Monarchies of Malaysia

The seal containing the coat of arms of nine Malay states, and is inscribed with the word "Great Seal of the Malay Rulers" in Jawi script, displayed in the Royal Museum, Kuala Lumpur.

The monarchies of Malaysia refer to the constitutional monarchy system as practised in Malaysia. The political system of Malaysia is based on the Westminster parliamentary system with the features of a federation.

Nine of the states of Malaysia are constitutionally headed by traditional Malay rulers. The nine states are collectively referred to as the Malay States. State constitutions limit eligibility for the thrones to male Malay Muslim of royal descent. Seven are hereditary monarchies based on agnatic primogeniture; they are Kedah, Kelantan, Johor, Perlis, Pahang, Selangor and Terengganu. In Perak, the throne rotates among three branches of the royal family loosely based on agnatic seniority. One state, Negeri Sembilan, is an elective monarchy; the ruler is elected from male members of the royal family by hereditary chiefs. All rulers except those of Perlis and Negeri Sembilan use the title Sultan. The ruler of Perlis is styled Raja, while the ruler of Negeri Sembilan is known as Yang Di Pertuan Besar.

Every five years or when a vacancy occurs, the rulers convene in the Conference of Rulers (Malay: Majlis Raja-Raja) to elect among themselves the Yang di-Pertuan Agong, the federal constitutional monarch and head of state of Malaysia.[1] As the Yang di-Pertuan Agong is elected among the rulers,[2] Malaysia as a whole is also an elective monarchy.


Each of the nine rulers serves as the head of state of his own state, as well as the head of the religion of Islam in his state.[3] As with other constitutional monarchs around the world, the rulers do not participate in the actual governance in their states; instead, each of them is bound by convention to act on the advice of the head of government of his state, known as Menteri Besar (pl. Menteri-menteri Besar). However, the ruler of each state has discretionary powers in appointing the Menteri Besar that commands a majority in the state legislative assembly, and refusing a dissolution of the state assembly when requested by the Menteri Besar.

The Yang di-Pertuan Agong is the federal head of state. His symbolic roles include being the Commander-in-Chief of the Malaysian Armed Forces, and carrying out diplomatic functions such as receiving foreign diplomats and representing Malaysia on state visits. The Yang di-Pertuan Agong is the head of Islam in his own state, the four states without rulers (Penang, Malacca, Sabah and Sarawak) and the Federal Territories. The Yang di-Pertuan Agong is required to delegate all his state powers to a regent, except for the role of head of Islam. Similar to other rulers, the Yang di-Pertuan Agong acts on the advice of the Prime Minister, and has discretionary powers in appointing the Prime Minister that commands a majority in the Dewan Rakyat, the lower house of the Parliament,[4] and refusing a dissolution of the Parliament. The Yang di-Pertuan Agong also appoints the Yang di-Pertua Negeri, the ceremonial governors for the four states without rulers, on the advice of the Prime Minister and the Chief Ministers of the states.

A unique feature of the constitutional monarchy in Malaysia is the Conference of Rulers, consisting of the nine rulers and the four Yang di-Pertua Negeris. The Conference convenes triannually to discuss various issues related to state and national policies. The most important role of the Conference is to elect the Yang di-Pertuan Agong every five years or when a vacancy occurs. Only the rulers participate in the election of the Yang di-Pertuan Agong, as well as discussions related to rulers' privileges and religious observances. The Conference's other role in the federal governance of the country is to give consent to amendments of certain entrenched provisions of the federal constitution, namely those pertaining to the status of the rulers, the special privileges of the Bumiputra, the status of the Malay language as the national language, and the status of Islam as the religion of the federation.


Historically, various Malay kingdoms flourished on the Malay peninsula. The earliest kingdoms were influenced by Hindu culture, the most notable being Langkasuka in present-day Kedah. In the 15th century, the Malacca Sultanate became the dominant power on the peninsula. The Malacca Sultanate was the first Malay Muslim state based on the peninsula that was also a real regional maritime power. After the fall of Malacca in 1511, several local rulers emerged in the northern part of the peninsula which later fell under Siamese influence, while two princes of the Malaccan royal family founded Johor and Perak respectively. The Sultanate of Johor emerged as the dominant power on the peninsula. The vast territory of Johor led to some areas gaining autonomy, which gradually developed into independent states.

