According to a statement from the palace on Friday, Malaysia’s unique rotating monarchy system has elected the powerful and wealthy ruler of southern Johor state as the nation’s new king. Sultan Ibrahim Iskandar, aged 64, is set to assume the throne for a five-year term starting on January 31. His election had been widely anticipated, as he was next in line based on the established rotation order among the country’s nine state rulers.
He succeeds the incumbent Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah of central Pahang, who presided over a tumultuous period marked by COVID-19 lockdowns and political instability, which saw four prime ministers come to power since the 2018 general elections.
Malaysia’s monarchy operates under a distinctive system where nine ethnic Malay state rulers take turns serving as the king for five-year terms. This unique arrangement has been maintained since Malaysia gained independence from Britain in 1957. The title of the king is known as the Yang Di-Pertuan Agong, or He Who is Made Lord. While the king’s role is largely ceremonial, with administrative power vested in the prime minister and Parliament, the monarch holds great significance as the guardian of Islam and Malay tradition, especially among the Malay Muslim majority.
Despite the largely ceremonial nature of the role, the king has become more involved in politics in recent years. The outgoing King, Sultan Abdullah, had to intervene to determine the prime minister on multiple occasions, including appointing Anwar Ibrahim as prime minister after the 2018 general elections resulted in a hung parliament.
Sultan Ibrahim, known for his annual road trips to connect with his people, has expressed his readiness to take on the responsibilities of the monarchy. He stated, “It is not a promotion. It is a responsibility I am prepared to undertake. The people will always come first.”
In addition to his royal duties, Sultan Ibrahim has an extensive collection of luxurious cars and motorcycles, owns a private army, and is involved in various business ventures, including a stake in the multibillion-dollar Forest City development project in Johor with China’s Country Gardens. He also maintains close ties with Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim and supports his government’s efforts to strengthen the economy.
As the nominal head of the government and armed forces, the king’s assent is required for all laws, Cabinet appointments, and the dissolution of Parliament for general elections. The king also has the authority to issue pardons for criminals. Malaysia’s Constitution allocates approximately 5 million ringgit ($1.21 million) annually for the king’s expenses and his household, which includes palace maintenance, though this amount can be increased with Cabinet approval.