KUALA LUMPUR • Malaysia yesterday installed its 15th king, Sultan Muhammad V, a relatively youthful monarch known for his fondness for four-wheel driving and other extreme sports.
In a ceremony steeped in pomp and centuries of tradition, the 47-year-old Sultan, dressed in gold-coloured traditional Malay formal wear, took the oath of office in the Istana Negara, or national palace, in Kuala Lumpur, reported Agence France-Presse.
The ceremony, marked by honour guards and Islamic prayers, was televised nationally and attended by Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak and hundreds of guests decked out in traditional Malay finery.
Sultan Muhammad V, currently the ceremonial ruler of the conservative Islamic northern state of Kelantan, takes the national throne under the rotating monarchy that has been in place since the country's independence from Britain in 1957.
In a unique arrangement, the throne of the Muslim-majority country changes hands every five years between the rulers of the nine Malaysian states still headed by Islamic royalty.
According to national news agency Bernama, the last monarch from Kelantan state to be given the honour was Sultan Muhammad V's grandfather, the late Sultan Yahya Petra ibni Sultan Ibrahim, who served as the sixth Yang di-Pertuan Agong from 1975 to 1979.
Sultan Muhammad V studied at St Cross College at Oxford and the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies.
He is known for his relaxed public persona, taking part in walkathons to promote health, and has been photographed wearing a baseball cap backwards.
The Sultan "fills his free time by reading and has an interest in extreme sports such as four-wheel drive expeditions and endurance challenges and shooting", according to Bernama.
The news agency described him as a "ruler with a big heart" who refers to himself as "ambo" ("servant" in the Kelantan Malay dialect) when he greets the people. He is understood to have visited his subjects in the interior parts of Kelantan state, including the Orang Asli, or indigenous tribes, who live in forests in Gua Musang and Jeli.
Despite the merely ceremonial role, Malaysia's royalty commands great respect, especially from Muslim Malays, the country's majority ethnic group, and criticising the royals is strictly forbidden.
Portraits of the king and queen adorn government buildings throughout the country. The king is also the symbolic head of Islam in the nation, as well as the nominal chief of the military.
Malaysia's sultans trace a lineage back to Malay sultanates of the 15th century. The king is referred to as Yang di-Pertuan Agong, or "the supreme ruler".
Bernama reported that the Sultan of Perak, Sultan Nazrin Shah, also took the oath of office yesterday as the Timbalan Yang di-Pertuan Agong, or deputy king. The two rulers were elected by the Conference of Rulers in October.
Sultan Muhammad V replaces Sultan Abdul Halim Mu'adzam Shah, from the northern state of Kedah. The 89-year-old was king previously in the 1970s and became the first person to hold the position twice.