Malaysia’s Next King: Embracing a New Era of Leadership

Malaysia’s 17th king, Sultan Ibrahim Iskandar, will become the country’s 17th since independence. He will ascend the throne on January 31, bringing an active leadership style that could help expedite Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim’s policy reforms. Despite the monarchy’s largely ceremonial position, the 65-year-old is likely to continue the more politically active role assumed by the nation’s king in recent years. Analysts say that both the sultan and Anwar agree on two important issues: eradication of corruption and reviving the economy.

However, having two hands-on leaders – the head of state and the head of government – could create tension if they cannot work together. It would only work if both understand their limits of power. Malaysia, a country that gained independence from Britain in 1957, has a monarchical system where the king is elected every five years by the hereditary sultans of nine states. Sultan Ibrahim, born on November 22, 1958, will replace Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah, who reigned during a period of political instability.

Born in 1958, Sultan Ibrahim is the second ruler of Johor and has extensive business interests, including stakes in the $100-billion Forest City project and internet service provider REDtone International. He has also bought a property worth $8.5 million in Perth in 2015 and is the only Malaysian sultan with a private army, which was retained as part of a colonial-era deal with the British.

Sultan Ibrahim’s Crown Prince Tunku Ismail Sultan Ibrahim described his father as a staunch supporter of Malaysian interests and unafraid to intervene in political issues. He will be actively involved in maintaining a rapport with the prime minister and providing input, although the prime minister is expected to have a tough time. The Malaysian king is a prominent figure in the Muslim-majority nation and is expected to follow the advice of the prime minister.

The Malaysian Constitution grants the monarch special responsibilities and privileges, including the power to appoint a prime minister with lawmakers’ backing. However, the Agong’s purview still extends to executive power, including the PM and cabinet. In recent years, political instability has forced King Abdullah to appoint Anwar as prime minister, Muhyiddin Yassin as the country’s leader, and Ismail Sabri Yaakob as prime minister.

Tunku Mohar of the International Islamic University Malaysia suggests that rulers should play a more proactive role in politics, stating that disputes over government composition should be resolved in the legislature, and the monarchy would then confirm the legislative decision.

Sultan Ibrahim has shown willingness to get involved in Malaysian politics, stating that breaking up a historic government alliance between Pakatan Harapan and Barisan Nasional was detrimental to the nation’s well-being. However, recent practices suggest this role is within constitutional limits.

Malaysia’s Prime Minister, Anwar, has expressed his desire for the country’s anti-graft agency and state-owned oil and gas company, Petronas, to report directly to him rather than Parliament. Sultan Ibrahim has expressed his desire for the country’s economy to recover and prioritize its prosperity. Anwar, however, is cautious in his response to the comments, stating that the principles of the Constitution, parliamentary democracy, and constitutional monarchy will be defended. Analysts believe that the reform-minded nature of both Anwar and Sultan Ibrahim could create a dynamic partnership. While Anwar benefits from their unequivocal opinions, Sultan Ibrahim, as a constitutional monarch, is not restrained from sharing his noteworthy opinions on sensitive matters.

KingMalaysiaMalaysia Next KingMalaysia's Next King: Embracing a New Era of Leadership