King's decision dominates headlines across Malaysia

Across the dailies of different languages, the headlines were the same, that Sultan Muhammad V had stepped down.
Across the dailies of different languages, the headlines were the same, that Sultan Muhammad V had stepped down.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

Splashed across the front pages of Malaysian newspapers early yesterday was the stepping down of the King for the first time in the country's history.

Most Malaysians were surprised by the decision of Kelantan Sultan Muhammad V to step down on Sunday, and many were keen to find out more about the regulations in selecting a successor.

A commentary by the New Straits Times praised the speed of the royal palace in putting to rest mounting speculation about the monarch's future on the throne.

The daily emphasised that Sultan Muhammad V "is stepping down, not abdicating, as some have put it", adding that the unprecedented resignation "will pass as the country moves forward with the management of its affairs".

The headlines of most dailies, across different languages, were almost identical: Sultan Muhammad V had stepped down.

Many reprinted an article by official news agency Bernama, "Sultan Muhammad V, a people's King", which painted him as someone with a sense of humour who worked hard to be closer to his subjects.

The King's two-year reign was most memorable for his opening line at the first post-election Parliament sitting last July, when he made a jibe about an earlier walkout by opposition MPs, quipping: "Please sit down and don't run away." It was a historic session, the first since independence with the former ruling Umno-led coalition now in the opposition.

In a commentary, Malay daily Sinar Harian, noting that the remark drew laughter from both parliamentarians and the people, said the monarch would be sorely missed. Sultan Muhammad's off-the-cuff comment in Parliament went viral, with memes and T-shirts bearing the original phrase in Malay - "Sila duduk dan jangan lari" - becoming trendy. It even spawned a TV talkshow named after that line.

One report yesterday, however, said that the Kelantan ruler had never intended to be the King. Under a rotating system, unique to Malaysia, the heads of the nine royal households in the country take turns to be the king. He is chosen by them in a vote in the Council of Rulers.

"Since the beginning, Tuanku was not really interested in becoming the Yang di-Pertuan Agong, that was the information (I got) at the time," Kelantan Menteri Besar Ahmad Yakob told the Malaysiakini website.

 
 
 

Umno's mouthpiece, Utusan Malaysia, published an article yesterday on a new king, stating that he may not necessarily be the current Deputy King or be chosen on the basis of a rotational system. Citing a constitutional expert, the daily noted that a vote in the Council of Rulers would decide the issue.

Ultimately, it appears Sultan Muhammad's resignation came about as his fellow rulers sought to protect their own venerable institution.

"Courtiers from among the nine palaces in Malaysia told The Malaysian Insight that the rulers made this unprecedented move to protect the royal institution - already reeling from rising public questioning about their role during the May 9 general election that finally saw Barisan Nasional lose its grip on power since Merdeka, when the pact was known as the Alliance," the news portal wrote in a commentary on Sunday.

"The courtiers said in the meetings among the rulers it was not unanimous but clear that the majority of rulers felt that given all that has happened in the last few months, the King had to step down."

The tipping point was Sultan Muhammad V's questionable choice in marrying a Russian beauty queen, whose past modelling career raised eyebrows, especially in the largely conservative Muslim country and more so in Kelantan, where the state government has long been in the grip of the Islamic party Parti Islam SeMalaysia.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 08, 2019, with the headline 'King's decision dominates headlines across Malaysia'. Print Edition | Subscribe