KUALA LUMPUR: As Malaysia welcomes a new monarch, analysts say Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah is unlikely to rock the boat with a more proactive posture in national leadership.
Malaysia’s monarchy has been under the spotlight since the premature stepping down of Sultan Muhammad V early this month, followed by the rulers convening a special meeting on Thursday (Jan 24) to elect Pahang’s Sultan Abdullah as the new king.
The strength of the Mahathir administration means that the new monarch has limited scope to play a more proactive political role, said the analysts in interviews with Channel NewsAsia.
Oh Ei Sun, a senior fellow with the Singapore Institute of International Affairs noted that the new king is also a new sultan, having only been proclaimed as the ruler of Pahang on Jan 15.
“He is not known for being outspoken. So I assume he would dutifully play his symbolic role as a constitutional monarch,” said Dr Oh.
A more proactive monarchy is also “virtually impossible with Dr Mahathir (Mohamad) as prime minister”, he added.
Dr Mahathir has a chequered history with the Malay rulers. In the 1990s, he pushed through constitutional amendments to reduce the rights of the sultans to veto state and federal legislation.
He also removed the immunity of sultans from criminal prosecution.
After the Pakatan Harapan coalition won the May 2018 elections, there were allegations that some sultans had attempted to block Dr Mahathir from assuming the premiership, offering the top government post to Deputy Prime Minister Wan Azizah Wan Ismail.
James Chin, the director of the Asia Institute Tasmania added: “All the sultans know they cannot match Tun Mahathir."
He pointed out that the royals are officially neutral and above politics.
“Of course they have personal biases but these will not be made public. Given the past record, the sultans will work with whomever is in power,” he added.
NEW KING SEEN AS SAFE PAIR OF HANDS
The functions of the Malaysian king are largely ceremonial.
He serves to safeguard Islam in the Muslim-majority country and must assent to the appointment of individuals for various senior government roles including that of prime minister.
“The new Agong (king) does not have a track record of holding political opinions and is not tangled up in any controversy and therefore is seen as a relatively safe pair of hands both by the conference of rulers and the federal government,” said Mustafa Izzuddin, a fellow with the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute.
“The working relationship between Istana Negara (National Palace) and Putrajaya would be routine and unexceptional so long as both institutions adhere to a set of rules and principles as to what is allowable and what is not.”
However, this does not mean that the new king has no role to play in Malaysian society, said Dr Mustafa.
“I think the Agong would be seen by the Malaysian populace as being above partisan politics and a stabilising figure to remind and exhort both the political leaders and people of the country on the importance of social harmony for preserving multicultural Malaysia.”
The Jan 6 abdication, a first for Malaysia in modern times, followed reports that Sultan Muhammad V married an ex-beauty queen in Russia in November during a purported two-month medical leave.
Under Malaysia's constitutional monarchy system, the election for the king is held on a rotational basis every five years. The ruler of Pahang was the next in line.
Sultan Abdullah was proclaimed ruler of Pahang on Jan 15, paving the way for him to be elected as king.
The proposal to appoint Sultan Abdullah as the new ruler of Pahang was made because his father Sultan Ahmad Shah, 88, is “gravely ill”.
The new king will be sworn in on Jan 31.