Malaysia elects new king after shock abdication

Then-Prince Regent Tengku Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah pictured in early January 2019.

(CNN)Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah, the ruler of the Malaysia state of Pahang, was named the country's new king Thursday following the shock abdication of Sultan Muhammad V earlier this month.

The leaders of Malaysia's royal houses, known as the Conference of Rulers, elected the 59-year-old Sultan Abdullah to a five year term under a system of rotational monarchy that is unique to Malaysia.
Muhammad V, 49, abdicated after just two years on the throne.
Sultan Abdullah will be sworn in as the nation's 16th Yang di-Pertuan Agong, or head of state, in a ceremony on January 31.
    He only became the sultan of Malaysia's central Pahang state on January 15 after his ailing 88-year-old father Sultan Ahmad Shah stepped down -- a move seen as paving the way for his son to take the national role.
    The Sultan is heavily involved in sports governance -- he is the current president of the Asian Hockey Federation and a council member of FIFA, the world football body.

    Unique monarchy

    Since Malaysia's independence from Britain in 1957, the sultans, who are the hereditary monarchs in nine of the country's 13 states -- the remaining four states have governors -- have selected one from their number to serve a five-year term as King, usually in a rotational order. The country is unique in its system of rotational monarchy.
    While the king is not involved in the day-to-day ruling of the country, he does hold certain powers -- such as the ability to pardon citizens convicted in the courts, and officiates at the swearing-in of a new government. He is also the constitutional leader of the armed forces.
    As he's "largely a ceremonial figure," his appointment won't affect the running of the country, James Chin, Director of the Asia Institute at the University of Tasmania, told CNN.
    "I don't think there will be any confrontation with the government."
      Chin says that the past 12 months have "seen some fundamental change in Malaysia" -- last year was the first time that the Barisan Nasional (BN) party was ousted from government at national elections, and now "the first time that an Agong (king) has stepped down."
      In May last year, Muhammad V swore in current Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, ending almost five decades of rule by the BN.