Malaysia’s royal families are understood to have held a meeting to discuss a date to select a new king, after Muhammad V announced his abdication Sunday, state media reports.
Muhammad V’s abdication marked the first time in modern history that the country’s constitutional leader has stepped down.
Muhammad V was elected the 15th Yang di-Pertuan Agong — Malaysia’s head of state — in December 2016. For the six years prior to that he reigned as Sultan of Kelantan province.
According to state-run news agency Bernama, the cars of the rulers of six of the royal houses arrived at the Istana Negara — the King’s official residence — Monday morning.
The royal houses were believed to be meeting to discuss a date to elect Muhammad V’s successor, Bernama said.
“The media was also made to understand that an official statement would be issued by the Keeper of the Rulers’ Seal, Tan Sri Syed Danial Syed Ahmad on the matter soon,” the agency reported.
Since Malaysia’s independence from Britain in 1957, the sultans who are the hereditary monarchs in nine of the country’s 13 states have selected one of themselves to serve a five-year term as King.
The deputy king — also one of the nine sultans — will fulfill the King’s duties until a new one is elected, according to Shad Faruqi, a Malaysian constitutional law scholar and emeritus professor at the University of Malaya.
It’s unclear when exactly the sultans will choose a new ruler, but the King’s abdication is unlikely to trigger any sort of leadership crisis, according to Faruqi.
“The constitution has provisions permitting a King or a sultan to abdicate or to resign, so there is no constitutional crisis or cause for concern in my view,” Faruqi told CNN. “In fact, one could well interpret the situation to mean the constitution is working.”
What led to the abdication?
Muhammad V’s abdication “wasn’t a surprise,” to many political watchers in the country, says James Chin, Director of the Asia Institute at the University of Tasmania. “Last year he took a two-month vacation for medical leave.”
Chin says it is thought that an extraordinary meeting of the royal families persuaded Muhammad to step down.
Chin says that the past 12 months have “seen some fundamental change in Malaysia” — last year was the first time that the Barisan Nasional (BN) party was ousted, and now “the first time that an Agong has stepped down.”
In May last year, Muhammad V swore in current Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, ending almost five decades of rule by the BN, and paved the way for politician Anwar Ibrahim to return to the front line of politics — including a widely anticipated leadership role when Mahathir steps aside — by pardoning his sodomy conviction.
The King’s unprecedented move also comes amid rife speculation that he married a Russian beauty queen, Oksana Voevodina, in November. Photos were shared on social media that purport to show their wedding ceremony, but neither the Malaysian government nor the palace has confirmed the union.