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An Upset in Malaysia: What You Need to Know

May 9, 2018

Mr. Mahathir called Thursday for Malaysia’s king to swiftly appoint him prime minister.

Malaysia has a king?

Yes, but it is a position with little parallel. The monarch, officially the “yang di-pertuan agong,” is selected from a group of hereditary rulers who are titular leaders of the Malay states. The position has a five-year term and changes hands in a regular order of rotation.

The current king, Sultan Muhammad V of Kelantan, ascended the throne in December 2016.

An Upset in Malaysia: What You Need to KnowAn Upset in Malaysia: What You Need to Know

The royals have limited authority, but under Malaysia’s constitutional monarchy, the king must appoint the prime minister based on who commands the support of a majority of members of the lower house of Parliament.

What will the king do?

Mr. Najib appeared to acknowledge defeat Thursday, saying he would “accept the verdict of the people.” But he also opened the door to some sort of royal intervention, calling on the people of Malaysia to trust the decision of the monarch.

Mr. Mahathir had a bumpy relationship with Malaysia’s royals. He backed greater checks on their powers in the 1990s after scandals including that of a sultan who was accused of killing a golf caddy but avoided prosecution because of legal immunity.

Mr. Mahathir hinted at that legacy in his comments Thursday. “The king is not required to clap,” he said. “He is required to sign.”

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