In November, media reports started to pour in about the marriage of Malaysian King Muhammad V to former Russian beauty queen Oksana Voevodina in a lavish ceremony in the prestigious Moscow suburb of Barvikha, branded by local media “a stunning Russian wedding”. The lady, who previously worked in the modelling industry in China and Thailand after grabbing the Miss Moscow crown in 2015, converted to Islam in spring 2018, in the run-up to the pair’s big day. Despite multiple reports, Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad noted that he could not confirm that the Malaysian King, Sultan Muhammad V, had married.
Local news reports on the wedding to the 25-year-old Russian woman were apparently blocked in Malaysia, and copied foreign media reports were pulled from local internet platforms, giving rise to more and more rumours, Russian media reported.
The latter gained momentum after the king was reported to have been on vacation “for treatment” since early November, which was believed by many to be a prolonged honey moon. Speculation took another twist beginning on 6 January, when Sultan Muhammad V of Kelantan resigned as the 15th Agong, or supreme ruler, of the federation. He ascended the throne, having been elected by the other eight Malay state rulers only in December 2016 and had nearly 3 years of rule ahead. The official statement brought about yet another round of rumours – centred on the reason for the early voluntary renunciation.
On 24 January, an off-schedule meeting of hereditary sultans is due to take place in the Malaysian capital, which is to elect the next supreme ruler, with one of the most likely candidates being the son of the 88-year-old sultan of the state of Pahang. Historically, the supreme ruler’s post is claimed by sultans of each state in turn.
Is the Russian Beauty the Reason?
Muhammad V became the first ever bachelor sultan to have been crowned. He had earlier been married to a Thai princess, whom he divorced after the woman failed to give birth to an heir. The council of rulers denounced the king’s second marriage, with local media citing royal insiders that this is the real reason for the king’s unexpected resignation, as the rulers’ council refused to crown Voevodina, despite her embracing Islam. Strictly speaking, there could have hardly been another option for 49-year-old Muhammad, who studied for a degree in the UK and is particularly keen on extreme sports, and, as royal insiders said, might have been a bit bored with his royal duties, preferring a more secular lifestyle. It is not by chance that he and his wife-to-be met in a European capital during an exhibition of luxury watches and jewellery, where Oksana worked as a model at the time.
Meanwhile, opposition political forces took power in the Malaysian parliament last May, with Mahathir Mohamad, the current prime minister, having more than once been at odds with monarchs, the abdicated king being no exception, The New Straits Times reported. The then ruling United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) as part of the coalition “The National Front” suffered the biggest defeat since the country gained independence in 1957 and proclaimed consitutional monarchy.
In June, the government and royal palace faced an almost two-week rift over a plan to appoint a non-Malay as attorney-general. The king eventually approved the appointment, though the incident had sparked a number of tensions in the nation, The Sydney Morning Herald reported.
More Than Ceremonial
Apart from being the formal military chief, the Malaysian monarch is also the symbolic head of Islam in the predominantly Muslim country. Malaysia’s monarchical traditions go back to the Malay sultanates of the 15th century, with the king being referred to as Yang di-Pertuan Agong, or "He Who Is Made Lord".