In the 19th century, as various infighting among the Malay aristocracy threatened British economic interests in the region, the British began a policy of intervention. The British concluded treaties with some Malay states, installing “residents” as advisors to the rulers, who soon became the de facto ruling powers of their states.[5] These residents held power in everything except in religion affairs and Malay customs. In 1895, the governance of Negeri Sembilan, Pahang, Perak and Selangor were combined as the Federated Malay States, headed by a Resident General based in Kuala Lumpur. The British wrestled Kedah, Kelantan, Perlis and Terengganu from Siamese influence, and in turn they each received a British "advisor". Johor was the last state to succumb to British pressure, receiving an advisor in 1914. These five states were known as the Unfederated Malay States.

In 1946, after World War II, the British combined the Federated Malay States and the Unfederated Malay States, together with two of the Straits Settlements, Penang and Malacca, to form the Malayan Union which was headed by a British governor. Under the terms of the Union, the Malay rulers conceded all their powers to the British Crown except in religious matters. Widespread opposition by Malay nationalists led to the reform of Malayan Union to become the Federation of Malaya in 1948, in which the rulers were restored to their symbolic role as heads of state.

The present form of constitutional monarchy in Malaysia dates from 1957, when the Federation of Malaya gained independence. The rulers serve as constitutional heads of their states, with the state executive powers exercised by state governments elected by the people. The rulers elect among themselves a federal head of state, the Yang di-Pertuan Agong, with the federal executive powers exercised by an elected federal government. The form of constitutional monarchy was retained when Malaysia was formed in 1963.


Further information: Kedah Kingdom and Kedah Sultanate

According to the Hikayat Merong Mahawangsa, the Kingdom of Kedah was founded around 630 CE by Maharaja Derbar Raja, who arrived from Gameroon, Persia. The Sultanate of Kedah was founded when the last Hindu king, Phra Ong Mahawangsa, converted to Islam in 1136. He took the name Sultan Mudzafar Shah. Sultan Mudzafar's descendants continue to rule Kedah today.[6]

The seat of the Sultan of Kedah is Anak Bukit.[7]


Further information: Sultan of Kelantan

After centuries of subordination by Majapahit, Malacca, Siam and Terengganu, Long Muhammad, son of Long Yunus, declared himself Sultan in 1800 and gained recognition as a tributary by the Siamese. Control over Kelantan was transferred to the British under the Anglo-Siamese Treaty of 1909.[8]

The state capital, Kota Bharu, also serves as the royal city. The main palace for ceremonial functions is Istana Balai Besar, while Istana Negeri serves as the current sultan's residence. The previous sultan, who is still living, resides at Istana Mahkota.[9]


The early Sultans of Johor claimed to be a continuation of the Malacca Sultanate. The first Sultan, Sultan Alauddin Riayat Shah II was the son of the last Sultan of Malacca, who reigned from 1528. In the 19th century, with support from the British, the Temenggong family gained recognition as rulers of the state. Its first sultan, Maharaja Abu Bakar is known as the founder of "modern Johor". His descendants rule the state today.[10]

The Sultan of Johor resides in the capital, Johor Bahru.

Negeri Sembilan

Negeri Sembilan's monarchy incorporates a form of federalism, whereby the state is divided into smaller luak (chiefdoms), each with a ruling undang (chieftain). Four of the major chieftains elect the Yang di-Pertuan Besar (Yamtuan Besar), who is the Head of State of Negeri Sembilan.[11]

The first Yamtuan Besar was Raja Melewar, who united the nine small states of Negeri Sembilan, each of which were ruled by a local chieftain.[12] He was sent from the Pagaruyung Kingdom at the request of the Minangkabau nobility in the nine small states in the Malay Peninsula in the 18th century. Raja Melewar was succeeded by other princes sent from Pagaruyung, whose sons did not inherit the throne until Raja Raden in 1831, who was the son of Raja Lenggang.[13]

The seat of the Yamtuan Besar is Seri Menanti.

