After days of swirling online rumors suggesting all was not right in Malaysia’s monarchical ranks, a report has emerged in local media outlet New Straits Times saying that the rulers from each state came together on Wednesday for a “special meeting.”
Multiple sources confirmed to the paper that the conference took place; however, details on what was said and why are scant. One individual revealed that such gatherings were largely unprecedented, and quite unlike the more typical Conference of Rulers, where both the prime minister and officials are invited. Another individual quoted by the NST would only suggest a “serious” discussion occurred over a matter relating to the monarchy.
So what exactly are these rumors and where have they been coming from? In a tweet yesterday, political blogger Raja Petra Kamarudin, himself related to the Selangor royal family, said that the viral — and unconfirmed — messages were pointing to a possible abdication:
To the uninitiated: Malaysia is a constitutional monarchy, with nine sultanates, each with their own leader that rules their respective state and acts as the religious leader for their Muslim subjects. They do not participate in day-to-day state governance, and are constitutionally bound to take the advice of the head of government of their state — a role they have some discretionary power in upholding.
Every five years, one of the nine sultans will take turns acting as the monarchy’s federal head of state, the Yang di-Pertuan Agong, who ceremonially is also the commander-in-chief of the country’s armed forces, the leader of Islam of his state, and the head of Islam in the four states without rulers (Penang, Melaka, Sabah and Sarawak) and the Federal Territories (KL, Putrajaya and Labuan). The Agong also technically has discretionary powers in appointing the prime minister, though this is mitigated by needing a majority in the lower house; however, he can also refuse a dissolution of the Parliament.
Whew. OK, got it? Let’s keep going.
In 2016, the ruler of the conservative eastern state of Kelantan, Sultan Muhammad V, became the Agong, a role that he was set to serve until 2021. Now, there was little to report on his role until the news last November that he would be taking a leave of absence from his duties while he recovered from an unknown illness. In lieu of this, the Sultan of Perak would be acting Agong, and Sultan Muhammad V was expected to make a return to his role starting January 1, 2019.
Still with me? Great.
Just over a month after this news was widely reported in Malaysian media, the international press erupted with surprising images of our absent Agong, alive and well, and allegedly celebrating his new marriage to Oksana Voevodina, a former Miss Moscow 2015, in Russia. Wait, did we forget to mention that he was single? Yeah, he was(?) the first single Agong in Malaysia’s history.
His alleged new wife — young, beautiful, with accompanying photos of her past life as a model — made for great tabloid fodder, and international outlets including everyone’s favorite site-of-shame, the Daily Mail, carried several photos from what certainly looks like a happy couple celebrating their nuptials.
However, mainstream Malaysian press outlets remained mum on the matter, and there was never confirmation from the palace that the wedding had even taken place. Even Prime Minister Mahathir issued his own statement claiming to be in the dark over the matter since, you know — no one told him anything.
Leading up to the rumor mill going into overdrive this week, there was little indication among the general public that anything else was awry: To the average punter, we assumed that at some point, we’d be officially introduced to our very, very attractive new Raja Permaisuri Agong (consort to the Agong, if you will).
You can imagine the public’s collective shock now over the unconfirmed rumors, the subsequent hush-hush ruler meeting, and the coincidentally timed blog post this week by our ever active nonagenarian PM Mahathir, who clarified to the country’s citizens that each of them had the right to lodge a complaint against anyone who broke the law, regardless of their stature or status:
“The rule of law applies to everyone, from the rulers to the prime minister and ministers, to civil servants and ordinary citizens.
“There is no provision which exempts anyone from the rule of law. For the rulers, there is a special court, but the laws are the same as the laws applicable to ordinary citizens. The rulers too must respect the laws.”
Crunch. Was this shade? Knowing our astute PM, we’d wager probably — but who knows?
With Twitterjaya reaching a fever pitch over the royal whispers, news emerged today that the Agong would be resuming his duties. This has done little to quell public suspicions on the future, with Mahathir only once again reiterating he did not know anything about the rumors.
“Like you, I heard rumors. I did not receive any letters, any indication about anything, so I am not going to talk about rumors.”
We’ll keep you posted on any future developments.