This Week in Asia

Sultan of Pahang named as Malaysia's new king

Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah, the hereditary ruler of the central Malaysian state of Pahang and a prominent adviser to several world sporting bodies, was on Thursday named the country's new king.

The 59-year-old was elected to serve a five-year term by eight other Malay sultans in the country's Conference of Rulers, replacing the previous king, the flamboyant Sultan Muhammad V, who had stunned the country with his sudden abdication in early January.

The appointment was confirmed by the Keeper of the Rulers' Seal.

The new king will be installed in a traditional ceremony on January 31. Sultan Nazrin Shah of Perak state will serve as deputy agong for the five-year term beginning January 31, 2019.

Malaysia's unique system of rotational constitutional monarchy requires the role of king, or Yang di Pertuan Agong, to be passed between the heads of the country's nine royal households " the oldest of which dates to the 12th century.

Upon Muhammad V's unprecedented abdication on January 6, royal watchers had pointed out that Sultan Abdullah's 88-year-old father Sultan Ahmad Shah was next in line to take office in the national palace.

But with the elderly sultan in poor health, he abdicated on January 15 in favour of his eldest son Sultan Abdullah " paving the way for the British-educated sports enthusiast to become the country's next king.

Sultan Abdullah is a member of the non-executive supervisory committee for world soccer known as the Fifa Council, president of the Asian Hockey Federation, and an executive board member of the International Hockey Federation.

Former Malaysian King Sultan Muhammad V. Photo: AP

As the country's head of state, he will have to juggle these responsibilities with his duties as the foremost custodian of Islam in the Muslim-majority country and as commander in chief of the military.

His constitutional powers will include the ability to veto the appointment of key political office holders, including the prime minister.

The king also has powers to grant full pardons to citizens convicted in the courts " a rare move Muhammad V undertook in the aftermath of last year's May 9 election, as he pardoned the veteran politician Anwar Ibrahim.

Anwar, now prime minister-in-waiting, was serving a five-year jail sentence for sodomy that is widely believed to have been trumped up by the disgraced administration of former prime minister Najib Razak.

With Najib " who, like Sultan Abdullah, hails from Pahang " now facing dozens of criminal charges over his links to the 1MDB financial scandal, one analyst suggested the possibility of a royal pardon for the prime minister could not be ruled out.

"When there comes a time for political change or change in the current monarchy, pardons will always fall under the unmoving powers of the Yang di Pertuan Agong", political science professor Awang Azman Awang Pawi said.

"So it is not impossible to imagine that when political change happens there will be efforts by the people or parties at that time to ask for a pardon for Najib as it happened for Anwar."

Najib Razak with former Malaysian King Sultan Abdul Halim Mu'adzam Shah and former US President Barack Obama in 2014. Photo: AP

As one of the four "major chiefs" of Pahang, Najib had a front-row seat for Sultan Abdullah's oath-taking as the state's new sultan on January 16.

His father Sultan Ahmad Shah was among the nine Malay rulers who urged the Najib government to conduct a transparent investigation into the 1MDB scandal in 2015, as the extent of the sovereign wealth fund's losses " allegedly through plunder " became public.

Malaysia is a Muslim-majority country. Photo: AFP

It has been suggested that Najib's defeat in last year's election at the hands of his one-time mentor Mahathir Mohamad was partly because of the public perception that he had a hand in the 1MDB losses.

A trial of the former prime minister begins in February. He faces a lengthy stint in jail if he is convicted of any of the 38 criminal charges he is facing.

Sultan Abdullah's election as king, meanwhile, turns the page on an unprecedented event in Malaysian royal history " the abdication of Muhammad V.

The former king has returned to his previous role as head of the royal household of Kelantan.

No reasons were given for his abdication, and some citizens have been called in by police for speculating online that it had to do with the monarch's personal life.

Reports have said Muhammad V, previously a divorcee, married Russian beauty queen Oksana Voevodina while on medical leave late last year. His office has not commented on the matter.

Unlike neighbouring Thailand, Malaysia does not have strict laws against insulting royalty but colonial-era sedition laws have been used against royal critics in the past.

This article originally appeared on the South China Morning Post (SCMP).

Copyright (c) 2019. South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.

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