A new era is about to unfold with the shift of power in the Kelantan palace after a year filled with palace intrigues and controversy.
TUANKU Muhammad Faris Petra was a picture of solemnity throughout the ceremony that saw him elevated to the Kelantan throne, and at the formal lunch that followed.
The royal bearing of this youngest Sultan in the country prevailed throughout the historic moment.
But shortly after everything was over, the tall, fair and handsome royal was seen praying at the Masjid Muhammadiah, the state mosque in the heart of Kota Baru.
It was there, when he was quite alone, that the emotional release came and tears rolled down his face as he performed his prayers. There were not many people at the mosque at that time but those present watched silently and kept a respectful distance.
It had been a very big day in his life. But more than that, the last one year has been a major test for this 41-year-old sovereign.
“I asked him about it. Tuanku said he was thinking of his father, that he could not be with him. He said he thinks of his father every day, of his father’s illness, and that he wished he could see his father, to be close to him and do things for him as a son.
“He was also thinking of the burden placed on him and he said he prayed for strength to perform his duties as the new Sultan,” said Datuk Shukri Mohamed, a lawyer and member of the Kelantan Succession Council.
Sultan Muhammad Faris has ascended the throne after a year of palace intrigues that saw the Kelantan palace making news as never before. It has not been the best of times for the Kelantan royal house which staggered from one controversy to another.
It began with the acrimonious marital break-up of the Sultan’s youngest brother Tengku Muhammad Fakhry and his beautiful Indonesian wife that made headlines in the region.
Then, when his father suffered a stroke, a power struggle broke out between the Sultan and his once-powerful mother, the Raja Perempuan Tengku Anis Tengku Abdul Hamid.
“We are proud to have a new Sultan; we see more stability in the days ahead. We see the state being run smoothly now that no one else besides the Sultan will be in control,” said Kota Baru MP Datuk Wan Rahim Wan Abdullah.
There will be a significant shift in ties between the palace and the state government under Tuanku Muhammad Faris. He has good ties with the PAS administration and enjoyed unreserved support from the state government even when he was Regent.
They see him as a progressive and involved royal who understands the way Islam has become the Kelantan way of life.
“The line of communication will be very clear from now, better than Maxis or Celcom,” said senior state executive councillor Datuk Nik Amar Nik Abdullah.
Mentri Besar Datuk Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat proclaimed Tuanku Muhammad Faris as the new Sultan.
And as many have noted, at the end of the proclamation, the elderly leader had called out three times, “Allahu akbar!” instead of the traditional, “Daulat Tuanku!”
It was another sign that a new era was about to unfold.
The Tuanku looks set to bring his own personality and style to the throne. He has made his presence felt among the common people especially after he was appointed Regent.
The recent fasting month was perhaps the best indicator of the sort of sovereign he means to be. He prayed in different mosques and visited the sickly and underprivileged, often driving his own car. His visit to the home of the family where a mentally disturbed man strangled his son to death was much talked about.
But what Kelantan folk have noticed most is his lack of protocol in reaching out to his subjects.
At a buka puasa gathering with the police force in the state, he arrived in his trademark short-sleeved jubah, quite unself-conscious of the fact that everyone else was in traditional Malay attire.
Earlier this year, he was the imam at mass prayers in the capital’s stadium, to pray for the then Sultan’s health and peace in the state.
He apparently likes hunting, horse-riding, archery and orange juice.
Tuanku Muhammad Faris’ royal path has been a little different from that of other heirs to the throne.
He has immense respect for the ulama class. For instance, his mentor figure was the highly-respected Tok Guru Haji Abdullah Abdul Rahman from the Sekolah Pondok Lubuk Tapah in Pasir Mas.
The late Tok Guru, known as the last learned scholar who dared to say “No” to palace requests, played a big role in the spiritual side of the sovereign’s life.
When the Tok Guru passed away after subuh prayers two years ago, his royal mentee had rushed to the house. Then in the afternoon he drove himself to the house for the funeral.
Wan Rahim recalled that in the early 1990s, he accompanied Nik Aziz to London, where they visited the Prince who was studying there with his brothers.
“There were many helpers around but he personally served the refreshments to Tok Guru,” said Wan Rahim.
And there is the fact that this is one sovereign who can be the imam who can lead the prayers.
“I have heard him reciting the verses and he knows the different doa for different occasions. Not everybody can do that,” said state opposition leader Datuk Alwi Che Ahmad.
Kelantan Umno leaders were also present at the proclamation and state deputy Umno chief Datuk Dr Awang Adek Hussein has declared the party’s undivided loyalty to the Tuanku.
“There are still family sensitivities at large but the state government has explained that the new Sultan abides by the constitution and we accept the solution,” said Awang Adek who is also Deputy Finance Minister.
The symbiosis between palace and politics has never been clearer.
Neither PAS nor Umno has any intention of crossing swords with the palace. When the Prime Minister visited Kelantan two months ago, he had called on the then Sultan in the morning and met up with the Regent in the evening.
“The Kelantan people are very clear about Tuanku Faris’ right to the throne. That was never in doubt. They also know his problem is not with his father and they sympathise with that,” said Wan Rahim.
At the same time, there is no denying that among the Tuanku’s immediate family, only Tengku Muhammad Faiz, his middle brother and second in line to the throne, was present at the proclamation.
His parents were not there and neither were his estranged brother Tengku Muhammad Fakhry and his only sister Tengku Amalin who is torn between the two factions.
But most of the royal figures, especially those from his father’s side of the family, were present to show their support and approval.
The most meaningful presence was that of Tengku Abdul Halim Sultan Ibrahim Petra, the most senior member of the Kelantan aristocracy who is chairman of the Kelantan Succession Council.
He is literally the grand old man of the Kelantan nobility and carries the title of Tengku Laxamana.
Tengku Abdul Halim’s explicit backing for the new Sultan is potent and meaningful. The tall and patrician looking royal is the uncle of the former Sultan and grand-uncle of the present Sultan.
Two of the former Sultan’s three sisters, who have been very vocal in the cause of their brother and their nephew, were also there.
The other sister who is married to the Raja Perempuan’s uncle Tengku Abdul Aziz Tengku Hamzah (his brother is Tengku Razaleigh) was absent but their son Tengku Rizam, a top bank executive from Kuala Lumpur, was there.
Tengku Razaleigh was apparently holidaying in London.
“It was a balanced representation,” said Wan Rahim.
Meanwhile, the Sultan will not neglect the well-being of his father. Moves are underway to convene a State Legislative Assembly sitting to approve a life allowance for Sultan Ismail who will continue to be addressed as “Duli Yang Maha Mulia Sultan Ismail Petra.”
The new Sultan will still have to confront a lot of issues but the worst of the storm has passed over the Kelantan royal house.
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