YESTERDAY, Malaysia observed the installation of Sultan Muhammad V of Kelantan as the 15th Yang di-Pertuan Agong.
The ruler is popular among his subjects for being informal and devoid of protocol.
Known to be an outdoors man, the king mooted the ever-popular “Walk With Me” in 2011 as a way to reach out to his subjects.
Malaysia is the only nation that is uniquely federal, autochthonous, elective and rotative. The existence of the constitutional monarchy is closely related to, and in line with, the development of Malay civilisation. The different ethnic communities in Malaysia have consented to the existence of the constitutional monarchy as an extension of the Malay tradition into the modern political system.
As an elective monarchy, the supreme head of state, the Yang di-Pertuan Agong is elected on a five-year term by the Conference of Rulers who do so in a secret ballot.
The emergence of educated and dynamic members of the royal families has seen the modern role for the Malay rulers going beyond the passive and formal constitutional head of state, and is being redefined. They have also stepped up their involvement in civil society, without entering the political fray.
Good behaviour, character and leadership are qualities ingrained in the king from a very young age.
According to one of the king’s friends, Datuk Justin Soo, sincerity in friendship is one of his majesty’s many qualities.
Recalling his first encounter with the ruler in 2001, Soo said: “His Majesty was so humble and down-to-earth and easy to approach.”
During the 2014 floods which affected more than 100,000 people in Kelantan, the ruler surprised the victims by truly being the “King of the People”. He went to a flood relief centre in his old four-wheel-drive truck without a royal entourage.
Known previously as Tengku Muhammad Faris Petra, the king was born on Oct 6, 1969. He was proclaimed sultan of Kelantan on Sept 13, 2010, in accordance with the state constitution. The 47-year-old ruler succeeded his father, Sultan Ismail Petra, who was deemed incapacitated by illness.
His accession to the throne was secured when the Conference of Rulers acknowledged him as the sultan of Kelantan. He attended the 222nd meeting of the Conference of Rulers for the first time as a full member in October 2010. This marked the recognition of his accession as sultan by the other rulers.
He was elected Timbalan Yang di-Pertuan Agong (Deputy King) in October 2011. He served in that post from Dec 13, 2011, until his election as Yang di-Pertuan Agong on Dec 13, 2016.
The king extols Islam and reserves the highest position for it in his life. He has high regard for religious intellectuals such as sekolah pondok headmasters.
His majesty concerns himself with shortcomings in the enforcement of syariah law in Kelantan. He is known to assimilate modern virtues with religious values, reflecting selflessness and goodness outside his own elite circle.
Preferring to shy away from unwarranted publicity, he has lived up to his official position as head of Islam in Kelantan by leading congregational prayers and participating in the ritual slaughter of animals during the annual haj pilgrimage season.
The ruler’s personal interest in issues of new trans-ethnic politics and good governance, is true to his credentials as having learnt the art of statecraft during a brief stint at Oxford.
It also raised his popularity among non-Muslim and progressive Muslim circles.
He attended St Cross College, Oxford and the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies for diplomatic studies, graduating in 1991.
His emergence on the national political stage renews hopes for a harmonious streamlining between modern structures of government and traditional institutions.
It is likely that he will avoid political partisanship of any kind, as expected of an apolitical ruler. It is easier to admire him when the people have nothing against his political views.
Being comparatively young and hailing from a state long ruled by the opposition, the sultan injected values into the monarchy with his simple lifestyle, humility, friendly disposition and avoidance of controversies.
Since independence, the role of the constitutional monarch has been well-defined, and, therefore, must be reflected by the religious, moral, political and legal issues to retain the legitimacy and support of the people.
The new Yang di-Pertuan Agong reawakens a sentiment ingrained deep in our religion and tradition and yet, gleams as a new hopeful era of a progressive modernising society.
Dr Paridah Abd Samad, a Fulbright scholar and Japan Institute of International Affairs fellow, is a former lecturer of UiTM Shah Alam and International Islamic University Malaysia, Gombak