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Explained: Malaysia is the world’s only monarchy of its kind. Here’s why

The top office in Malaysia is known as the Yang di-Pertuan Agong, which literally means ‘He Who is Made Lord’– referring to its elective nature, and has a tenure of five years. Malaysia’s system of elected monarchy is the only one of its kind in the world.

Written by Om Marathe |
Updated: August 3, 2019 5:43:02 pm
Malaysia Monarchy Explained, Malaysia new King Abdullah, King Abdullah Malaysia monarch, Express Explained Malaysia’s new king, Al-Sultan Abdullah Ri’ayatuddin Al-Mustafa Billah Shah, poses for a photograph during his coronation at the National Palace in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, July 30, 2019. (Malaysia’s Department of Information/Handout via Reuters).

Earlier this week, Malaysia installed its 16th elected monarch since the country achieved independence from British colonial rule in 1957. King Abdullah, 60, who is also the Sultan of Malaysia’s Pahang state, formally ascended the throne amid rituals that go back centuries.

King Abdullah’s predecessor, Muhammad V of the Kelantan state, made headlines in January this year after becoming the first ruling monarch of the country to abdicate; leaving the throne so that he could marry a Russian ex-beauty pageant winner.

The top office in Malaysia is known as the Yang di-Pertuan Agong, which literally means ‘He Who is Made Lord’– referring to its elective nature, and has a tenure of five years. Malaysia’s system of elected monarchy is the only one of its kind in the world. READ MORE EXPLAINED NEWS

What is Malaysia’s ‘elected monarchy’?

The Malaysian monarchy consists of nine hereditary ethnic Malay royals who form the Conference of Rulers, each ruling a separate state in Malaysia (Johore, Kedah, Kelantan, Negeri Sembilan, Pahang, Perak, Perlis, Selangor, and Terengganu). Seven of these kings use the title of ‘Sultan’, except Negeri Sembilan and Perlis, who use the titles ‘Yang di-Pertuan Besar’ and ‘Raja’ respectively.

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In the current system of election, which has been in place since the end of colonial rule in 1957, the king is elected by these nine rulers, and reigns for a tenure of five years. Every five years, the nine royals elect to confirm or reject the next Yang di-Pertuan Agong from amongst them, in a rotational system where the order of succession among states is premeditated. The current Sultan Abdullah of Pahang was the next in line to ascend the throne, and became king upon being confirmed by the Council after his predecessor Muhammad V of Kelantan abdicated.

The Conference of Rulers also includes the governors of the non-royal states of Malacca, Penang, Sarawak, and Sabah, but these can neither elect nor get elected to the throne.

Role of the monarch today

The monarchy in Malaysia has its roots in the 15th century, when the oldest kingdom of Malacca was founded by Iskandar Shah, a Muslim convert who earlier went by the name Parameswara.

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Since then, the position of the monarchy has deteriorated, including through the British colonial era when royals did not exercise any active role. After 1957, when the British departed, the monarchy has been confined to a largely ceremonial position.

A constitutional monarchy today, Malaysia has the Yang di-Pertuan Agong as the head of state, and an elected government is actually in power. The Agong has to give his assent to the appointment of the Prime Minister and other senior appointments, and also has to approve laws made by Parliament.

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Despite not having vast executive powers, the Agong is deeply respected in Malaysian society. Ethnic Malays, who are Muslims and constitute the majority of the country’s population, consider the Agong as the guardian of Islam in Malaysia. He is also the commander-in-chief of the armed forces, and portraits of the Agong and his consort are displayed in government buildings across Malaysia. Criticising the Agong is a serious offence in the country, and can lead to arrest under the country’s Sedition Act.

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