KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — After stripping Malaysia’s royal families of some of their powers during his 22-year stint as prime minister, Mahathir Mohamad almost didn’t make it to the premiership a second time.
Though largely a ceremonial post, Malaysia’s monarch still signs off on most laws and appointments, including the prime minister, and hours after Mahathir and his alliance’s stunning general election victory last May, King Sultan Muhammad V offered the job to someone else.
The king subsequently signed off on Mahathir, but the hours of uncertainty put the spotlight on Malaysia’s monarchy at a time when some of the royals are seeking to reassert their influence in politics.
Though Malaysia has only had a constitutional monarch since 1957, several of Malaysia’s nine royal families trace their roots to centuries-old Malay kingdoms that were independent states until they were brought together by the British.
Here’s a closer look at Malaysia’s monarchy: ROYAL DYNASTIES Traditional ethnic Malay rulers — mostly known as the sultan — constitutionally head nine of Malaysia’s 13 states, forming one of the world’s largest monarchy systems.
In Perak state, the second oldest ruling house in Malaysia, three royal families take turns to ascend the throne based on seniority.
The nine heads of the royal families take part in what is known as the Conference of Rulers and every five years elect one among themselves to be Malaysia’s king through a secret ballot.
The 49-year-old sultan from eastern Kelantan state only reigned for two years as Malaysia’s 15th king and didn’t give any reason for quitting.
___ THE SULTAN’S ROLE The state rulers are highly respected among Malay Muslims, who account for two-thirds of Malaysia’s 32 million people, and are seen as guardians of Islam and Malay traditions.
During his first stint as prime minister, Mahathir pushed through constitutional amendments that stripped the sultans of their power to veto state and federal legislation.
___ POLITICAL STATEMENTS The king and some state rulers have been vocal in politics in recent years.
Last year, the Selangor state sultan also appointed a new chief minister who had not been formally proposed by the government.
King Sultan Muhammad V also sought to block the appointment of a non-Muslim attorney-general last year but gave in after Mahathir’s government refused to budge on its candidate.
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