Six countries in East and Southeast Asia currently have monarchs as their heads of state, although the royals’ political power and relevance varies widely across the region. Until the 20th century, monarchic rule was the most common form of government in much of Asia but after a wave of revolutions and the process of decolonisation, only a handful of royal families remain. Some monarchs have gained renewed prominence in recent years, such as Thailand’s late King Bhumibol , a revered figure who became a symbol of national unity amid political upheavals during his exceptionally long reign. Japan Japan lays claim to the world’s oldest continuous hereditary monarchy, which can trace its lineage back at least 1,500 years. During the Allied occupation of the country at the end of the second world war, constitutional reforms were imposed that stripped the emperor of his powers. The role is now entirely representative and ceremonial in nature. Akihito, the current emperor, plans to abdicate the throne on April 30 – making him the first emperor to do so in more than two centuries. He will immediately be succeeded by his son, Crown Prince Naruhito. Despite being little more than a figurehead with no political power, Emperor Akihito has remained a popular figure among many Japanese during his three decades on the Chrysanthemum Throne, with his strong pacifist views and embracing of a more modern role as symbol of the state. Previous emperors, including his father Hirohito, were treated as semi-divine. Cambodia Cambodia is home to one of the world’s few elective monarchies in which the ruler is selected by a council formed of the country’s political and religious representatives. Since 1993, each new monarch has been elected for life from among the members of Cambodia’s two royal houses who are at least 30 years old. The incumbent King Norodom Sihamoni was elected in 2004 after his father, King Norodom Sihanouk, stepped down because of ill health. Cambodia’s king, like Japan’s emperor, is largely limited to the role of symbolic figurehead today. The current king’s father, however, did hold several political positions during his lifetime, including prime minister in the 1950s and president during the first year of the Khmer Rouge regime. Thailand King Maha Vajiralongkorn became head of state following the death of his father, King Bhumibol Adulyadej, in October 2016. Bhumibol, who ruled for 70 years and had held the title of world’s longest reigning living monarch, was widely beloved by Thais. A year-long period of mourning was announced following his death and he was cremated in October 2017 in a grand royal funeral in Bangkok. His son’s official coronation was delayed until after the mourning period had ended and is now expected to take place in May, following the country’s general elections that are scheduled for March 24 – the first since a military junta seized power in 2014. As head of state, Thailand’s monarch has powers such as the right to veto legislation and pardon criminals. He is also protected by one of the strictest lèse-majesté laws in the world, which can lead to a jail term of between three and 15 years per count for offending the monarch’s dignity. Thai royalty has long fashioned itself as politically neutral . In February, King Vajiralongkorn forbid his sister, Princess Ubolratana Mahidol, from running for office – despite the fact that she had renounced her royal titles after marrying an American in the 1970s. Malaysia Malaysia is a constitutional monarchy with a unique arrangement in which the national throne changes hands every five years between the sultans of the country’s nine states. The current monarch, Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah, was installed in January after his predecessor, Sultan Muhammad V, abdicated just two years into his reign. No official reason was given for the abdication, but it was the first time a king had stepped aside before the end of his term in the Muslim-majority country. Malaysia’s king, or Yang di Pertuan Agong, is the head of state responsible for safeguarding Islam but holds few actual powers. During his first term in office from 1981 to 2003, the country’s current prime minister – Mahathir Mohamad – twice put in place constitutional amendments that limited the monarchy’s power: removing the sultan’s right to veto legislation in 1983 and immunity from prosecution in 1993. Brunei Brunei has an absolute monarchy where the sultan is both head of state and head of government. The country is currently led by Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, who was crowned in 1967. He has ruled by decree since Brunei gained its independence from the UK in 1984. In 2014, the sultan sparked international condemnation when he announced the introduction of tough Islamic criminal punishments as prescribed by sharia law – to eventually include flogging, the severing of limbs and death by stoning. The monarch’s wealth – estimated by Forbes in 2011 to be US$20 billion – has become legendary. In July, he marked 50 years on the throne with lavish celebrations, including a glittering procession, a 21-gun salute and a ceremony at his vast, golden-domed palace. Bhutan This tiny Himalayan nation was ruled by an absolute monarch until the adoption of a new constitution in 2008. The royal family still plays a vital role in the political life of the country but the king – known as Druk Gyalpo or “Dragon King” – has relinquished some of his powers to the country’s parliament, where two pro-monarchy parties hold all the seats. Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuk is the current ruler of Bhutan, following the abdication of his father Jingme Singye Wangchuck in 2006.