AS the nation welcomes its 15th Yang di-Pertuan Agong tomorrow, everyone is set to give the 14th Agong Tuanku Abdul Halim Mu’adzam Shah, a grand send off.
In fact, tens of thousands of Kedahans will line up the streets of Alor Setar today to welcome back Tuanku Abdul Halim as he resumes his role as the Ruler of Kedah after finishing his second term as King today.
The Sultan, accompanied by Sultanah Haminah Hamidun, is expected to be greeted by lines of people stretching up to nearly 5km, with the crowd consisting of civil servants, undergraduates and students.
The line will begin from the Sultan Abdul Halim airport all the way to Istana Anak Bukit, said Kedah Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Ahmad Bashah Md Hanipah.
He also revealed that six programmes have been planned to welcome Tuanku Abdul Halim back to the state, including the royal procession and Lambaian Kasih (Waves of Love).
“The royal couple is expected to touch down at the airport after 11am in a special flight from the KL International Airport.
“I will be escorting His Majesty from Kuala Lumpur, while royal family members, members of the royal court, as well as state dignitaries will be waiting at the airport in Kedah,” he said.
The state has prepared 10,000 umbrellas and flags to be given out to members of the public taking part in the welcoming ceremony.
The road from the Sultan Abdul Halim airport to Istana Anak Bukit will be closed to traffic from 10am for the royal procession.
Tuanku Abdul Halim, who recently celebrated his 89th birthday, remains the oldest ruler among his peers.
He first took on the office of the Yang di-Pertuan Agong in 1970, at the age of 43, when Tun Abdul Razak Hussein was prime minister.
He became Agong again in 2011 at the age of 84, and this time Razak’s son, Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak, was prime minister.
Under a unique system maintained since Malaya’s independence from Britain in 1957, the nine hereditary state rulers take turns as the country’s King for five-year terms.
Tuanku Abdul Halim is known for his love for all things sports, especially football and golf.
He once walked more than a kilometre to a stadium to watch his state team in an important match in 2006 after his car was stuck in traffic.
On the subject of football, the state team won the Malaysia Cup this year, after last hoisting the cup in 2008. Following this latest victory, there was a pledge to present the cup to Tuanku Abdul Halim when he returns to Kedah.
Tuanku Abdul Halim, who was installed as Kedah ruler in 1958, has also been described as a fan of Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Nat King Cole.
Other than sports, he also takes an interest in higher education. As the chancellor of Kolej Universiti Insaniah (Kuin) in Kuala Ketil, about 85km from Alor Setar, he recently expressed his desire to see Kuin accorded university status by next year.
In his speech read out during the September convocation ceremony of Kuin, he said it was his hope that the Kedah government, under the leadership of Ahmad Bashah, could also realise the setting up of the first Islamic university in the state.
“It can be achieved if all quarters work together,” he said in his speech at the university college’s 18th convocation ceremony, which was read out by the chairman of the Kedah Regency Council Tan Sri Tunku Sallehuddin Ibni Almarhum Sultan Badlishah, who is also Kuin pro-chancellor.
In the speech, Tuanku Abdul Halim advised graduates to contribute to their religion, race and country and to practise moderation.
Ahmad Bashah said the state government was highly committed to enhancing balanced education in the state and was working towards making Kuin a renowned Islamic university in the region.
Tuanku Abdul Halim married Tuanku Bahiyah Tuanku Abdul Rahman in 1956, and she became the Raja Permaisuri Agong when he became King in 1970.
In 1975, he married Tuanku Haminah Hamidun, then 22, before bestowing the title Che Puan Kedah on her.
Born in Bagan Serai, Perak, Tuanku Haminah is the fourth of seven siblings born to Hamidun Taib and his wife Isma Mohamad. Haminah was educated at SK Matang Jelutong and later SM Inggeris Bagan Serai.
When Tuanku Bahiyah passed on in Aug 26, 2003, Che Puan Haminah was proclaimed Sultanah in November the same year, with her coronation ceremony taking place in the royal town of Anak Bukit on Jan 9, 2004.
Tuanku Haminah enjoys playing golf, tennis, badminton and music.
She has participated in various golf tournaments in Kedah, as well as initiated amateur women’s golf tournaments such as the Kedah International Red Tee Invitational in Langkawi.
Tuanku Abdul Halim will return to a much transformed Kedah today.
When he became King in 1970, he had to travel by train from Kedah to Kuala Lumpur.
While he is flying back, other options to travel to the state from Kuala Lumpur include the new electric trains (ETS) operated by KTM Bhd that is capable of whisking passengers from KL Sentral to Alor Setar in four and a half hours, nearly three times faster than it used to be four decades ago. This tremendous physical development means Kedah is soaring ever higher in terms of development.
In 2013, Kedah attracted investments worth more than RM2.5bil, a figure five times more than what flowed into the state in the previous year.
In 2014, Kedah bagged another RM4.5bil in investments, mainly from the manufacturing sector, and all these investments are partly responsible for adding some buzz to Alor Setar.
In November 2014, the maiden Aeon Big store in Kedah opened in Jalan Gangsa.
Built on a 9,144sq m plot of land, the building houses a hypermarket and a shopping area with 55 lots offering various products and services.
The grand dame of retail in Alor Setar, Aman Central, is already proving its worth in generating buzz in the city.
With 28,328sq m near the heart of town, this mall that can rival Penang’s Queensbay Mall in size is the largest lifestyle destination in the northern region.
Near this mall, with a total built-up area of 185,806sq m, is the Amansuri Residences, the first luxury condominium built in the state.
With its two towers rising to 23 and 24 storeys respectively, this condominium development is the clearest signal that Alor Setar is no longer the sleepy hollow it used to be.
Developed by the Belleview Group, the 277 homes in this development is ready for occupation, and has set the standard for high-rise living in Kedah.
Even as buildings reach for the skies, some things about Kedah stay the same.
It is still the place where half of Malaysia’s rice is grown.
The temptation of converting plantation land for manufacturing and housing is growing strong, but it appears that the state is mindful that it must not get out of hand.
In 2008, the state put in some restrictions to slow down the conversion of paddy fields into housing and industrial lots.
In any case, Kedah’s position as the top rice-producing state is in no danger of being overtaken anytime soon, as other states also face the same pressure that modernisation puts on agriculture land.
Tuanku Abdul Halim is now back to impart his wisdom to state administrators so that Kedah’s development will be sustainable for a long time to come, be it in tourism, hospitality, manufacturing or services.