Sultan Ibrahim Iskandar, a billionaire from the southern state of Johor, has been sworn in as the 17th king of Malaysia under a unique rotating monarchy system.
The 65-year-old sultan took his oath of office at the national palace in Kuala Lumpur and signed the instrument of the proclamation of office in the presence of prime minister Anwar Ibrahim, other royal families and cabinet members.
The monarchy plays a ceremonial role in the Southeast Asian parliamentary democracy, but the position has become more influential in recent years due to prolonged political instability.
Under the rotating system of monarchy, the heads of Malaysia’s nine royal families take turns to be the king, known as the “Yang di-Pertuan Agong” every five years.
Sultan Ibrahim succeeds Al-Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah, who is returning to lead his home state of Pahang after completing his five-year tenure as king. His election had been widely expected, as the ruler of Johor state bordering Singapore was next in line based on a rotation order established among the country’s nine state rulers.
Sultan Ibrahim is one of the wealthiest men in the country and is known for his large collection of luxury cars and motorbikes. The outspoken monarch shares strong ties with PM Ibrahim, and believes should be given more time to strengthen the economy.
The sultan, ahead of his installation, told The Straits Times he intends to be an active monarch and proposed that Malaysia’s state oil firm Petroliam Nasional and the country’s anti-corruption agency to report directly to the king.
“It is not a promotion. It is a responsibility I am prepared to undertake,” he earlier said. “The (people) will always come first.”
A company he has a stake in has a joint venture with struggling Chinese property developer Country Garden to develop a $100bn project called Forest City in Johor. He also owns a private army.
The sultan has publicly advocated setting up a special economic zone between Johor and neighbouring Singapore to strengthen ties.
He also spoke of his plans to revive a stalled high-speed rail link project between Malaysia and Singapore, with a border crossing through Forest City.
But PM Ibrahim later downplayed the statements, saying all opinions can be discussed without disregarding the federal constitution.
The federal constitution grants the monarch only a few discretionary powers, with the king largely required to act upon the advice of the prime minister and cabinet.
It also allows the king to appoint a prime minister who he believes has a parliamentary majority, a power never utilised until 2020, as the premier is typically picked through an election.
Then king al-Sultan exercised those powers during a period of political instability triggered by the defeat of the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), which had governed Malaysia uninterrupted since independence until 2018. He picked the last three prime ministers of the country.
Before stepping down from the throne, Al-Sultan Abdullah called for political stability, responding to media reports this month of an alleged plot to topple the government.