malaysia king Sultan Muhammad V salutes

Is this why Malaysia's king, Sultan Muhammad V, abdicated so suddenly?

It's a historic first for the country

Ainhoa Barcelona

Malaysia's king, Sultan Muhammad V, has unexpectedly stepped down from his role. The king abdicated on Sunday, making him the country's first ever monarch to do so. The palace gave no reason for why the king had only served two years out of his five-year term, but said the resignation would take effect immediately.

"His Majesty tells the people of Malaysia to continue to be united to maintain unity, tolerance, and work together," a statement from the palace said. They would not comment on rumours of the king's recent marriage to Russian beauty queen, Oksana Voevodina, nor on his health. Sultan Muhammad had taken medical leave in November and just days later, photos surfaced that appeared to show him marrying Oksana, 25.

The king, pictured last summer, abdicated on Sunday

The 49-year-old king and Oksana, a former Miss Moscow winner, were allegedly married on 22 November in Barvikha, Russia. They also had a traditional Malay wedding in Malaysia prior to the nuptials. Oksana has reportedly converted to Islam and changed her name to Rihana Oxana Gorbatenko.

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The palace has also said that the king is preparing to return home to the state of Kelantan. His successor has yet to be named and Perak Sultan Nazrin Muizzuddin Shah, who stood in for the king while he was on medical leave, will continue in his acting position. The new successor is expected to be chosen on 24 January and inaugurated the following week on 31 January.

The king's role is largely a ceremonial one

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The king's role in Malaysia is largely a ceremonial one. Power remains in the hands of parliament and the prime minister, with the king holding special discretionary powers. These include pardoning convicts and swearing in the prime minister. Malaysia has had a rotational monarchy – which means the role is passed between nine hereditary state rulers – since the country gained its independence from the UK in 1957.

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