Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah was elected as the new King of Malaysia Thursday, following the surprise abdication of King Muhammad V, who gave up the seat on January 6th, 2019. As a constitutional monarchy, Malaysia requires the role of king to be rotated between the heads of its nine royal houses. Despite his title, the king is not an un-checked ruler, and Malaysia does have a constitution which defines and limits the king’s powers, vesting administrative authority in the Prime Minister and parliament. However, the king has the authority to grant full pardons and veto the appointments of political office holders.
The British-educated Sultan Abdullah has deep roots in international sports and currently serves in a non-executive role on the FIFA Council, as President of the Asian Hockey Federation, and as an executive board member of the International Hockey Federation. Though his exact stance on the issue of giving visas to Israeli athletes remains unknown, Sultan Abdullah’s dedication to global sports could preclude a willingness to allow all eligible Israeli athletes access and safe passage to the competition.
However, if Sultan Abdullah chooses to uphold the ban and Malaysia is sanctioned by the International Paralympic Committee, he could be removed from his roles with FIFA, the International Hockey Federation, and the Asian Hockey Federation. Then again, Kuwait was sanctioned by FINA from October 2015 to August 2018, yet Kuwaiti Husain al-Musallam retained his seat on the FINA Executive Board and within the Olympic Council of Asia, despite also being under investigation by the US Department of Justice for a corruption scandal within FIFA, even after the Kuwait Swimming Association requested his removal from the FINA Bureau. Nonetheless, a sanction by the IPC could create turmoil for the new king as an influencer in global sports.
As a new king comes into power, so too could a new Prime Minister, potentially allowing for a cessation to the ban on Israeli athletes put in place by Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamed. In order for a new Prime Minister to come into office in Malaysia, the king must first select a current Member of Parliament (MP) for the job. For an MP to be eligible they must be a member of the Dewan Rakyat, or the House of Representatives. Members of the Dewan Rakyat are democratically-elected via on population-based constituencies. Thus, to be eligible for the role of Prime Minister, one must have first been freely elected by the people of Malaysia as a representative in the lower house of parliament.
Earlier this month, Mahathir stated that Malaysia would deny visas to Israeli para swimmers hoping to compete at the 2019 WPS World Championships from July 29th to August 4th, 2019, in the Malaysian city of Kuching. Malaysia, which is majority Islamic, has no diplomatic ties with Israel and is a staunch supporter of Palestine, as both states are Islamic.
“We will not allow them [to enter]. If they come, then it is an offense,” said Mahathir earlier this month, “If they want to withdraw the championships’ hosting rights from Malaysia, then they can try to do so.”
Sultan Abdullah has already initiated the replacement of Mahathir with another Malaysian politician, Anwar Ibrahim, who was recently sprung from a five-year jail sentence. However, some have speculated that Mahathir may not hand over the powers of his office when commanded.
The International Paralympic Committee responded earlier this month:
The IPC is bitterly disappointed at the stance of the Malaysian government with regards to Israel‘s participation at the 2019 World Para Swimming Championships. The latest comments from the Foreign Minister now cover all sport events in the country as opposed to just July’s Para sport event.
While we continue dialogue with the Local Organising Committee and the National Paralympic Committee, the IPC Governing Board will be discussing this matter at its meeting in London next week.
World Championships should be open to all eligible nations and athletes. We will explore all options open to us to try and ensure the full participation of all eligible athletes.
Conversely, a group of 29 NGOs including Palestinian Cultural Organisation Malaysia and the ASEAN Coalition for Palestine issued a statement to The Sun Daily:
“Boycotting and isolating Israel is the very least that can and should be done to express moral outrage. If it worked against apartheid South Africa, it will work against apartheid Israel.”
“The Malaysian Government is doing the right thing in barring Israelis from this country.”
The IPC was set to talk in London this week about potential solutions to the ongoing problem, though no news has come from those discussions. Sultan Abdullah’s 5-year reign will begin on January 31st, 2019.