Malaysia’s sultans must pick a new king

Jan 10, 2019

His kingdom for a queen

THE ANNOUNCEMENT was unexpected and unexplained. On January 6th Sultan Muhammad V, Malaysia’s king, stepped down from the throne. It was the first time a Malaysian king had abdicated. He had only reigned for two years.

The king presides over one of the world’s most peculiar monarchies, established at independence in 1957. Malaysia is a federation made up of 13 states. The titular head of the government in nine of them is a sultan (democratically appointed chief ministers actually run the show). The nine sultans choose one of their own to serve a five-year term as king whenever the job becomes vacant. In practice, the nine states take it in turns. The king’s job is largely ceremonial, although he can delay legislation and refuse a prime minister’s request to dissolve parliament.

No reason was given for the abdication, but many suspect the king’s love life had...

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