Malaysia flag Malaysia: Economic and Political Overview

The political framework of Malaysia

Political Outline

Current Political Leaders
King: Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah (since 24 January 2019)
Prime Minister: Anwar bin Ibrahim (since November 2022)
Next Election Dates
King nomination: 2024
Parliament: 2027
Current Political Context
Malaysian politics has been relatively stable over the last decades. The Barisan Nasional coalition ruled the country since its independence from Britain in 1957, but it lost its hold of the parliament for the first time in Malaysian history in the general election which was held in 2018. The election that took place in 2022 resulted in a divisive political landscape, with none of the three main coalitions – Pakatan Harapan (PH), Perikatan Nasional (PN), and Barisan Nasional (BN) – securing a simple majority. Due to the King’s intervention, PH (81 out 222 parliamentary seats) and BN (30) agreed to form a coalition government, and PH’s leader and long-time leader of the opposition, Anwar Ibrahim (who had spent over two decades in the opposition and 10 years in prison on politically motivated charges), was appointed as the tenth Prime Minister. The alliance was backed by other smaller coalitions and parties (GPS, Warisan, MUDA, and PBM), as well as independent members of Parliament, which enabled Anwar to win a vote of confidence in December 2022.
Malaysia held six state elections in August 2023, resulting in mixed outcomes for the major political parties. The opposition Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition won three states (Selangor, Penang, and Negeri Sembilan), while the Perikatan Nasional (PN) coalition won two states (Terengganu and Kelantan), and the Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition won one state (Kedah).
Amid escalating tension between the U.S. and China, Malaysia reiterated its non-aligned status through the Foreign Policy Framework of New Malaysia, and maintains its relationship with both countries despite the South China Sea dispute with Beijing, as it is a major trading partner and an important source of investment.
Main Political Parties

Malaysia's 15th general election (GE15) was held on November 19, 2022, amidst a backdrop of political uncertainty and economic challenges. The election resulted in a hung parliament, with no single party or coalition securing a majority of seats. This outcome reflected the deep divisions within Malaysian society and the growing influence of Islamist politics.
The leading parties in GE15 were the Perikatan Nasional (PN) coalition, led by Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob, and the Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition, led by former Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim. PN, which was formed in March 2020, was a loose alliance of parties that included former members of the Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition, which had ruled Malaysia for six decades until 2018. PH, on the other hand, was a more ideologically unified coalition that included parties from the Malay, Chinese, and Indian communities.

The main parties/coalitions represented in the parliament are:
Pakatan Harapan coalition (82 seats):
- People's Justice Party (PKR): centre-left
- Democratic Action Party (DAP): centre-left, social democracy
- National Trust Party (AMANAH): centre-left, Islamic modernism
- Malaysian United Democratic Alliance (MUDA): multi-racial and youth-centric
- The United Progressive Kinabalu Organisation (UPKO): multiracial political party based in Sabah

Perikatan Nasional coalition (74 seats):
- Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS): Islamist, far-right
- Malaysian United Indigenous Party (BERSATU): centre-right, nationalism
- Parti Gerakan Rakyat Malaysia (Gerakan): centre

Barisan Nasional coalition:
- United Malays National Organisation (UMNO): right-wing, known for being a major proponent of Malaysian nationalism
- Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA): right-wing, represents Malaysian Chinese contingency
- Malaysian Indian Congress (MIC): right-wing

Other parties:
- Parti Pesaka Bumiputera Bersatu (PBB): right-wing
- Sarawak United People's Party (SUPP): centre
- Progressive Democratic Party (PDP): regionalist.

Executive Power
The head of state is the Paramount Ruler, commonly referred to as the King. The King is selected from nine hereditary rulers (called Sultans) of the Malay states to serve a five-year term; the other four states (which have titular Governors) do not participate in the selection. Following legislative elections, the leader of the party that wins most seats in the lower house of the parliament becomes the Prime Minister to serve a five-year term, subject to approval by the King. The Prime Minister is the head of Government and holds the executive powers which include implementation of the law and running the day-to-day affairs of the country. The Cabinet is appointed by the Prime Minister from among the members of parliament with the consent of the Paramount Ruler.
Legislative Power
The legislature in Malaysia is bicameral. The parliament consists of the Senate (the upper house) with 70 seats, out of which 44 are appointed by the Paramount Ruler and 26 are appointed by the 13 state assemblies, to serve three-year terms; and the House of Representatives (the lower house) with 222 seats, its members elected by popular vote to serve five-year terms. The King can dissolve parliament if he wishes, but usually only does so upon the advice of the Prime Minister. In general, more power is vested in the executive branch of government than in the legislative branch. Legislative power is divided between federal and state legislatures. Each state has its own Government, a cabinet with executive authority, and a legislature that deals with matters not reserved for the federal parliament.
 

Indicator of Freedom of the Press

Definition:

The world rankings, published annually, measures violations of press freedom worldwide. It reflects the degree of freedom enjoyed by journalists, the media and digital citizens of each country and the means used by states to respect and uphold this freedom. Finally, a note and a position are assigned to each country. To compile this index, Reporters Without Borders (RWB) prepared a questionnaire incorporating the main criteria (44 in total) to assess the situation of press freedom in a given country. This questionnaire was sent to partner organisations,150 RWB correspondents, journalists, researchers, jurists and human rights activists. It includes every kind of direct attacks against journalists and digital citizens (murders, imprisonment, assault, threats, etc.) or against the media (censorship, confiscation, searches and harassment etc.).

World Rank:
119/180
 

Indicator of Political Freedom

Definition:

The Indicator of Political Freedom provides an annual evaluation of the state of freedom in a country as experienced by individuals. The survey measures freedom according to two broad categories: political rights and civil liberties. The ratings process is based on a checklist of 10 political rights questions (on Electoral Process, Political Pluralism and Participation, Functioning of Government) and 15 civil liberties questions (on Freedom of Expression, Belief, Associational and Organizational Rights, Rule of Law, Personal Autonomy and Individual Rights). Scores are awarded to each of these questions on a scale of 0 to 4, where a score of 0 represents the smallest degree and 4 the greatest degree of rights or liberties present. The total score awarded to the political rights and civil liberties checklist determines the political rights and civil liberties rating. Each rating of 1 through 7, with 1 representing the highest and 7 the lowest level of freedom, corresponds to a range of total scores.

Ranking:
Partly Free
Political Freedom:
4/7

Political freedom in the world (interactive map)
Source: Freedom in the World Report, Freedom House

 

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Latest Update: February 2024