'I may no longer be the king of Malaysia, but I hope I'll remain the king of your hearts'

KUALA LUMPUR: Al-Sultan Abdullah Ri'ayatuddin Al-Mustafa Billah Shah ends his five-year reign as the Yang di-Pertuan Agong today, having steered the country through a period marked by trials and tribulations.

Al-Sultan Abdullah was sworn in as the 16th Yang di-Pertuan Agong on Jan 31, 2019, a mere 15 days after being proclaimed Sultan of Pahang. His reign would see him rule over four prime ministers in five years, as well as play a steadying role in steering the country through the Covid-19 pandemic.

In a recent interview with the media at Istana Negara, Al-Sultan Abdullah, with Raja Permaisuri Agong Tunku Azizah Aminah Maimunah Iskandariah by his side, shared his views on the importance of political stability, the future of the monarchy, as well as his closeness to the people.

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Al-Sultan Abdullah said his first moments as the Yang di-Pertuan Agong were challenging, given his relative inexperience.

"I look upon my first days in a better light now. I was unsure of what to expect. I was the Sultan of Pahang for only 15 days before being appointed as the king. It was difficult but I learned slowly.

"Who am I when compared with those with more experience, but I asked many questions, studied and read."

During his reign, Al-Sultan Abdullah attended 160 pre-cabinet meetings. Before meeting the prime minister, he would read up on the cabinet papers to understand the issues.

"If I disagreed with anything, I would state my view. Alhamdulillah, my views were accepted and vice versa. It was a two-way cooperation and my advice to the prime minister was relayed to the cabinet," he said.

During the interview, Al-Sultan Abdullah also showed the press seven journals which he used to note down information and advice to the government.

He said he found the administrative aspects fascinating, as he was never involved in such matters in his 16 years as the Pahang crown prince and 15 days as the sultan.

"These journals can be used as reference by my family when I'm older. I've also had offers to pen my memoirs, but perhaps not yet. I've also offered to share my experiences as the king with a university if they want to conduct a case study."


Al-Sultan Abdullah described the constant changes in government over the last five years as a process which was "extremely wasteful" for Malaysia.

"I do not wish to deny any political parties. But the experience of changing governments (mid-term) was a process which was extremely wasteful for the country.

"I had four prime ministers during my five years as the king. That was the biggest challenge I had to face. I had to work towards calming down the country as well as maintain harmony and stability, even until now.

"Running a country is not easy. Changes (in administration) should not be done at anyone's whims and fancies as it does not benefit the people and the nation's finances.

"We already have a democratic process which states that every five years, the people can choose a new government via an election. So let the government we have now see its term through instead of just one or two years before being changed yet again."

Al-Sultan Abdullah said the people also have to give the government enough time to prove its effectiveness.

"Changing the prime minister each year with a new cabinet promises nothing. This was what I experienced. The people have to give the government time before assessing the administration's effectiveness, not just a year or two before questioning their performance."

He said foreign investors would see these as signs of instability, which would make them afraid to invest in Malaysia at a time when more job opportunities are needed for the people.

The people, he said, must understand the need for political stability as part of the long-term plan to spur greater economic development.

On the idea of the unity government, he said it was first floated when Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob was prime minister.

The king said he had summoned political leaders after the 15th General Election as no one had a significant enough majority.

"As no party had an overwhelming victory, I proposed that all parties form a unity government. However, Muhyiddin (Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin) and Tan Sri Abdul Hadi Awang firmly rejected my proposal.

"I also informed Anwar (Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim) of the idea. What I wanted then was for all parties to form a solid, stable and successful government," he said.

Al-Sultan Abdullah was also asked about the recent rumours of the Dubai Move.

He advised all leaders to reduce politicking and focus on developing the country.

"I hope that the chaos the people are suffering as a result of the actions of some politicians is brought to an end. They should instead be fostering harmony among the people," he said.

Al-Sultan Abdullah said he would leave Istana Negara with a heavy heart.

"I have done my best for the country throughout these five years as the Yang di-Pertuan Agong. However, I will be sad to leave Istana Negara if the people remain divided."


Al-Sultan Abdullah said the prime minister's bid to stem leakages and excessive spending should be supported, acknowledging that the plan to institute targeted subsidies can spark concern among the people.

"The government has to have long-term plans spanning five, 10 years and more. There are many unpopular policies which have to be done for the sake of the country's future.

"It's important that these measures are properly explained so the people understand. For example, on targeted subsidies, I understand the people's concerns. It's not about depriving the B40 of their rights but more about the high-income group.

"We have to give it time to assess the positives and negatives of these measures," he said.

