Malaysia’s king abdicated Sunday in a historic first for the country that ended weeks of speculation about his future after he took medical leave and reportedly married a Russian ex-beauty queen.
Sultan Muhammad V’s decision marks the first time a king has stepped aside during his five-year term in the Muslim-majority country.
The national palace confirmed the resignation with immediate effect of the 49-year-old, who had been on the throne for two years and was known for his fondness for four-wheel driving and other extreme sports.
“His majesty tells the people of Malaysia to continue to be united to maintain unity, tolerance, and work together,” said a statement from the Comptroller of the Royal Household, Wan Ahmad Dahlan Abdul Aziz.
Malaysia’s Islamic rulers will now meet to decide on the next king.
Malaysia is a constitutional monarchy, with a unique arrangement where the throne changes hands every five years between rulers of the nine Malaysian states headed by centuries-old Islamic royalty.
The system has been in place since independence from Britain in 1957.
Royal officials gave no reason for Sultan Muhammad V’s move but there had been a question mark over the king’s reign since he went on leave for medical treatment in November last year.
Reports in British and Russian media then surfaced saying that he had married the former Miss Moscow in the Russian capital in a lavish ceremony.
Royal officials in Malaysia have so far not commented on the rumoured marriage, or given any details about the state of the king’s health.
Speculation intensified about the king’s future after his medical leave officially finished at the end of December last year, and the country’s Islamic royals reportedly held a special meeting last week.