Malaysia’s new king, Sultan Ibrahim, is a wealthy and outspoken ruler of the southern Johor state. The monarchy, which operates under a unique rotational form, has become more influential in recent years due to prolonged political instability. Nine of Malaysia’s 13 states are led by a traditional ethnic Malay ruler, mostly known as the sultan, in one of the world’s largest monarchy systems.
The constitutional monarchy was established after Malaysia’s independence from Britain. Every five years, the nine rulers elect one among themselves to be Malaysia’s king through a secret ballot. The order of rotation among the sultans was originally determined by seniority, based on how long they had been ruling. However, this rule was dropped after all the royal families completed a term each and they now take turns based on the initial order.
Sultan Ibrahim, 65, hails from the southern state of Johor, whose sultanate can be traced back to the 16th century. He is known for his views on governance and has a good relationship with the prime minister. He owns a large collection of luxury cars and motorbikes and has wide-ranging business interests from real estate to mining. He has publicly advocated establishing a special economic zone between Johor and neighbouring Singapore to strengthen ties and plans to revive a stalled high-speed rail project between Malaysia and the city-state.
The monarch plays a largely ceremonial role and acts as custodian of Islam in the Muslim-majority country. The federal constitution requires the monarch to act upon the advice of the prime minister and cabinet with few exceptions. The king also has the power to pardon convicted people, with former Prime Minister Najib Razak applying for a royal pardon.