ATTENTION to detail and homage to the past were hallmarks of the installation of the 16th Yang di-Pertuan Agong, Al-Sultan Abdullah Ri’ayatuddin Al-Mustafa Billah Shah.
Before their Majesties’ arrival, the focus at Balairong Seri were the thrones, the very same used at the installation ceremonies of the fathers of both the Yang di-Pertuan Agong and Raja Permaisuri Agong – Sultan Ahmad Shah of Pahang and Sultan Iskandar of Johor – as the seventh and eighth Yang di-Pertuan Agong.
The King’s attire featured components that were worn by his late father, including the muscat – the embroidered black jacket historically used in the Kedah civil service originating from Muscat – that was also worn by Sultan Iskandar.
Sultan Abdullah’s samping was designed and sewn by Tunku Azizah Aminah Maimunah Iskandariah, while she wore Tenun Pahang Diraja woven by inmates of Bentong and Penor prisons, adorned with embroidered crests of Pahang and Johor, as well as gold leaves lifted from the dress worn by Sultanah Zanariah, Sultan Iskandar’s consort.
Another sartorial connection was in the audience, with the couple’s youngest princess wearing the baju kurung worn by Tunku Azizah when she attended her father’s installation.
Ushering the children into the throne room was an official who similarly ushered Tunku Azizah and her siblings at the same ceremony 35 years ago.
I was piqued by the presence of the nobat ensemble from Terengganu, rather than that of Kedah (which is the norm when the Yang di-Pertuan Agong comes from a state that lacks its own), chosen because of a fascinating musical link provided by an intermarriage between the two east coast states.
Much of the royal banquet was also curated by Tunku Azizah, encompassing the table decorations and the array of desserts that were served (including “taik itik” which thankfully did not contain anatine biological waste).
Despite these personalisations, all the usual traditions determined by precedent and protocol were observed. The palace courtiers let me handle the two sceptres – the Cogan Alam and Cogan Agama – that were newly forged when my great-grandfather was installed as the first Yang di-Pertuan Agong: that gave me goosebumps.
The enhancements brought to the occasion by Sultan Abdullah and Tunku Azizah reflect not only their profound respect for the history and continuity of our nation’s most august institution, but are also consistent with their unique approach which has already been widely praised.
A few weeks prior, the usual dinner in conjunction with the Conference of Rulers was held as a barbecue, with the Rulers queueing to get their food. An ice cream parlour was assembled, and Tunku Azizah rang the bell to invite diners to choose their flavour of her home-made ice cream.
Days after the installation, Sultan Abdullah made a surprise appearance at the World Junior Squash Championships, joining the Patron of the Squash Racquets Association of Malaysia, Tuanku Muhriz.
This informality and accessibility has endeared them to Malaysians, with pictures of Sultan Abdullah queuing up at KFC or helping road accident victims going viral.
Particularly touching for netizens were the displays of affection between the royal couple, such as when Tunku Azizah was seen attempting to hold her husband’s hand, and upon success, swinging arms enthusiastically.
These are moments that all people can relate to, nurturing an affection and trust that might be called upon during potentially less happy times for our nation.
As I have written before, the expectations on our national institutions are monumental, particularly when political commitments towards reform and the restoration of our Federal Constitution are perceived to have ebbed and flowed.
The sight of our King and Queen taking their jobs seriously while expressing their own personalities is indeed a reassuring one.
Sultan Abdullah was appointed Tengku Mahkota Pahang at the age of 16 and became Regent a few years later while his father reigned as the Yang di-Pertuan Agong, giving him extensive preparation for kingship through some turbulent periods of our nation’s history.
His Majesty’s participation in various areas of public life is extensive, including his internationally recognised contributions towards football.
Tunku Azizah’s passion for food, fashion and women empowerment is well known but her personal tribulations that led to the setting up of the Tunku Azizah Fertility Foundation – which has since helped women of all backgrounds – has brought attention to a cause that is not often in the spotlight.
It is an undoubted strength of our system of monarchy that individuals with vast and unique experience are able to provide a focus of national unity that combines constitutional roles, historical traditions and personal passion in an apolitical way.
For me, the installation ceremony encapsulated an attention to detail and an utmost respect for tradition, continuity and stability that will be at the heart of His Majesty’s reign.
Tunku Zain Al-‘Abidin is founding president of Ideas. The views expressed here are entirely the writer’s own.