Malaysia is a monarchy — albeit one that is sui generis. Rather than following a single line of succession, the kingship rotates among a group of traditional rulers — or sultans — who head nine of the country's thirteen states. Although some of the sultanates pre-date the arrival of Islam in the region, they are now closely associated with the religion and have been a part of the Malayan peninsula's political context for 600 years.
During the pre-colonial and colonial eras, the rulers had a wide scope of prerogatives but many of these were relinquished during Malaysia's transition to independence. At present, the sultans are ceremonial rulers, and executive power rests with the prime minister at the national level, and chief ministers and menteris besar at the state level. That said, they are responsible for religion and Malay culture within their respective states, while their historic and symbolic importance as well as a number of constitutional provisions allow their influence to extend significantly further.
Over the past few years, these rulers have begun to assume a more visible role in the country's political life. In some states, they have chosen to withhold their consent for the appointment of menteris besar and, in Perak in 2009, the sultan played a decisive role in toppling the coalition in power. Collectively, the sultans have also weighed in on national-level issues such as the quality of governance and rule of law.
Of the traditional rulers, the Sultan of Johor, Ibrahim Ismail, has been arguably the most notable. Part of his public persona revolves around his extensive collection of vehicles. He recently purchased a blue and gold 737 Boeing, which will be used to “promote Johor” and allow him to travel the world like his ancestors “who once travelled around in ships”. He has also given another plane to the Johor soccer team, which is owned by his eldest son, the Crown Prince.
The Sultan was also the first of the rulers to obtain a locomotive driving licence, and he piloted the last Malayan Railway train out of Tanjong Pagar Station in Singapore in 2011. A long-time automobile aficionado, he has a collection of some 300 units.