Malaysian King thrust into centre of political tsunami

Malaysia’s King, Sultan Abdullah Ri'ayatuddin, like previous rulers, usually keeps a low profile. PHOTO: AFP

KUALA LUMPUR - The Malaysian King has been thrust into the centre of the country's political tsunami in the past two days, as the ruling coalition collapsed and the Prime Minister quit amid all kinds of speculation over what would happen next.

Sultan Abdullah Ri'ayatuddin - who like previous rulers usually keeps a low profile as Malaysia's titular head - would have met all 222 Malaysian MPs by the end of Wednesday (Feb 26).

This would make him an unprecedented central figure in the political drama and key to its resolution.

He is meeting each of the lawmakers to find out for himself who they would name as the prime minister candidate, and whether Parliament should be dissolved or a new government be allowed to formed.

The 60-year-old ruler has brought in Chief Justice Tengku Maimun Tuan Mat and Attorney General Tommy Thomas to the Istana Negara (National Palace) to advise him on the legal steps, strictly according to the Constitution, that must be taken to resolve the political crisis.

Witnessing the King's interview of the MPs at Istana Negara was Chief Secretary to the government Mohd Zuki Ali.

The ruler, officially called Yang di-Pertuan Agong, on Monday accepted Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad's letter of resignation and dissolved the Cabinet as advised by the premier, but on the same day reappointed the statesman as caretaker Prime Minister to ensure political stability.

Tan Sri Thomas said on Monday that there is no time limit on how long the interim Prime Minister can head the nation, and that he is also allowed to appoint Cabinet members, Malaysiakini news site reported him as saying.

Constitutional law expert Emeritus Prof Shad Saleem Faruqi, amid speculation over the stability of Pakatan Harapan (PH) in recent weeks, wrote: "If a coalition breaks up or new alignments are forged or there is some uncertainty about who, if anyone, commands the requisite numbers in the House, the role of the Yang di-Pertuan Agong becomes pivotal."

Prof Shad wrote a column in The Star on Feb 13 that, as provided in the Constitution, the King must confirm that the MP he will choose to be the prime minister commands the backing of at least 112 of the total 222 MPs in Parliament.

Sultan Abdullah, who is from Pahang, was installed as Malaysia's King at end of January last year, according to Malaysia's five-year rotational system among the nine Malay royal houses.

He is popular with the masses, with viral social media posts of him queueing up to buy fast food at a restaurant, breaking fast on a public lawn in Pahang's capital during Ramadan, and stopping his entourage on highways to see to accident victims.

On Monday, his aide bought KFC food for hungry journalists as they waited long hours outside the palace gates in Kuala Lumpur for political developments.

Sultan Abdullah himself turned up on Tuesday to hand out McDonald's lunches to journalists.

"Just a small gesture for you," the King, who wore a long-sleeved shirt and tie, said about the treat.

When asked, he expressed concern over the current state of affairs and asked the media to be patient.

"We are concerned, yes I know. Be patient," he said. "First let me do my duties. I hope we will find the best solution for our country."

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