Malaysia's King Abdicates for First Time in History Amid Rumors of Secret Marriage to Beauty Queen

The palace said in a statement that the 49-year-old monarch had resigned as Malaysia's 15th king with immediate effect

New King, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia - 13 Dec 2016
Photo: Vincent Thian/AP/REX/Shutterstock

Malaysia’s king, Sultan Muhammad V, abdicated in an historic first on Sunday amid speculation about his private life.

The Malaysian monarch’s resignation — the first by a ruling monarch in the nation of 30 million — comes two months after rumors and online videos surfaced that apparently show him marrying a 25-year-old former Russian beauty queen last November.

“The National Palace announces that his majesty has resigned as the 15th king,” the royal palace said in a statement, adding “his decision comes into force on January 6.”

The palace gave no reason for the 49-year old sultan’s sudden departure, adding that the king issued a plea for national unity and “was ready to return home to the state of Kelantan.”

Malaysia is a constitutional monarchy, and the role of king is largely ceremonial and subject to a unique rotating election among nine ruling families. No other country has a rotating system. The announcement marks the first time a Malaysian monarch has abdicated the throne since the country gained independence from Great Britain in 1957.

On November 2, Muhammad V’s unexplained public absence was officially attributed to treatment of an undisclosed “medical condition.” By the end of the month, however, photographs and video footage surfaced showing what appears to be a wedding ceremony in Russia with the sultan marrying Oksana Voevidina, Miss Moscow 2015.

The ceremony was reportedly held on November 22 in a Moscow concert hall. The bride wore a white gown, her bridesmaid court was dressed in blue and the king wore traditional Malay garb. Voevidina reportedly converted to Islam last April.

Shortly after the photos surfaced, the nation’s recently elected Prime Minister Dr. Mahathir Mohamad told reporters he could not confirm that the sultan had married, saying he had no information. “I don’t have the name or official confirmation. I can’t say anything,” he said.

As speculation continued, a meeting of the Royal Council was convened last week and the resignation statement was issued by the palace comptroller on Sunday. In Muhammad V’s medical absence, another member of the Royal Council has served as Acting King. His interim post ended on Dec 31, but will continue until a new king is selected by the Royal Council, who were reported convening in emergency session on Monday morning.

While the king’s role is mostly ceremonial, and there is no law barring the king from marrying a foreigner, it has been widely reported that other members of the royal council were unhappy with his choice and given the extreme political situation in the country, uneasy with the thought of seeing a Russian pageant winner installed as queen.

Though constitutionally limited in power, the sultan is nonetheless revered among Malay’s Muslim majority and his abdication comes amid considerably larger political upheavals for the southern Asian nation.

Last May, in a surprise outcome, voters ended the five decade rule by the rightist Barisan Nasional coalition. While the king eventually accepted the election outcome, he initially met with opposition members to see whether they could form a government rather than accept the return to power of the contentious Mahathir.

Last Wednesday, 93-year old Mahathir (who has maintained an outspoken relationship with the monarchy during his past two terms as Prime Minister) issued an unveiled threat to the monarchy stating all Malaysians were equally subject to the rule of law. “The rulers must too respect the laws,” he wrote. “It is disturbing to see blatant breaches of the law being perpetrated in the mistaken belief that immunity has somehow been accorded.”

Born Tengku Muhammad Faris Petra ibni Tengku Ismail Petra in 1969, he became Crown Prince of Kelantan in 1979, succeeding his father as ruler of the state in 2010. The Oxford-educated Sultan was elected to serve as a five-year term sultan in December 2016. The 15th king since independence, he was the first to serve without a consort. He married a Thai princess, Kangsadal Pipitpakdee, in 2004, divorcing her in 2008.

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