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Snap Insight: How will the Johor sultan serve Malaysia as its next king?

HOBART: On Friday (Oct 27) morning, it was announced that Johor ruler, Sultan Ibrahim Sultan Iskandar, will be installed as Malaysia’s king from Jan 31, 2024.

The Agong, as the king is called in Malaysia, is chosen based on the country’s unique rotational system, with a fixed order of the nine hereditary sultans taking turns to become head of state for five years.

WHAT SORT OF AGONG WILL SULTAN IBRAHIM BE?

The question everyone is asking in Kuala Lumpur now is: What sort of Agong will Sultan Ibrahim be?

The short answer is that he will not be very different from how he has been as Sultan of Johor, though he will now have to keep in mind that he represents his brother rulers as well. He is no longer speaking for the state of Johor but the whole nation.

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What we do know is that Sultan Ibrahim strongly believes in multiculturalism. He has made it clear many times in Johor, that he treats all his subjects as Bangsa Johor – an inclusive Johorean identity – and that he does not like the racial polarisation of Malaysian politics.

In one famous incident in 2017, he reprimanded a Johor laundry operator for a signboard limiting its services to only Muslims, warning business owners with blatant discriminatory practices that their licences may be revoked. “Don’t mess around with your narrow-minded religious prejudices,” he said at the time.

The new Queen, Raja Zarith Sofiah Sultan Idris Shah, is someone who shares her husband’s belief in Bangsa Johor and multicultural Malaysia. Many may not know that she graduated from Oxford University with a major in Chinese Studies.

SAGE ADVICE AND WISE COUNSEL

Although Malaysia is a constitutional monarchy, the sultans are powerful in their own right. As Johor ruler, Sultan Ibrahim is already part of the constitutional body called the Conference of Rulers which is the final arbiter of anything to do with Islam and Malay adat (customs and traditions), including federal laws.

A new role he will take on is to provide the prime minister with advice and counsel. As a tradition inherited from the British, the prime minister regularly meets with the Agong when Cabinet is in session to brief him on all government policies.

The Agong will provide his views on government policy – widely seen to be a non-partisan and non-political view – which will be taken into account by the prime minister. Retired British prime ministers have said that the advice given by the late Queen Elizabeth II was very important in how they made their decisions. There is no reason to think it will be different in Malaysia’s case.

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HOPES FOR MALAYSIA’S POLITICAL STABILITY

In recent years, the monarchy has played an important role when the politicians are unable to get their act together.

When the first Pakatan Harapan government fell apart in 2020, it was the current Agong, Sultan Abdullah of Pahang, who selected Muhyiddin Yassin to be prime minister. A year later, when Muhyiddin lost his majority, it was the Agong again who selected Ismail Sabri Yaakob as his successor.

After the inconclusive general election results in November 2022, again it was left to the Agong to assess which of the coalition leaders, Muhyiddin Yassin or Anwar Ibrahim, could command the majority in parliament.

It’s unsurprising if Malaysians see the monarchy as the salve when the political class is cracked. The Agong is the one who will fix their mess, unwavering.

With hopes that the political tumult will end with current Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim at the helm, who similarly holds a vision of multicultural Malaysia, Sultan Ibrahim can be the beacon of stability the country needs.

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