KUALA LUMPUR (AFP) - Malaysia’s nine state rulers will elect a national king on Thursday (Jan 24) after the last monarch abdicated the federal throne following his reported marriage to a Russian former beauty queen while on medical leave in November, and repeated clashes with the Mahathir Mohamad administration.
The sports-loving Sultan Abdullah Ri'ayatuddin of Pahang is in pole position for the role after Kelantan's Sultan Muhammad V, stepped aside this month, marking the first ever resignation by Malaysia's Agong, or Supreme Ruler.
Sultan Abdullah is a keen athlete who holds a string of positions on sporting bodies, including on the council of world football governing body Fifa.
Malaysia is a constitutional monarchy, with a unique arrangement where the national throne changes hands every five years between rulers of the country's nine states headed by Islamic royalty.
Eight of the state sultans arrived at the national palace in Kuala Lumpur at about 10am for the Conference of Rulers, a special meeting held to pick a new king for a five-year term, official news agency Bernama reported.
The meeting got under way at 11.15 am, Bernama said. The only one absent was Sultan Muhammad V, who remains the sultan of the north-eastern state of Kelantan, despite having abdicated as the national monarch.
The royal cars were later seen leaving the palace at about 12.45pm, Bernama reported.
An official statement is expected in the evening.
Under the rotation system, Pahang is next in line to provide the monarch.
Sultan Abdullah, 59, was named the state's new ruler - replacing his elderly, ailing father - several days after Muhammad V's abdication, in a step viewed as paving the way for him to become the next national monarch.
As well as being a member of the Fifa council - which lays out the vision for global football - he is president of the Asian Hockey Association and a former head of the Football Association of Malaysia.
After attending school in Malaysia, the keen polo player went on to study in Britain, where he attended the Sandhurst military academy, according to a biography published on the official Bernama news agency.
If he does not become king - he could refuse the post, or be deemed unsuitable - then the next in line for the throne is the powerful sultan of Johor state.
The new king will be sworn in on Jan 31 in a lavish ceremony.
While their role is ceremonial, Malaysia's royalty command great respect, especially from the country's Muslim Malay majority, and criticising them is strictly forbidden.
Portraits of the king and queen adorn government buildings throughout the country. The king is also the symbolic head of Islam in the nation, as well as the nominal chief of the military.
Malaysia's sultans trace a lineage back to the Malay sultanates of the 15th century. The king is referred to as Yang di-Pertuan Agong, or "He Who Is Made Lord".