Five years filled with challenges, memories: Thank you for serving the nation, Al-Sultan Abdullah

The broad smiles, laughter, and relaxed body language in recent days, say it all.

Yang di-Pertuan Agong Al-Sultan Abdullah Ri’ayatuddin Al-Mustafa Billah Shah and Raja Permaisuri Agong, Tunku Azizah Aminah Maimunah Iskandariah have been kept entertained throughout their final days at Istana Negara. Their five-year reign ends today.

While Tunku Azizah has been singing Krisdayanti’s evergreen number, ‘Menghitung Hari’ (Counting the Days), it seems that despite the happy faces, the royal couple is going to miss the pomp and pageantry they have enjoyed as Malaysia’s King and Queen.

However, it could also be seen as a huge sigh of relief – given their dramatic, exhilarating, and at times, challenging tenure, dealing with the political imbroglio, and the Covid-19 pandemic.

In fact, Al-Sultan Abdullah’s journey was equally exciting, even before he stepped foot in Istana Negara. On Jan 7, 2019, Twentytwo13 was the first to report that Al-Sultan Abdullah, then known as Crown Prince Tengku Abdullah, would take over as Pahang Sultan from his father, who had taken ill, en route to becoming the 16th Yang di-Pertuan Agong.

Twentytwo13′s article that was published on Jan 7, 2019.

Al-Sultan Abdullah acknowledged this 2019 ‘prediction’ during last month’s Sports Flame, an event to celebrate sporting heroes of yesteryears, at the Concorde Hotel in Kuala Lumpur.

But no one could have predicted that Malaysia would go through a political upheaval that would see four prime ministers within five years, and that a global pandemic would cripple the world. Al-Sultan Abdullah had front-row seats to this seminal moment in the country’s history.

“There were many sweet memories … and scary moments, too,” said Al-Sultan Abdullah during an interview with selected media, including Twentytwo13, at Istana Negara in Kuala Lumpur on Jan 3.

“It was a challenging time during my reign. But I believe there are more sweet memories than the not-so-sweet ones. If I were to state them one by one, it will be a long story. I view it as bringing back order, to stabilise the political landscape then. The decisions I made have managed to maintain the peace and stability in the country till today.”

Malaysia’s political quagmire began with the shock resignation of Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad as prime minister in 2020. His Pakatan Harapan government fell after only 22 months in power, when several party members pulled what is now infamously known as the ‘Sheraton Move’. Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin then took over as prime minister, but he too, didn’t last long and was replaced by Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob. Ismail Sabri lasted till the 15th General Election, which resulted in a hung Parliament.

Once again, Al-Sultan Abdullah was forced to step in, and called for the formation of a unity government.

“The idea of a unity government was first mooted during Ismail Sabri’s time. I had then called the leaders to establish a unity government. At that time, Ismail Sabri said he had a majority of 114, but I felt it was still very marginal,” said Al-Sultan Abdullah.

“I felt it would be ‘healthier’ if there was a two-thirds majority. Then came the last (15th) General Election (in 2022). I wanted the country to be in harmony, and it should start in Parliament. We cannot continue fighting if we want to develop and maintain the good name of the nation.

“Going back to after GE15, there was no single majority. So, what I did was to offer (to form a unity government) to all the parties. I started with Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin and (Pas leader) Tan Sri Abdul Hadi Awang, but they both rejected it outright.

“I also informed Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim then to offer Bersatu and Pas as well (to join the unity government). But that’s all I can do … the rest is up to the wisdom of the leaders of these political parties.”

Al-Sultan Abdullah said his intention, if possible, was for all parties to form one strong government that would be able to lead the nation.

“I hope this (unity) can still be continued… We should not give up. The question of who should be prime minister depends on the leadership. It is not up to the Agong to choose the prime minister. The ones who choose are the MPs. They nominate the names of the prime minister, not the Agong. The Agong cannot simply appoint a prime minister. If that was the case, we do not need a Parliament. It depends on the support of the MPs,” he added.

Even towards the tail-end of Al-Sultan Abdullah’s reign, there were concerns about efforts to topple Anwar’s government – the latest being the ‘Dubai Move’.

“I am making a move to Pahang,” quipped Al-Sultan Abdullah when asked about the so-called ‘Dubai Move’ that became a huge talking point in recent weeks.

“We should not speculate. I don’t know if there is any truth to it. The government must govern and continue to administer the country.

“To all the politicians, stop the politicking. It’s best to focus on ways to improve the nation’s economy, and to unite the people and the different races. Let’s not be too parochial. Don’t be narrow-minded.

“I feel sad actually, to see Malaysians not being united. I hope we can work on this.”

Unity is vital, something Al-Sultan Abdullah saw first-hand when he was involved in sports associations – namely football and hockey – both locally and abroad. Teamwork, maintaining discipline, and upholding the spirit of syura (consultation) among his brother Rulers, are part of his core values. This was evident during his reign.

Ultimately, the decisions were his to be made. Looking back, he would be justified in saying that he did quite well.

The humility shown by the royal couple was evident throughout their five years as King and Queen, more so during the ‘Kembara Kenali Borneo’ that saw the royal household travel over 2,000km to meet, greet, and sample the life of Sabahans and Sarawakians. The reception the King and Queen received was overwhelming, which still makes them shed a tear or two when looking back.

Al-Sultan Abdullah leaning against a vehicle with the Crown Prince of Pahang Tengku Hassanal Ibrahim Alam Shah (left) and Tengku Amir Nasser Ibrahim Shah eating packed rice with their hands during the Kembara Kenali Borneo in September 2023.

When Twentytwo13 managing editor Pearl Lee asked if the five years was what Al-Sultan Abdullah had thought they would be, the ever-humble King replied: “It could have been better but I can’t ask for more. I hope the next King, and future Kings, will be better than me. I may not be King of Malaysia after January (2024), but I can be the King of your hearts.”

Both Al-Sultan Abdullah and Tunku Azizah admitted there’s a whole lot of work to be done when they return to Kuantan.

It has been a fantastic ride. Thank you for your service to the nation, Tuanku. You will be remembered for a long time.

Daulat Tuanku!

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