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The royal palace issued a statement saying the King resigned from his post as the 15th Yang di-Pertuan Agong (Head of state) in line with provisions in the Federal Constitution and after informing the "matter officially to the Malay rulers".

The January 6 announcement did not provide a reason for the King's decision to step down from the largely ceremonial position, in which he had served only two of his five-year term.

Sultan Muhammad had been on a two-month leave of absence since November, during which time reports and images surfaced that he had wedded former Russian beauty queen Oksana Voevodina in Moscow.

Many Malaysians were shocked by news of the nation's historic first royal resignation.

Watch: Malaysia's king abdicates.

Sultan Muhammad V of Malaysia saluting a royal guard of honour during the opening ceremony of the Parliament in Kuala Lumpur in July past year.

Despite this, it is accorded considerable prestige, particularly among the country's Malay Muslim majority for whom the king is seen as upholding Malay and Islamic tradition.

Malaysia is a constitutional monarchy, with a unique arrangement where the throne changes hands every five years.

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The women, who are now under police protection, can be seen leaving the shrine in videos that have been circulating on WhatsApp. The Sabarimala temple is devoted to the deity Lord Ayappa, who according to legend was born from a union between two male gods.

Images purporting to show him getting married in Russian Federation appeared on social media in December and identified his new wife as a model and former Miss Moscow, Oksana Voevodina.

Sultan Muhammad V delayed Mahathir's swearing-in as prime minister after a historic election victory in May a year ago, and also delayed giving his consent to the appointment of a non-Muslim attorney general.

Keeper of the Ruler's Seal, Syed Danial Syed Ahmad, said the Council of Rulers held a meeting Monday and set January 24 to elect a new king.

The national palace confirmed the resignation with immediate effect of the 49-year-old, who had been on the throne for two years and was known for his fondness for four-wheel driving and other extreme sports.

The report also said that Sultan Muhammad was anxious to start a family after he did not have children in his first marriage.

He has also expressed his highest appreciation to the prime minister and the government for their cooperation, the statement said.

A new monarch will now be elected by the Council of Rulers, according to the Straits Times.