On government expenditure, Al-Sultan Abdullah said when Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad was prime minister, the latter told him that the government was cancelling a host of major projects as it was in financial difficulties.

"But when Muhyiddin took over, it was a different story. He said the government has money to spend. At the same time, I observed how the federal budget increased each year, including for Covid-19 management.

"The budget continued to rise during Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob's time, which gave the picture that the government's fiscal policies were sound."


The Yang di-Pertuan Agong should be given the opportunity to represent Malaysia in relevant international conferences or forums, which would enable him to contribute to the country's development.

Al-Sultan Abdullah said this would not only boost efforts to develop the country but also strengthen the royal institution on the world stage.

He said, the Yang di-Pertuan Agong's formal duties abroad mainly comprise representing Malaysia at state funerals or 
royal installations.

He also noted that Malaysia's royalty are well-educated and are capable of discussing key issues on a global platform.

"I sometimes think that for events involving heads of state such as the Asean Summit, Apec (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation) Summit or any such global event, the government can consider having the Yang di-Pertuan Agong represent the country.

"This can strengthen the symbol of the Yang di-Pertuan Agong and elevate its respectability on the world stage. My suggestion is open to debate, whether appropriate or otherwise.

"Not all such conferences require the attendance of the Yang di-Pertuan Agong, perhaps those which involve climate change or humanitarian issues, for example. Conferences involving financial policies and security, for example, can be represented by the prime minister or other ministers.

"While I cannot elaborate on this suggestion in detail, it can be considered for the future, as it can improve the image for the sake of the people and the country," he said.

In December last year, Al-Sultan Abdullah attended the 28th Conference of Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Dubai.

There, he met and exchanged views with a host of foreign leaders including Prince of Monaco Prince Albert II, Turkiye President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and Uzbekistan President Shavkat Miromonovich Mirziyoyev.

Al-Sultan Abdullah also touched on the need to strengthen the institution of the Yang di-Pertuan Agong, as it can serve as a uniting force for Malaysia's multi-racial and multi-religious population.

"The institution of the Yang di-Pertuan Agong has to be strengthened, not deified. It has to remain as an umbrella for the people and the administration.

"We do not want more power. However, the people, especially the younger generation, have to be educated on the history and role of the royals and the importance of this institution in preserving harmony among the people," he said.


The 'Kembara Kenali Borneo' expedition from Sept 3 to 13 last year lasted only 10 days, but it left Al-Sultan Abdullah and Tunku Azizah with a lifetime of memories.

Describing the tour of Sabah and Sarawak as an "unforgettable dream", he said he is often brought to tears when recalling the journey.

"I admit, I cry when I think about the wonderful times and the unprecedented reception accorded to my family and me when we went there.

"I'm often overcome with emotion when I look at the recordings of our time in Borneo," he said.

Al-Sultan Abdullah said he had always wanted to tour the interior of Sabah and Sarawak, as he was only able to visit Kuching and Kota Kinabalu before when he was involved in football.

"I wanted to experience for myself the beauty of the people, their languages, the towns and rural areas, see how they lived, and try their unique food.

"As such, when I was appointed as the Yang di-Pertuan Agong, I had discussed with the Raja Permaisuri Agong about visiting these places," he said.

However, he said the Covid-19 pandemic and political uncertainty set back their plans.

When it finally took place, Al-Sultan Abdullah said he was shocked by the festive welcome.

"I was touched at seeing the people willing to wait for hours by the roadside, braving the heat and rain just for the opportunity to meet us.

"It has become one of my best memories which I will never forget," he said.

Tunku Azizah said the trip was only supposed to be a casual drive.

"All we wanted was to experience the beauty, sights and sounds of Sabah and Sarawak. Never did we expect the reception we got. Tuanku (Al-Sultan Abdullah) drove the whole 2,154 kilometres," she said.

Tunku Azizah said they set aside protocol during their trip, which she said was not unusual as shortly after their marriage 38 years ago, he had brought her along with him into the villages to meet the people.

"When we had our son, he too joined us in our programmes. He appears to have inherited our trait of wanting to be close to the people," she said, expressing pride in the Pahang crown prince for fulfilling his duties while Al-Sultan Abdullah served as the king.


Al-Sultan Abdullah said he was looking forward to returning to Pahang and embracing a new role.

"I love meeting and helping the people as it gives me spirit. There is much to do in Pahang as I was the sultan for only 15 days," he 

He said he and Tunku Azizah will visit all districts in the state to meet and help the people.

"I know that I will no longer be the king of Malaysia after this, but I hope I will remain as the king of your hearts for always," he said.

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