Chieftains / Undang

Further information: Undang

Chieftains are selected among the nobility in each Luak, following matrilineal inheritance, part of the state's Adat perpatih customs. The Undang of Sungai Ujong is chosen among the Waris Hulu and Waris Hilir families, and inherits the title Dato' Klana Petra.[14] The Undang of Jelebu is elected among the four noble houses, Waris Jelebu, Waris Ulu Jelebu, Waris Sarin and Waris Kemin.[15] Undang of Johol are a succession of members of two families in the female line which are Perut Gemencheh and Perut Johol. The son of the eldest sister of the incumbent is usually the heir.[16] The Undang of Rembau alternates between the two major noble houses in the Luak, namely the Waris Jakun (who inherit the title Dato' Lela Maharaja) and the Waris Jawa (Dato' Sedia di-Raja). As with the undangs of Johol, the son of the eldest sister of the incumbent is the heir in the family.[17]

Luak Title Undang Reign since
Sungai Ujong Dato' Klana Petra Dato' Mubarak Dohak 1993
Jelebu Dato' Mendelika Mentri Akhir ul-Zaman Dato’ Haji Musa Abdul Wahab 1983
Johol Dato' Johan Pahlawan Lela Perkasa Setiawan Dato' Muhammad Abdul Ghani 2007
Rembau Dato' Lela Maharaja
Dato' Sedia di-Raja
Dato' Muhammad Sharif Othman 1999


In addition, the district of Tampin has its own hereditary ruler, known as the Tunku Besar. The Tunku Besars of Tampin are descendants of Sharif Sha'aban Syed Ibrahim al-Qadri, the son-in-law of Raja Ali, a member of the state royal family who challenged the reign of the Yang di-Pertuan Besar in the early 19th century.[18]

District Title Incumbent Reign since
Tampin Tunku Besar Tunku Syed Razman Tunku Syed Idrus Al-Qadri 2005


The modern royal house of Pahang is a branch of the royal family of Johor. They held the title of Bendahara. In 1853, the Bendahara, Tun Muhammad Tahir, broke away from the Johor sultan and declared the state of Pahang independent. He was later deposed by his brother Ahmad, who declared himself Sultan in 1884.[19]


For more details on this topic, see House of Jamalullail (Perlis).

Syed Hussein Jamalullail, the sons of Syed Abu Bakar Jamalullail, the chief of Arau, and a daughter of Sultan Dziaddin of Kedah, was recognised as Raja of Perlis by the Siamese after helping them suppress a rebellion by the Raja of Ligor, a microstate in the Pattani region. The Jamalullails are of Arab descent and continue to rule the state of Perlis.[20]

The seat of the Raja of Perlis is Arau.


For more details on this topic, see Perak.

The Perak sultanate is founded by the son of the last sultan of Malacca, Sultan Muzaffar Shah. His descendants still live until this day. The Sultan of Perak resides in Istana Iskandariah in Kuala Kangsar.


For more details on this topic, see Selangor.

The state of Selangor is on the west coast of Peninsular Malaysia and is bordered by Perak to the north, Pahang to the east, Negeri Sembilan to the south and the Strait of Malacca to the west. It surrounds the federal territories of Kuala Lumpur and Putrajaya, both of which were once under Selangor's territorial sovereignty.


For more details on this topic, see Terengganu.

The state of Terengganu is situated in north-eastern Peninsular Malaysia, and is bordered in the northwest by Kelantan, the southwest by Pahang, and the east by the South China Sea. Several outlying islands, including Pulau Perhentian, Pulau Kapas and Pulau Redang, are also a part of the state.


In seven of the Malay states, succession order is generally determined roughly by agnatic primogeniture. No female may become ruler, and female line descendants are generally excluded from succession.

In Negeri Sembilan, the Yamtuan Besar of the state is nominally elected by a council of Four Ruling Chieftains (Undang Empat), although succession stays within the state royal family.[21] In 1967, after the death of Tuanku Munawir, his son, Tunku Muhriz was not selected as the next Yamtuan Besar because of his youth. Instead, the Chieftains elected his uncle, Tuanku Jaafar, to succeed his father. In 2008, upon the death of Tuanku Jaafar, the Chieftains passed over Jaafar's sons and elected Tunku Muhriz as the next ruler.[22]

In Perak, the throne is rotated among three branches of the royal family. The system originated in the 19th century during the reign of the 18th Sultan of Perak, when it was decided that the throne would rotate among his three sons and their descendants. There are six positions in the order of succession, appointed by the reigning Sultan advised by his Royal Council. Traditionally, the eldest son of the reigning Sultan is placed at the end of the line. When a vacancy occurs in the line of succession, the persons behind in line is typically moved up, and the branch that formerly held the vacant seat is skipped. However, the order of succession is subjected to alteration by the Sultan and his Royal Council. For example, in 1987, Sultan Azlan Shah appointed his eldest son as the Raja Muda (first in line to the throne), bypassing the candidates from the other two branches.

