King denies delaying swearing-in of new PM

Sultan Muhammad V of Kelantan was installed as the 15th Agong in December 2016 in a unique rotational system steeped in royal tradition.
Sultan Muhammad V of Kelantan was installed as the 15th Agong in December 2016 in a unique rotational system steeped in royal tradition.PHOTO: REUTERS

Malaysia's King, Sultan Muhammad V, yesterday refuted allegations that he had delayed the swearing-in of Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad as the seventh prime minister, in an unusual denial by the national palace.

The statement from Istana Negara came amid anxiety in the country as the day dragged from the wee hours of yesterday, when the Pakatan Harapan-led opposition coalition was confirmed by the Election Commission as having won the general election in a shock win.

"Istana Negara strongly refutes any allegation that His Majesty The Yang di-Pertuan Agong XV, Sultan Muhammad V, delayed the appointment of Tun Dr Mahathir as Prime Minister," the statement said. It was signed by Comptroller of the Royal Household Wan Ahmad Dahlan Abdul Aziz.

Dr Mahathir was finally sworn-in just before 10pm.

The second day of political drama in Malaysia has spotlighted the role of the King, called Agong in Malay.

Sultan Muhammad V of Kelantan, 48, was installed as the 15th Agong in December 2016, in a unique rotational system steeped in royal tradition.

The hereditary monarchs of the nine Malaysian royal houses take turns every five years to become the King. The ruler has to approve key appointments in the federal government.

Dr Mahathir called a news conference yesterday afternoon on learning that he might not be sworn in as prime minister. He was asked if there was a possibility that the delays were because the King did not like him.

Dr Mahathir replied that he had majority support from the MPs and it did not matter if the ruler liked him or not, according to the Constitution.

The question was probably raised because of old tensions between Dr Mahathir and the royal family of Kelantan and the other royal houses.

In his 22 years as prime minister from 1981, Dr Mahathir went through two constitutional crises with the rulers that analysts say have not been forgotten in the state palaces. In 1983, he sought to remove the need for the King to assent to legislation. The rulers rejected this. The compromise reached allows the King to delay by not immediately signing into law what Parliament had approved, but he cannot reject it.

In 1993, another crisis exploded when Dr Mahathir moved to remove judicial immunity from the rulers.

And then there was a 1992 controversy when then Kelantan Sultan Ismail Petra, Sultan Muhammad's father, refused to pay import duty on a Lamborghini Diablo that he had brought in.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 11, 2018, with the headline 'King denies delaying swearing-in of new PM'. Print Edition | Subscribe