Malaysia’s 49-year-old King Muhammad V abdicated on Sunday after two years on the throne, the National Palace said in a statement, with the resignation taking effect immediately. This marks the first time in Malaysian history that a monarch has stood down since the country gained independence from Great Britain in 1957, and no reason was given. Following two months of medical leave, the King had resumed his duties for less than a week before his resignation.
Images seemingly show the King getting married in Russia to a former Russian beauty queen, 24-year-old Oksana Voevodina, in photos that appeared on social media in December 2018. The palace did not respond to requests for comment on the photos or reports of a marriage. Photographs show a smiling Ms. Voevodina sitting next to King Muhammad in a white wedding dress, while he is clad in national robes. She is said to have converted to Islam in April of last year and has told friends: "I think that the man must be the head of the family and of course shall not earn less than a woman."
The New Straits Times reported there had been tensions between the palace and the government of Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, who led the opposition to an election win in May. PM Mahathir, known for challenging royalty during his past 22-year tenure, said in a blog post last week that everyone “from the Rulers to the Prime Minister and Ministers, to the civil servants and ordinary citizens” are subject to the law but did not elaborate.
Malaysia is a constitutional monarchy and the king assumes a largely ceremonial role, including as the custodian of Islam in the Muslim-majority country. However, the king’s assent is needed before the appointment of a prime minister or senior public officials. Malaysia has nine royal households, who typically take turns to sit on the throne, and the selection of the next king is decided by a vote in the Council of Rulers, made up of all nine royal households.
The palace did not indicate when the Islamic rulers would meet to pick the next king; during the King’s leave of absence, the ruler of western Perak state had been carrying out his duties. Portraits of the King and Queen adorn government buildings throughout the country. The King is also the symbolic head of Islam in the nation, as well as chief of the military.