Sultan Muhammad V, Malaysia’s king, has abdicated the throne weeks after it was rumoured that he had married a Russian ex-beauty queen.
Muhammad V’s decision marks the first time a king has stepped aside during his five-year term in the Asian nation.
The national palace on Sunday confirmed the resignation of the 49-year-old who had been on the throne for two years.
“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.
The country’s Islamic rulers will now meet to decide on the next king as is customary in the Muslim-majority country.
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.
Reports in British and Russian media then surfaced saying that he had married the model and former Miss Moscow in a lavish ceremony in the Russian capital.
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.
The palace statement said he was “ready to return home to the state of Kelantan to be together with the state government and… the Kelantanese people”.