Malaysia has one of the most interesting political systems, which, although a modern construct, is rooted in pre-colonial historical origins. With eight sultans and one raja (king) swapping the kingship amongst each other every five years, Malaysia has the only rotating monarchy in the world. It was founded on the coming together of 9 old Malay states, wherein the monarchy is at the apex of a pyramidical, ancient class-based feudal system.
Officially, Malaysia is a constitutional monarchy with a parliamentary democracy at a federal and state level. Six years after independence from the British, Malaysia was formed in 1963 through a federation of the former British colonies of Malaya and Singapore. Sabah and Sarawak were also added to this federation.
The monarchy unto itself consists of nine hereditary and ethnic Malay royals, who have created a ‘Conference of Rulers’. They each rule a separate state in Malaysia, which include Johore, Kedah, Kelantan, Negeri Sembilan, Pahang, Perak, Perlis, Selangor, and Terengganu. The order of succession among states is premeditated, with the nine royals meeting every five years to confirm or reject the successor.
The roots of the monarchy go as far back as the 15th century, when Islamic convert Parameswara, originally Iskandar Shah, founded the Malacca Sultanate. Though his reign of 12 years between 1402 and 1414 was very brief, the Malay Annals mention that he had run away from Singapura after 9 years of rule at the end of the 14th century. It was after his reincarnation as Parameswara that the monarchy of Malaysia would begin.
The ruling classes enforce regnal authority through artifacts, ceremonies, customs, and language, cementing the power of the king. The king, who is referred to as Yang di-Pertuan Agong, literally ‘He Who is Made Lord’, is selected to be the chief of the state of Malaysia and is expected to gracefully hand over the crown to the sultan of another royal family after 5 years.
After the British were forced out of Malaysia in 1957, there have been 16 monarchs, including the current King Abdullah, who took over in 2019. He is also the Sultan of Malaysia’s Pahang state.
Top image: King of Malaysia Yang di-Pertuan Agong (center). Source: Wazari Wazir / Flickr
By Sahir Pandey