultan of Johor, which borders Singapore, is one of the country’s most wealthy and powerful Islamic rulers, and has his own private army.

To be elected as the national king, a sultan must be supported by at least five of the state rulers.

While their role is ceremonial, Malaysia’s royalty command great respect, especially from the country’s Muslim Malay majority, and criticising them is strictly forbidden.

Portraits of the king and queen adorn government buildings throughout the country. The king is also the symbolic head of Islam in the nation, as well as the nominal chief of the military.

Malaysia’s sultans trace a lineage back to the Malay sultanates of the 15th century. The king’s official title, Yang di-Pertuan Agong, means “He Who Is Made Lord”.

© Agence France-Presse

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Sam Reeves
Sam Reeves
News editor for Malaysia and Singapore at AFP

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