The Johor Sultanate: Rise or Re-emergence?

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Malaysia's sultans have in recent years taken on an increasingly discernible role in the country's political life. However, rather than something new, the rulers' resurgence should be viewed as part of a longer term negotiation over the precise boundaries of their role.

The Sultan of Johor, Ibrahim Ismail, is arguably the most visible of the country's rulers at present. Since ascending to the throne in 2010, he has constructed a prominent media profile and been active in many areas of policy-making. He reinstated the Islamic week, suggested expanding the role of the Johor Military Force, and promoted a unique state identity. Planned initiatives by him include a Bank of Johor, a large-scale low-cost housing scheme, as well as a maglev train linking the eastern and western parts of the state's southern coast.


Sultan Ibrahim Ismail has also weighed in on national-level issues, such as the quality of national education and bilateral relations with Singapore.

While the more ceremonial aspects of his actions are inspired by the pivotal role traditionally played by Malay rulers, the more operational aspects hark back to the colonial era when Johor had a reputation for modern administration, well-developed infrastructure, and a high degree of autonomy.

At its core, the Sultan raises questions about Malay leadership, and may revive a long-standing contest between the rulers and the political elite, sometimes referred to as a battle between "princes and politicians".

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