UPDATE: When we wrote this article, it was the Crown Prince’s brother who Instagrammed that Johor would secede. This time the Crown Prince himself has said it in an interview with local football portal FourthOfficial:

“You can accuse me of instigating state-based sentiments, but to me, I’m merely doing my duty to the people of Johor, and reminding them of the history and heritage behind this great land.” – Tengku Mahkota as quoted by The Malay Mail Online

– – –

Whaaat?! Johor has its own ARMY?? Yep, you read that right. Johor was the first and currently the ONLY state in Malaysia with that privilege. OK, you Johoreans are probably going ‘Duhhh’, but for the rest of us from other states it’s hard to fathom this awesomeness.

Fuyoh, how big is this army? Got guns? Got TANKS??

Sultan Ibrahim inspecting his army. Image from NST

Sultan Ibrahim inspecting his army. Image from NST

The army, called the Royal Johor Military Force (or Askar Timbalan Setia Johor in BM), was formed by the current Sultan Ibrahim’s great-great grandfather Sultan Abu Bakar in 1886. Not only is it the only state army, it is also the oldest army in Malaysia. On how big it is, we keep getting different numbers in our search. The Independent cites that it had 200 men in 1993, but The Star’s report shows that it might be 61 men now. According to Wikipedia, they started out with 60 Johor Malays and 20 Punjabis.

Sultan Abu Bakar. Image from httpkemahkotaan.johor.gov.my.

Portrait of Sultan Abu Bakar. Image from kemahkotaan.johor.gov.my

As for guns and tanks, the army’s function is mainly ceremonial today. However, they do undergo training and their duty is to protect the royal family, counter-terrorism and special reconnaissance, so presumably they would know how to handle weapons. However, they did see action during World Wars 1 and 2. And you know what, Tun Hussein Onn himself served as a cadet with the army in 1940!

We found a blog post about the history of the Johor army. After Sultan Abu Bakar cemented his position with the British, both sides signed the Anglo-Johor Treaty in 1885. At a time where Britain was colonising the Malay states one by one, Sultan Abu Bakar managed to hold on to a degree of independence. So in the Treaty, Johor was referred to as the ‘Independent State of Johor’. And to assert this independence further, he built an army.

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Here are an old photo of the army:

Sultan Ibrahim at a parade. Image from Wikipedia

Sultan Ibrahim (not the current Sultan Ibrahim) marching in a parade with the Johor army. Image from Wikipedia

And here’s another of them in barracks uniform:

JMF in barracks uniform. Image from asianmil.typepad.com.

It looks like Sultan Iskandar standing among them. Image from asianmil.typepad.com

 

So how come Johor can have its own army and other states can’t?

sultan ibrahim of johor looking at his crown. Image from The Star

Sultan Ibrahim checking out his crown on display. Image from The Star

We were wondering if this meant the Johor royal family has special privileges that other Malaysian royal families don’t. But looking into it, this privilege was actually granted to them many years ago – even before Malaysia achieved independence in 1957. It was part of the agreement for them to join the Federation in 1948. But if that’s the case…well, then that’s no biggie right? And in the Constitution under Conference of Rulers, it’s not stated that the Johor royal family gets any special privilege.

Raja Petra Kamarudin did write an article once about the Johor royal family in Malaysia Today:

“The Johor palace has always had what we could probably call ‘special powers’, for want of a better term, compared to the other 8 Malaysian royal households. Even Singapore ‘closes one eye’ to the antics of the Johor royalty rather than risk rubbing them the wrong way – which is unique for Singapore which takes no sh*t from anyone (other than just the Johor royalty).” – Raja Petra

Got meh? What ‘special powers’ does the Johor royal family exclusively have besides a private army? Technically there are no ‘extras’. There was a time when The Star interviewed Sultan Ibrahim and revealed he had private businesses. But in our research we found that other Sultans have businesses too, including Selangor’s Sultan Sharafuddin. In the report, a business source closely connected to UMNO said, “Even the quiet Sultans are flexing their muscles a little bit, at the moment, demanding or putting in business proposals and getting them.”

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So…. the Johor royals don’t have ‘special powers’?

The reality is, and we have no links for these actual words, this is purely through observation, but we’re getting the impression that the Johor royal family has historically had pretty big balls.

Malaysian Tatler Ball. Image from

And we don’t mean these kinds of balls. Image from poshbrokebored.com

They’ve always been known to be vocal, even in political matters. Like the time Sultan Ibrahim said we should take Singapore’s example on using English in schools to forge unity in the country. Thinking of the rakyat, he also spoke against GST on local government services, which he said should be FREE… coz its government service mah. Additionally, he was involved the Johor Housing and Real Property Board Bill 2014 that seeks to look into the housing needs of the middle and low income Johoreans.

They don’t always make headlines in a good way tho, sometimes allegedly being involving shooting, killing a golf caddie, a brawl with tourists on Pulau Rawa and once, even assault on another royal from the Terengganu family. In one incident over losing a hockey game with Perak, amendments were made to the Malaysian Constitution to reduce the power of Malaysian royalty.

And on another spectrum of attention-grabbing headlines, there’s:

Original image from AsiaOne

Sultan Ibrahim with his new number. Original image from AsiaOne

And:

Image from Malaysian Digest

Can you spot the Johor flag on the Sultan’s new Optimus Prime truck?

The picture above is a customised Optimus Prime looking truck the Sultan of Johor bought.

 

And then of course, there’s this guy

Screenshot of TMJ's video on YouTube

Screenshot of TMJ’s video on YouTube

This video of Tengku Mahkota Johor’s ‘silent’ reply to Nazri’s warning not to get involved in politics speaks volumes. The back story to this is, the crown prince criticised Najib for not showing up for the Nothing2Hide forum, and Tourism and Culture Minister Datuk Seri Nazri Aziz told him to keep out of politics or else Putrajaya will “whack” him.

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More recently, there was his bro Tunku Idris’ post on Instagram. In the post, he said Johor would secede if the conditions that it agreed to join the Federation of Malaya are violated. What conditions was he talking about? These:

Johor agreed to join the Federation of Malaya on 3 conditions. Screen cap from Tunku Idris' Instagram

Johor agreed to join the Federation of Malaya on 3 conditions. Screen cap from Tunku Idris’ Instagram

So one of these conditions, was for Johor to be allowed to keep their own army. TADAAAAAAA!

Sultan Ibrahim himself has not spoken about secession, however, nor has he commented about his son’s post in the media. In fact, in Malaysia, talk of secession is actually considered seditious. Four people from Sabah have been charged with sedition before for allegedly urging Sabah and Sarawak to leave Malaysia.

But experts have said Johor CANNOT leave the country. Universiti Malaysia Perlis’s Raja Malaysia Institutional Research Centre director Prof Datuk Dr. Ramlah Adam said that Johor’s right to leave Malaysia became null and void after Merdeka, Astro Awani reported. Lawyer Kamal Hisham Jaafar added: “There is no provision in the agreement that allows Johor to secede from Malaysia.”

Even in Sabah and Sarawak where the sentiments of secession are alluded to be higher, they don’t (and cannot) have their own state army. Besides, the Johor army is not as large as the Malaysian army, which has 130,000 personnel. Despite that, the Sultan is proud of his army and wants them to continue to be relevant. Hmmm. We wonder what for….

“I would like to remind the recruits to be disciplined at all times and maintain their sense of camaraderie and loyalty to the state. The need for equipment and infrastructure should also be considered so the force can carry out its duties effectively in times of need.” – Sultan Ibrahim Sultan Iskandar, The Star