The Yang di-Pertuan Agong is elected by and among the nine rulers (excluding minors) every five years or when a vacancy arises (by death, resignation, or deposition by majority vote of the rulers). The Yang di-Pertuan Agong serves a maximum of five years, and may not be re-elected until after all the other states had taken their turns. When the office was established in 1957, the order of seniority of the rulers was based on the length of their reigns on the state thrones. When the first cycle of rotation was completed in 1994, the order of the states in the first cycle became the basis of the order for the second cycle.

Table of monarchies

State Monarch Succession Incumbent Born Age Reigns since Designated heir
 Malaysia Yang di-Pertuan Agong elective monarchy Sultan Abdul Halim 28 November 1927 89 year old. 13 December 2011 None; elected by Conference of Rulers
 Johor Sultan agnatic primogeniture Sultan Ibrahim Ismail 22 November 1958 58 year old. 23 January 2010 Tunku Ismail Idris, Tunku Mahkota
(eldest son)
 Kedah Sultan agnatic primogeniture Sultan Abdul Halim 28 November 1927 89 year old. 15 July 1958 Tunku Abdul Malik, Raja Muda
 Kelantan Sultan agnatic primogeniture Muhammad V 6 October 1969 47 year old. 13 September 2010 Tengku Muhammad Faiz Petra, Tengku Mahkota
 Negeri Sembilan Yamtuan Besar elective monarchy Tuanku Muhriz 14 January 1948 68 year old. 29 December 2008 None; elected by the Four Ruling Chieftains
 Pahang Sultan agnatic primogeniture Sultan Ahmad Shah 14 October 1930 86 year old. 7 May 1974 Tengku Abdullah, Tengku Mahkota
(eldest son)
 Perak Sultan agnatic seniority Sultan Nazrin Shah 27 November 1956 60 year old. 29 May 2014 Raja Jaafar bin Almarhum Raja Muda Musa, Raja Muda
(eldest cousin)
 Perlis Raja agnatic primogeniture Tuanku Syed Sirajuddin 17 May 1943 73 year old. 17 April 2000 Tuanku Syed Faizuddin, Raja Muda
(eldest son)
 Selangor Sultan agnatic primogeniture Sultan Sharafuddin 24 December 1945 70 year old. 21 November 2001 Tengku Amir Shah, Raja Muda
(eldest son)
 Terengganu Sultan agnatic primogeniture Sultan Mizan Zainal Abidin 22 January 1962 54 year old. 15 May 1998 Tengku Muhammad Ismail, Raja Muda
(eldest son)


The title of the consort of a monarch is not generally fixed and not automatically obtained by courtesy. A consort may only use a title if it is granted to her either by order of the ruler or during a coronation ceremony.[23] The consorts of different states have different titles, some do not even receive one.[24] The title of a consort in a state may also change depending on the ruler. For instance, the wife of Sultan Ismail Nasiruddin of Terengganu was known as the Tengku Ampuan Besar,[25] while the wife of his grandson Sultan Mizan Zainal Abidin is known as the Sultanah (formerly Permaisuri).[26]

Titles of consorts usually take the form Cik Puan, Raja Perempuan, Sultanah, Tengku Ampuan, Raja Permaisuri, Tengku Permaisuri, or Permaisuri.[27]

List of consorts

State Monarch Consort Title Tenure
 Malaysia Yang di-Pertuan Agong Sultanah Haminah Raja Permaisuri Agong 13 December 2011 – present
 Johor Sultan Raja Zarith Sofia Permaisuri Johor 22 January 2010 – present
 Kedah Sultan Sultanah Haminah Che Puan 1975 – 9 January 2004
Sultanah 9 January 2004 – present
 Kelantan Sultan none
(present Sultan is divorced)

