Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia – The last time a Johor state sultan was on Malaysia’s throne, in the late 1980s, the country was plunged into a constitutional crisis as then-Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad sought to clip the wings of the judiciary.
Today, as the current Sultan of Johor becomes king, Malaysia faces a crackdown on corruption that has ensnared some of the most prominent political figures of the Mahathir era, speculation of a pardon for disgraced former Prime Minister Najib Razak and continued political maneuvering over a peace deal. realignment which began in 2018.
“It is very likely that at some point it will be called upon to decide which side will have stronger control of Parliament,” Malaysian political analyst Oh Ei Sun told Al Jazeera. “It could happen at any time.”
Sultan Ibrahim Sultan Iskandar, 65, will be installed as 17th Yang di-Pertuan Agong at a ceremony in Kuala Lumpur on Wednesday, which will be broadcast live on state television.
He will serve for five years under Malaysia’s unique rotational monarchy system in which the country’s nine hereditary rulers take turns to become the Yang Di-Pertuan Agong, or He Who Became Lord.
While the king is a constitutional monarch who acts as head of state and commander of the armed forces, the upheaval following the historic 2018 elections – when the once-dominant United Malaysians National Organization (UMNO) was defeated for the first time since independence – saw the monarch take a greater role in the country’s politics.
At the time of this defeat, King Muhammad V of the northeastern state of Kelantan was on the throne and helped ensure a smooth transfer of power.
When the then 49-year-old chose to resign, his successor, King Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah of the central state of Pahang, used the monarch’s discretionary powers to appoint the country’s prime ministers. 2020 And 2021, and after the election in 2022 when no party obtained a parliamentary majority.
He also accepted the request of then Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin for a emergency statewhich suspended Parliament in January 2021 as the COVID-19 pandemic raged.
With the installation of Sultan Ibrahim, Malaysia experienced a period of relative calm, with Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim heading a so-called “unity” government that included his former rivals UMNO as well as representatives of the States of Borneo. Sabah and Sarawak.
Yet some politicians continue to jostle for power amid deep divides in Malaysian society, while a crackdown on corruption has ensnared Daim Zainuddin, Mahathir’s once-powerful right-hand man, the longest-serving Prime Minister of Malaysia.
There is also nervousness about being disgraced former Prime Minister Najib Razak who has been serving a 12-year prison sentence for nearly 18 months for corruption in connection with the multibillion-dollar 1MDB public fund scandal.
Speculation is growing that Najib, who has requested a full pardon, could be released despite multiple ongoing trials over the scandal.
Some say Najib’s release would help heal some of the country’s political divisions, as he remains popular among some ethnic Malaysians, who make up more than half the population and who increasingly vote for conservative religious and nationalist parties.
But analysts say such a move risks alienating those seeking reforms and harming Malaysia’s international reputation.
Minister to the Prime Minister (Federal Territories) Zaliha Mustafa said the pardons committee met at the palace on Monday during the outgoing king’s last official engagement. She did not specify what was discussed.
“Wait for an official statement from the Board of Pardons,” she said, according to the Star, a Malaysian newspaper.
Malaysia’s royal houses remain powerful symbols of identity for many Malaysians and sultans are the guardians of Islam in their own states. The Malays of Malaysia are still Muslims.
Sultan Ibrahim has previously spoken out against the “Arabization” of Malay culture and stressed the need for moderation in a country with large ethnic Chinese and ethnic populations. Indiansmost of whom are not Muslims.
Independent analyst Asrul Hadi Abdullah Sani says that once installed in the palace, the new king “will not hesitate” to express his views to Anwar if he is not satisfied.
The two men appear to have a close working relationship and share similar concerns, including the need to fight corruption and boost the economy and investment.
This month, Singapore and Malaysia reached a preliminary agreement to establish a Singapore-Johor special economic zone and improve connectivity across the border, one of the busiest in the world.
“Unlike other rulers of the state who have been largely ceremonial, the sultan has always had a practical approach to state matters and a working relationship with the chief minister,” Asrul Hadi said referring to the head of state. Johor State Government. “He expects a similar relationship with the federal government, but there will likely be some pushback from the administration, particularly on policy issues.”
Sultan Ibrahim has already sparked controversy in an interview with the Singaporean newspaper Straits Times, published in December.
In an article titled “No ‘puppet king'”, the sultan said it was necessary to tackle corruption, install “checks and balances” on the government and control the “machinations of politicians selfish” in a blow to politics. maneuvers that have shaken the country in recent years.
“He won’t want to get caught up in the game that politicians play,” said Ong Kian Ming, director of the philosophy, politics and economics program at Taylor University in Kuala Lumpur as well as a former MP and trade lawmaker. minister. “He wants political stability so that a strong economic program can be put in place and implemented. »
Married with six children, Sultan Ibrahim is one of Malaysia’s richest men, with interests in property-related internet services, including a stake in the troubled China-backed group. Forest City Project.
Known for his annual road trip around Johor meeting the state’s residents – carried out one year from a custom-made Mack truck – he has a passion for fast cars and planes.
Tunku Ismail Sultan Ibrahim, meanwhile, his eldest son, has been lauded for the state’s dominance of domestic football, with Johor Darul Ta’zim FC (JDT) winning the super league for 10 consecutive years.
The family has also demonstrated great media savvy, providing insight into royal life with hundreds of thousands of followers across social media platforms including Facebook, Instagram and YouTube.
The posts included videos of the Sultan joking as he met people around Johor and a film about the recruitment process for the Royal Johor Military Force, the state’s private army.
Earlier this week, they shared photos and videos of the ceremony in which Tunku Ismail Sultan Ibrahim, better known as TMJ (the Malay acronym for Tunku Makhota Johor), was appointed regent before departure from his father to Kuala Lumpur.
The post showed the 39-year-old prince, dressed in full military uniform, arriving at the palace in a black Rolls Royce and taking the oath of office.
On Wednesday, attention will turn to Sultan Ibrahim.
Police said they expect up to 30,000 people to gather on the streets of Johor Bahru, the state capital, to bid farewell to the sultan as he heads to the airport to take your flight to Kuala Lumpur.
Supporters are also expected in the capital since the installation ceremony is broadcast live on television.