Malaysia Government and Politics

State and politics

Malaysia Country Flag

Malaysia is a federal, constitutional monarchy and a parliamentary democracy. The head of state is a king (Yang di-Pertuan Agong), who is appointed for five years by and among the country’s nine sultans. The king’s power has been limited over time. However, the Sultans as a group still have a certain influence, in e.g. religious and constitutional issues.

Parliament has two chambers – the Senate (Dewan Negara) with 70 and the House of Representatives (Dewan Rakyat) with 222 members. General elections, in one-man constituencies, must be held at least every five years.

Malaysia is divided into 13 states, nine of which are hereditary sultanates, while the two states of Sabah and Sarawak have a certain special status. In addition, there is a federal territory consisting of the economic capital of Kuala Lumpur, the political capital of Putrajaya and the island of Labuan.

The most important issue in multicultural Malaysia since the country’s independence in 1957 has been the ethnic relations. Traditionally, the Malay majority has dominated politics and defense, the Chinese economy. United Malays National Organization, UMNO, is the dominant Malaysian party, Malaysia Chinese Association the largest Chinese and Malaysian Indian Congress the Indian party in the country. After severe ethnic riots in 1969, the then largest political parties, representing people groups rather than ideologies, merged into a national front, Barisan Nasional(‘National Front’). This, together with the rapid economic development of the partly authoritarian Prime Minister Mahathir bin Mohamad, has helped to curb ethnic contradictions. In the last election to the Federal Parliament (House of Representatives) in 2008, the National Front lost its 2/3 majority. Compared to 2004, the National Front decreased from 198 to 140 seats while Pakatan Rakyat (opposition alliance) increased from 20 to 82 seats in the Federal Parliament. In addition, the opposition won in five state elections – Kedah, Kelantan, Penang, Perak and Selangor – compared to Kelatan alone in 2004. As a result, the election had the effect that Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi was forced to hand over power to Najib Tun Razak in early 2009.

The Asian economic crisis that erupted in 1997 seriously affected Malaysia and came to have not only economic but also political consequences. Malaysia chose not to follow the economic policy advocated by the International Monetary Fund. strict control of currency flows and a fixed exchange rate. The crisis led to deep differences in political leadership, ie. within UMNO, between then Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammed and Finance Minister Anwar Ibrahim. The latter was dismissed in September 1998 and brought to trial on charges of corruption and sexual offenses. This resulted in a period of unrest with demonstrations against the government. Check Countryaah for other countries that start with M.

In connection with the 2008 elections, Anwar Ibrahim made a major political comeback as leader of the opposition alliance.


The judiciary in Malaysia consists of different kinds of courts, two High Courts (one for Western Malaysia and one for East Malaysia), one Court of Appeal and one Federal Court (Federal Court). The legal order is based on English law, domestic legislation and local, often religious customary law. The death penalty can be punished for some serious crimes.

Human Rights

The 1957 Constitution guarantees fundamental freedoms and equality. The Constitution recognizes freedom of religion but Islam is state religion. The Constitution defines Malay, the ethnic majority of the Malaysian population, among other things based on Islam as a religious affiliation. As an ethnic Malay, it is very difficult to convert from Islam. Other religions are recognized, but the practice of Judaism as well as Jewish symbols are forbidden.

In the 1960s, positive discrimination measures were taken to help ethnic Malays to get out of poverty. The measures are called bumiputera (‘Son of the Earth’) and should include all indigenous people in Malaysia. In practice, the positive special treatment means that other religious and ethnic groups are discriminated against in, among other things, the education system, health care and access to financial grants.

Malaysia is not an equal country. Women are underrepresented in politics and their rights in the home and in the labor market are limited in comparison to men. There is no government subsidized child care, which makes it difficult for a woman to work because it is often the mother who is expected to take care of the children. According to official figures, about 90 percent of single mothers live below the poverty line.

Female genital mutilation is very common. About 90 percent of the country’s Muslim women have been subjected to genital mutilation. Abortion is only allowed when the life or health of the mother is threatened.

Violence against women in the home is punishable but occurs and polygamy is allowed for Muslim men. Muslim inheritance and family law disadvantage women. Malaysian legislation distinguishes between rape within the marriage and outside the marriage where the sentence is 20 years instead of five years. Few rape cases are cleared up.

Child marriage occurs. The minimum age for marriage is 18 years for men and 16 years or younger for women, which has been criticized by a number of human rights organizations.

Same-sex sexual intercourse, as well as some type of sexual intercourse between heterosexuals, is prohibited. Images in media and advertising that spread positive messages about homosexuals, bisexuals, transgender people and queer people are censored and foreign magazines about and for LGBT people are banned. In 1994, the government also banned LGBTQ people from participating in state media.

Malaysia applies mandatory capital punishment for a variety of crimes, including drug offenses. The executions are executed by hanging and occur every year.

Arbitrary arrests occur, and it is not uncommon for people to be detained without judicial review for what is called prevention by the state. In 2017, the National Security Council introduced a law that provided further extensive opportunities for extra-judicial powers in special so-called security zones.

Above all, revival laws and the law on communication and multimedia are used to silence critical voices and political opposition. The state controls most media and freedom of the press is limited. Self-censorship is common. Malaysia ranks 144th out of 180 ranked countries in Reporters Without Borders Press Freedom Index (2017). The state closed down a number of newspapers in 2015, which occurred for the first time in 28 years. It is difficult to pursue any form of opposition policy and to criticize the current regime. To some extent, the Internet and social media have meant that government-critical voices have come to the fore.

The constitution protects freedom of assembly and association, but they can be restricted by other laws. For example, all organizations with more than seven members must apply for permits and the authorities have full discretion to criminalize organizations. People who gather in a public place without permission are routinely arrested.

Malaysia does not grant asylum to refugees whose lives are threatened because of race, religion, nationality, belonging to a particular social group or political opinion. Officially, therefore, there are no refugees in Malaysia, but only foreign nationals who either reside legally or illegally in the country. Malaysia has expelled people who are at risk of being tortured or executed upon returning to their home country.

After independence in 1957, Malaysia joined the UN. In 1995, Malaysia ratified both the Children’s Convention and, with some reservations, the Convention for the Elimination of All Discrimination Against Women. In 2010, Malaysia signed the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. However, Malaysia had not ratified the most central UN human rights conventions in 2017: the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the Convention on Economic and Social Rights.

Heads of State

1957-60 The Sultan of Negeri Sembilan, Tunku Abdul Rahman
1960 The Sultan of Selangor, Hishamuddin Alam Shah Al-Haj
1960-65 The Sultan of Perlis, Syed Putra Al-Haj
1965-70 The Sultan of Terengganu, Ismail Nasiruddin Shah
1970-75 The Sultan of Kedah, Abdul Halim Muadzam Shah
1975-79 The Sultan of Kelantan, Yahya Petra
1979-84 The Sultan of Pahang, Ahmad Shah Al-Mustain Billah
1984-89 The Sultan of Johore, Mahmood Iskander al-Haj
1989-94 The Sultan of Perak, Azlan Muhibbuddin Shah
1994-99 The Sultan of Negeri Sembilan, Jaafar
1999-2001 The Sultan of Selangor, Salahuddin Abdul Aziz Shah
2001-06 The Sultan of Perlis, Saiyid Sirajuddin
2006-12 The Sultan of Terengganu, Mizan Zainal Abidin
2012-16 The Sultan of Kedah, Abdul Halim Muadzam Shah
2016-19 The Sultan of Kelantan, Muhammad V
2019- The Sultan of Pahang, Abdullah Riayatuddin al-Mustafa Billah Shah

Malaysia Head of Government

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