'No plans for Saudi king to abdicate in favour of son'

Abdication is unthinkable especially since King Salman, 81, enjoys "perfect" physical and mental powers, an official said.
Abdication is unthinkable especially since King Salman, 81, enjoys "perfect" physical and mental powers, an official said.

RIYADH • King Salman is not planning to abdicate in favour of his son, a senior official said, dismissing mounting speculation that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman will soon ascend to the throne.

"There is no possibility whatsoever that the king will abdicate," the Saudi official said in response to written questions.

Saudi kings usually stay in power even when bad health prevents them from carrying out their job, the official said on condition of anonymity.

He noted the example of King Fahd, who stayed on as monarch until his death in 2005 despite being gravely ill in the last few years of his reign.

Abdication is unthinkable especially since King Salman, 81, enjoys "perfect" physical and mental powers, the official said. Those who suggest otherwise "do not understand royal customs and traditions in Saudi Arabia", the official added.

King Salman has already sidelined senior princes as his son rose to power. Prince Mohammed, 32, was named heir to the throne in June, replacing his cousin Muhammad bin Nayef.

Last week, Prince Miteb bin Abdullah was dismissed from his post as head of the National Guard as part of what the authorities described as a sweeping anti-corruption drive, reinforcing speculation that the Crown Prince was on the cusp of becoming king.

The government will have difficulty credibly denying that speculation "because no one expects them to acknowledge it as a possibility before it happens", said Mr Graham Griffiths, an analyst at consultancy Control Risks in Dubai. "As a result, rumour and speculation will continue to abound."

There is one precedent of a Saudi monarch stepping down while still alive. King Saud bin Abdulaziz abdicated in favour of his brother and heir, Prince Faisal, in the mid-1960s after pressure from the ruling family. His heir had already claimed broad powers to counter a financial crisis that engulfed the kingdom then.

Eurasia Group in September said the royal palace was finalising plans to transfer power, allowing "the father to oversee the transition and prevent dissent from other powerful members of the ruling family".

Prince Mohammed already controls almost all levers of government. He oversees defence, oil and economic policies. He has vowed to wean the Saudi economy off its reliance on oil and return to a more moderate form of Islam.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 13, 2017, with the headline ''No plans for Saudi king to abdicate in favour of son''. Print Edition | Subscribe