Succession Risks Allayed For Now
BMI View: The binding appointment of 70-year Prince Muqrin bin Abdulaziz as second in line to Saudi Arabia's throne resolves the critical issue of succession for the time being. The stage is now set for a prolonged period of transition, as the younger generation of royals gradually acquires more responsibilities. We expect the incremental pace of reform adopted by King Abdullah to continue over the medium term.
Saudi Arabia appointed Prince Muqrin bin Abdulaziz as second in line to the throne on March 27, in a move that resolves the critical issue of succession for the time being. In a royal decree announced on state television, the 70-year old Prince Muqrin was made second crown prince alongside his current duties as second deputy prime minister, a position he obtained in February 2013. Yet the ruling goes further, defining the line of succession for 90 year-old King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz al Saud as binding and "not to be amended or replaced by whomsoever". In effect, Crown Prince Salman (78) is established to become the next king, with Prince Muqrin now firmly secured as his successor.
Such certainty had been sorely missing since the onset of the Arab Spring, with Prince Salman's two predecessors as heir apparent passing away in less than a year's interval over 2011-12. King Abdullah has remained relatively active in policymaking but is reported to be in increasingly frail health - a condition shared by Prince Salman. The Saudi royal family has thousands of members and is divided into several different familial branches, making it prone to inner rivalries. Although an Allegiance Council made up of senior members of the royal family was created in 2006 to manage the succession issue, the body had remained untested until this month. Prince Muqrin's appointment as deputy second prime minister last year had strongly elevated his status, but did not formally guarantee his ascension. Now that he has been formally designated as eventual heir - having won the backing of the Council with 27 out of 34 votes - one of the key medium-term risks to Saudi Arabia's political stability has been allayed.