'We had a free exchange of views': PM Mahathir after meeting Johor Sultan

JOHOR BAHRU: Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said he and the Sultan of Johor had a “free exchange of views” during their meeting, and they agreed to speak frankly and openly “with nothing to hide”.

Dr Mahathir had an audience with Sultan Ibrahim Sultan Iskandar on Thursday afternoon (Jan 10) at the Johor ruler’s residence, Istana Bukit Serene, in Johor Bahru.

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It was their first meeting in almost 20 years. 

Dr Mahathir said the last time he met Sultan Ibrahim Iskandar was when he stepped down as Malaysia’s fourth prime minister in 2003.

“I can communicate with His Royal Highness. We agreed that we will be frank … talk openly, with nothing to hide. His Royal Highness had his views … I had my views,” he said.

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Speaking at a media conference after their 90-minute meeting, Dr Mahathir said: “Many issues were brought up during the meeting but that is between his highness and me.”

When asked if the subject of electing the next Malaysian king was discussed, Dr Mahathir said it was a matter for the Malaysian sultans and that the issue had nothing to do with him.

Malaysia’s Conference of Rulers is due to elect a new king on Jan 24 after Sultan Muhammad V stepped down on Sunday. 

After their meeting, Dr Mahathir was personally driven to Senai International Airport by the Sultan of Johor in a blue classic Proton Saga car with the number plate Proton 1. 

The 34-year-old vehicle was a gift to Sultan Ibrahim’s father, Sultan Iskandar, by the federal government headed by Mahathir back in 1985.

Sultan Iskandar was then serving as Malaysia’s king. 

The Sultan of Johor personally drove Dr Mahathir Mohamad to the Senai International Airport on Thursday (Jan 10). (Image: Facebook/Sultan Ibrahim Sultan Iskandar)

The Proton Saga was the flagship model that marked Malaysia’s start as a car producing country. 

Commenting on his vintage ride, Dr Mahathir said: “It’s a manual (car), the clock still works properly, driving was very good, no breakdown … I think it’s a good endorsement of the Proton car, 34 years still functioning. It has done 22,000km.”

JOHOR SULTAN IN THE RUNNING TO SERVE AS AGONG

Dr Mahathir’s meeting with the Sultan of Johor led to speculation that it could be related to the election of a new king.

READ: Sultan Muhammad V abdicates as Malaysia’s king in historic first
READ: Shock, sadness in Malaysia over Sultan Muhammad V’s resignation as king

In Malaysia’s constitutional monarchy system, the election for the king is held on a rotational basis every five years. A vote must be held within four weeks of the position becoming vacant.

According to the rotation in place, the Sultan of Pahang – believed to be in ill health – would be next in line. This is followed by the Sultan of Johor.

Sultan Nazrin of Perak, the deputy king, is currently acting head of state.

READ: Malaysian king’s shock resignation unlikely to affect respect for monarchy, say analysts

Ties between Johor and Putrajaya have not always been smooth sailing.

In the 1990s, Dr Mahathir launched a campaign to curb the excesses of royalty and remove the sultans’ immunity from criminal prosecution after two assault cases involving the Johor royal family.

In 2017, Dr Mahathir criticised the planned US$42 billion Forest City project – a joint venture between a company controlled by the sultan and the Chinese corporation, Country Garden. 

Just last week, Dr Mahathir hit out at Johor’s crown prince Tunku Ismail Sultan Ibrahim, saying that the royal does not understand the concept of a federation.

This came after the crown prince pledged to continue speaking up against the Pakatan Harapan government’s policies, even if this makes him “public enemy No 1”.

READ: Johor crown prince claims ‘sovereignty’ over water in the state, prefers ‘no federal interference’ on the issue


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