KUALA LUMPUR • Pahang's Sultan Abdullah Ri'ayatuddin was installed as the 16th Malaysian king yesterday in a ceremony steeped in royal customs and tradition.
The installation came six months after the surprise abdication of his predecessor, Sultan Muhammad V of Kelantan.
Pahang's 60-year-old ruler was crowned as Agong, or Supreme Ruler, for the next five years in a ceremony at the Istana Negara, the national palace in Kuala Lumpur.
Under Malaysia's unique Constitution, the rulers of the nine Malay royal houses take turns to be elected every five years as the country's constitutional monarch.
The new king yesterday wore a black baju Melayu - a traditional Malay outfit - intricately woven with gold thread, along with a tengkolok, the traditional headgear worn by Malay men. His outfit was accessorised with a keris, a Malay dagger that symbolises power.
The ceremony, held in the palace's throne room, was attended by members of Malaysia's nine royal houses dressed in full regalia, and local political leaders including Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad.
Foreign royals, including Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah of Brunei and his consort, Raja Isteri Pengiran Anak Hajah Saleha, as well as the Crown Prince of the United Arab Emirates, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, were also present.
The ceremony began in the morning with a royal salute involving members of the Malaysian Armed Forces at the main square of Istana Negara.
National news agency Bernama said the royal salute symbolises "the pledge of loyalty of the national defence forces" to the king.
It was followed by the arrival of Sultan Abdullah and his 58-year-old consort, Tunku Azizah Aminah Maimunah Iskandariah Sultan Iskandar, the new Queen.
The royal couple were welcomed by Tun Dr Mahathir, Deputy Prime Minister Wan Azizah Wan Ismail and de facto Islamic Affairs Minister Mujahid Yusuf Rawa.
Sultan Abdullah inspected the guard-of-honour comprising four officers and 103 members of various ranks.
Upon completion of the inspection, Sultan Abdullah was accorded a second royal salute.
In his maiden speech as Agong, Sultan Abdullah urged Malaysians to refrain from raising matters that can undermine and destroy the country's harmony, stressing that unity and harmony are pillars of strength of the nation.
"It is the basis of unity, of bringing the people together and of sparking the spirit of patriotism. It is a spirit that, if inherited and cherished by every single citizen, can bring forth a sense of love and loyalty to the country," Bernama quoted Sultan Abdullah as saying.
"Playing with fire will burn not only oneself but also the whole village," he warned.
Sultan Abdullah's predecessor, Sultan Muhammad V of Kelantan, stepped aside in January after just two years on the throne after he went on medical leave. Reports then surfaced that he had married a former Miss Moscow beauty queen.
No official reason was given for the abdication, the first time a Malaysian king had stepped down before the end of his term in the Muslim-majority country.
Pahang was next in line for the throne after Sultan Muhammad V stepped down and Sultan Abdullah was formally chosen as the country's 16th king by the other eight royal families.
Despite the merely ceremonial role, Malaysia's Malay-Muslim royalty generally commands great respect, especially from the Malays, the country's majority group, with criticism against them strictly forbidden.
Portraits of the king and queen adorn government buildings throughout the country, together with portraits of the prime minister. The king is also the symbolic head of Islam in the nation, as well as the nominal chief of the military.