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Malaysia installs new king

By Prime Sarmiento in Hong Kong | chinadaily.com.cn | Updated: 2024-02-01 06:24

King of Malaysia Sultan Ibrahim Iskandar walks out after the oath taking ceremony at the National Palace in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia on Jan 31, 2024. [Photo/Agencies]

Malaysia installed a new king on Wednesday, with Sultan Ibrahim Sultan Iskandar starting his reign at a time that the Southeast Asian nation is pushing for economic reforms while parrying political intrigues.

Sultan Ibrahim, ruler of the southern Malaysian state of Johor, was sworn in as the country's 17th king at the national palace in the capital city of Kuala Lumpur. He will serve as the country's head of state in the next five years under a unique rotating monarchy system. While the king traditionally plays a ceremonial role in Malaysia, Sultan Ibrahim's predecessor, Sultan Abdullah Ahmad Shah, has shown that the monarchy can play a key role in stabilizing the country's tumultuous politics. Analysts said expect the newly-crowned king to continue this role.

Awang Azman Awang Pawi, associate professor at the Academy of Malay Studies in University of Malaya, said Sultan Ibrahim may have a "more prominent" role in the country's governance, noting that the king aims to prioritize political stability and discourage any attempts to overthrow the existing government.

In a November 2023 interview with Singapore daily The Straits Times, Sultan Ibrahim vowed to stamp out corruption, emphasized that a stable government must have consistent and sustainable policies and attributed political instability to "saboteurs or certain groups who lose in the general elections".

"The new king is also seen as uncompromising towards those who try to create discomfort and disharmony, particularly those playing on ethnic and religious issues for political support," Awang Azman told China Daily.

Malaysia's Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim currently heads the so-called unity government that was formed in November 2022 following an election that resulted in a hung parliament. Sultan Abdullah had to step in to resolve the political impasse. But the coalition government, which is barely two years old, continues to battle uncertainties and polarization.

Awang Azman said the opposition may weaken as Sultan Ibrahim is "very firm in wanting the current government to remain until the end of the term".

Serina Abdul Rahman, lecturer on Southeast Asian studies at the National University of Singapore, said the "seemingly fragile position" of the coalition government and the "consistent threats from the opposition to topple the government" may push the king to step in.

"It is always the case that when a government is weak that the royalty rises (to provide) checks and balances," Serina told China Daily.

Malaysia is a constitutional monarchy, with each state ruled by a sultan. The nine state monarchs rotate five-year terms as the Yang di-Pertuan Agong (the paramount ruler). These state monarchs make up the Conference of Rulers and in October 2023 they elected Sultan Ibrahim as the next king.

The 65-year-old Sultan Ibrahim hails from a state which is the news lately after Singapore and Malaysia signed an agreement that aims to develop Johor as a special economic zone and boost economic connectivity between the two closest neighbors.

Tan Wee Tiam, a Johor-based property consultant, said Sultan Ibrahim has long been a "strong advocator of a closer collaboration with Singapore". He expects the new king to remain a "powerful enabler" that will ensure close co-operation between the two countries.

Serina said Malaysia needs to show political stability to entice more foreign investments to come in and boost economic growth. She said that Sultan Ibrahim and the Malaysian royalty believes the country needs stability and inclusivity and that religion and race should not be used to divide the multi-cultural nation.

"They have also often remarked that the priority is political stability and service to the people so that Malaysia can recover economically," Serina said.


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