The antics of the British royal family are nothing compared to what some of the nine royal families in Malaysia get up to. Nepotism, meddling in state politics and flagrant breaches of their exemption from import duties are among their lesser misdemeanours, which generally go unreported in the circumspect local press. The most notorious of them was Johor’s late Sultan Mahmud Iskandar Al-Haj ibni Ismail Al-Khalidi, usually known as Sultan Iskandar, who died in 2010. He is alleged to have beaten his golf caddy to death in the Cameron Highlands in 1987 after the unfortunate man made the mistake of laughing at a bad shot.

Such behaviour had long incensed the prime minister of the time, Dr Mahathir, who was itching to bring the lawless royals into line. He got his chance in 1993 when yet another beating incident involving Sultan Iskandar was brought up in the federal parliament along with 23 other similar assaults since 1972. Following a stand-off with Mahathir, the sultans agreed to a compromise – they would waive their immunity from prosecution on the condition that no ruler would be taken to court without the attorney-general’s approval.

Despite the peccadilloes, and worse, of the various sultans being the subject of popular gossip (though little coverage in the press), the sultans are still revered by many Malays, for whom they symbolise continuing Malay dominance of a multiethnic nation.

Book through Rough Guides’ trusted travel partners

Malaysia features

The latest articles, galleries, quizzes and videos.

7 places to get off the tourist trail in Malaysia

7 places to get off the tourist trail in Malaysia

Already gaped at the Petronas Twin Towers in Kuala Lumpur, lazed on a white beach in the Perhentians, met orangutans at Sepilok and filled a whole SD card with…

31 Aug 2017 • Marco Ferrarese insert_drive_file Article
9 tips for backpacking Malaysia

9 tips for backpacking Malaysia

Despite having turquoise-ringed tropical islands, misty rainforests, cosmopolitan and arty cities, colourful festivals and one of the world's most interesting e…

08 Jun 2017 • Marco Ferrarese insert_drive_file Article
26 awe-inspiring architectural wonders

26 awe-inspiring architectural wonders

From ancient temples to hyper-modern skyscrapers, these are just a few of the world's most incredible architectural wonders. Whether you're looking to wander l…

01 Feb 2017 • Rough Guides Editors camera_alt Gallery
View more featureschevron_right

Weekly newsletter

Sign up now for travel inspiration, discounts and competitions

Sign up now and get 20% off any ebook