Pick Your King

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Malaysia has a unique form of constitutional monarchy. Every five years, nine sultans convene at the Conference of Rulers – each sultan is also the sovereign of a state in the Southeast Asian country – to elect a new king called the Yang di-Pertuan Agong, or simply the Agong, from their numbers. Under a system that was developed after Malaysia gained independence from the United Kingdom in 1957, winners assume the role according to an established order, but they still must ceremonially receive a majority of votes in a secret ballot, wrote the Star, a local English-language newspaper.

Late last month, the council elected Sultan Ibrahim ibni Almarhum Sultan Iskandar, 64, as their new king. He replaced Al-Sultan Abdullah ibni Sultan Ahmad Shah.

In the past, Sultan Ibrahim might have expected an easy term on the throne. Now, however, he might find his role challenging. The Agong has intervened repeatedly in Malaysian politics in recent years to help defuse crises.

In 2020, when Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad resigned unexpectedly, Al-Sultan Abdullah had to appoint his successor, reported Time magazine. When that successor left office 17 months later after losing the support of lawmakers, the king again had to pick a leader. Last year, Al-Sultan Abdullah appointed Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim amid a rare hung parliament. A previous king pardoned Anwar in 2018 after he had been jailed three years earlier for a five-year sentence on sodomy charges.

Homosexual sexual activity is illegal in Muslim-majority Malaysia, noted the Guardian. As France 24 explained, Malaysian law heavily favors Muslims, who comprise 70 percent of the population. That discrimination hurts ethnic and religious minority groups like Malaysians of Chinese or Indian descent. The Malaysian government has also been supportive of the Palestinian cause since Hamas attacked Israel on Oct. 7 – despite American efforts to pressure it to change its policy, the Diplomat added.

The son of a sultan and a British mother who met while the sultan was studying abroad, the new monarch is wealthy beyond most folks’ imaginations. “Sultan Ibrahim has an extensive collection of luxurious cars and motorcycles,” the Associated Press wrote. “He also owns a private army and is involved in many business ventures.”

One of those business ventures, unfortunately, is a $100 billion smart city that is now on hold because the venture’s partner, Chinese property developer Country Garden, is facing financial collapse.

That experience might serve him well. Malaysia’s economy is also on shaky ground amid global inflation and geopolitical risks in Asia and Europe, reported the South China Morning Post. The value of its currency has been plummeting.

The Agong might find his presence necessary if things become tough again.

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