Previous consort was known as Raja Perempuan
 Negeri Sembilan Yamtuan Besar Tuanku Aishah Rohani Tuanku Ampuan Besar 29 December 2008 – present
 Pahang Sultan Kalsom Cik Puan 14 March 1991 – 30 September 1992
Sultanah 30 September 1992 – present
 Perak Sultan Tuanku Zara Salim Raja Permaisuri 28 May 2014 – present
 Perlis Raja Tengku Fauziah Raja Perempuan 14 July 2000 – present
 Selangor Sultan Norashikin Abdul Rahman Tengku Permaisuri 8 Sept 2016 - present [28]
 Terengganu Sultan Tuanku Nur Zahirah Permaisuri 19 July 1998 – 5 June 2006
Sultanah 5 June 2006 – present

    Royal Capitals

    The royal capitals are the cities and towns where the official residences of the rulers are situated. In some states, the royal capital is different from the administrative capital.

    The Yang di-Pertuan Agong resides in Kuala Lumpur.

    States Royal capital State capital Ruler title
     Johor Muar (Bandar Maharani) Johor Bahru Sultan
     Kedah Alor Setar (Anak Bukit) Alor Setar Sultan
     Kelantan Kota Bharu Kota Bharu Sultan
     Negeri Sembilan Seri Menanti Seremban Yamtuan Besar (Yang di-Pertuan Besar)
     Pahang Pekan Kuantan Sultan
     Perak Kuala Kangsar Ipoh Sultan
     Perlis Arau Kangar Raja
     Selangor Klang Shah Alam Sultan
     Terengganu Kuala Terengganu Kuala Terengganu Sultan



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      2. "Malaysia country brief". September 2013. Retrieved 2 December 2013.
      3. Constitution of Malaysia:Article 3-2
      4. Constitution of Malaysia:Article 43-2
      5. "The Encyclopædia Britannica : a dictionary of arts, sciences, literature and general information". Retrieved 17 October 2010.
      6. "Kedah". Royal Ark. Retrieved 7 June 2011.
      7. Malaysia in history (1956). Malaysian Historical Society. Volumes 3–5, p 11.
      8. "Kelantan". Royal Ark. Retrieved 7 June 2011.
      9. Muhammad Ismail Ibrahim (17 March 2011). Kelantan’s Castle: The Royal Palace. The Kelantan Times. Accessed 13 June 2011.
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      12. S. Indramalar (26 October 2009). "History in the making: Negri Sembilan welcomes a new ruler after 40 years". The Star (Malaysia). Retrieved 7 June 2011.
      13. "Negeri Sembilan". Royal Ark. Retrieved 7 June 2011.
      14. "Sungai Ujong". Royal Ark. Retrieved 6 June 2011.
      15. "Jelebu". Royal Ark. Retrieved 6 June 2011.
      16. "Johol". Royal Ark. Retrieved 6 June 2011.
      17. "Rembau". Royal Ark. Retrieved 6 June 2011.
      18. "Tampin". Royal Ark. Retrieved 6 June 2011.
      19. "Pahang". Royal Ark. Retrieved 6 June 2011.
      20. "Perlis". Royal Ark. Retrieved 6 June 2011.
      21. Radi Mustapha (26 October 2008). "Ceremony and protocol". Installation of the 11th Yang di-Pertuan Besar of Negri Sembilan Tuanku Muhriz Ibni Almarhum Tuanku Munawir. Malay Mail. Retrieved 5 June 2011.
      22. "Tuanku Muhriz is new Negri Ruler". The Malaysian Insider. 30 December 2008. Retrieved 5 June 2011.
      23. "No 'sultanah' title or special perks for 2 Johor consorts". New Straits Times. 17 February 2011. Archived from the original on 19 February 2011. Retrieved 5 June 2011.
      24. "[Order of precedence for the Raja Permaisuri Agong, royal consorts and wives of Yang di-Pertua Negeri]". Office of the Keeper of the Rulers' Seal. Archived from the original on 20 November 2011. Retrieved 15 December 2011.
      25. "Yang di-Pertuan Agong IV". His Majesty and Her Majesty. Retrieved 5 June 2011.
      26. "Yang di-Pertuan Agong XIII". His Majesty and Her Majesty. Retrieved 5 June 2011.
      27. "Schedule 6. Exemption From Tax", Income Tax Act 1967, 1967
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