Sultan Ibrahim: Malaysia’s outspoken new billionaire king

Malaysia has welcomed a new king, Sultan Ibrahim Iskandar, a billionaire businessman and outspoken royal who plans to be an active and influential monarch in the country’s unique rotating system.

Sultan Ibrahim Iskandar

On Wednesday, Sultan Ibrahim of Johor state became Malaysia’s new king, the 17th in the country’s history, after swearing in at the national palace in Kuala Lumpur.

Malaysia’s monarchy is mostly symbolic, but it has gained more influence in recent years, as the king has used his rare discretionary powers to deal with political instability.

Malaysia has a unique system of monarchy, where the rulers of the nine royal families take turns to be the King, or the “Yang di-Pertuan Agong”, for five years each.

Sultan Ibrahim, 65, replaced Al-Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah, who completed his five-year term as king and went back to lead his home state of Pahang.

Sultan Ibrahim is known for his outspokenness and flamboyant personality, and he often comments on the country’s political issues. He also has a large collection of luxury vehicles and a stake in Forest City, a $100-billion land reclamation and development project off Johor, backed by China.

Before becoming the king, Sultan Ibrahim told The Straits Times newspaper of Singapore that he wants to be an active monarch and suggested that Malaysia’s state oil company Petroliam Nasional and its anti-corruption agency should report directly to him.

He also said he wants to revive a high-speed rail project between Malaysia and Singapore, with a border crossing through Forest City.

Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim dismissed the remarks, saying that all views can be discussed without violating the federal constitution, according to state media.

Sultan Ibrahim assumes his role as king at a time of heightened political tensions in Malaysia.

The country has been in political turmoil since 2018, when the long-ruling Barisan Nasional coalition lost power for the first time since independence, leading the monarch to play a bigger role.

The king has some discretionary powers under the federal constitution, such as the power to appoint a prime minister who he thinks has a majority in parliament.

Al-Sultan Abdullah, the previous king, used this power three times during his reign to end political uncertainty, twice when governments fell and once in 2022, when he appointed Anwar after an election that resulted in a hung parliament.

Before leaving the throne, Al-Sultan Abdullah urged for political stability, reacting to media reports of a plot to overthrow the government this month. Several leaders from the opposition and the ruling coalition have denied involvement in the plot.

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