GOVERNMENT OF MALAYSIA: SYMBOLS, ELECTIONS AND CONSTITUTION

GOVERNMENT OF MALAYSIA

The government of Malaysia is a federal parliamentary democracy with a constitutional monarch (somewhat similar to the one in Great Britain) and a prime minister. The prime minister is the leader of the party or coalition with the most seats in Parliament. General elections to elect members of have to be called within a five year period. The ceremonial monarch is a king.

Government type: constitutional monarchy nominally headed by paramount ruler (commonly referred to as the King) and a bicameral Parliament consisting of a nonelected upper house and an elected lower house;all Peninsular Malaysian states have hereditary rulers (commonly referred to as sultans) except Malacca (Malacca) and Pulau Pinang (Penang); those two states along with Sabah and Sarawak in East Malaysia have governors appointed by government; powers of state governments are limited by federal constitution; under terms of federation, Sabah and Sarawak retain certain constitutional prerogatives (e.g., right to maintain their own immigration controls). [Source: CIA World Factbook]

In keeping with the concept of Parliamentary Democracy which forms the basis of the government administration in Malaysia, the Federal Constitution underlines the separation of governing powers among the Executive, Judicial and Legislative Authorities. The separation of power occurs both at the Federal and State level in keeping with the concept of federalism which forms the basis of the government administration in Malaysia. [Source: Malaysian Government]

States in Malaysia have their own constitutions and governments. Political institutions continue to evolve for many reasons, including recent emergence from colonialism, greater focus on economic rather than political development, and coexisting traditional and nontraditional authorities. Technically, all government acts are legitimized by the king’s authority, and the civilian and military public services officially owe their loyalty to the king and hereditary rulers. However, the king only acts on the advice of both parliament and the cabinet, and in practice the prime minister is the most powerful political authority. [Source: Library of Congress, 2006]

From 1981 to 2003, Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamed was unquestionably the most powerful and influential political figure in Malaysia, substantially influencing economic and social development. His successor, Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, has focused on reducing public spending, deferring several large-scale infrastructure projects, and promoting agricultural and educational development. Since the 1960s, the same political coalition, led by Mahathir and Abdullah’s political party, has governed the country. Some observers contend that corruption is problematic in politics, but international organizations that focus on corruption generally suggest that while Malaysian politics and business exhibit a degree of corruption, Malaysia has less corruption than most countries in the world.

Names and Divisions in Malaysia

Formal Name: Malaysia. Short Form: Malaysia. Term for Citizen(s): Malaysian(s). Independence: Peninsular Malaysia attained independence as the Federation of Malaya on August 31, 1957. Later, two states on the island of Borneo—Sabah and Sarawak—joined the federation to form Malaysia on September 16, 1963.

The name Malaysia was coined by the British as an adaption of the name Malay.

Local divisions: 13 states (11 states on Peninsular Malaysia and Sabah and Sarawak on Borneo) and two federal territories. Nine of the states are led by sultans and four by governors. The capital is Putrajaya not Kuala Lumpur. The 13 states (negeri-negeri, singular - negeri) are: Johor, Kedah, Kelantan, Malacca, Negeri Sembilan, Pahang, Perak, Perlis, Pulau Pinang, Sabah, Sarawak, Selangor, Terengganu. The one federal territory (Wilayah Persekutuan) has three components, Kuala Lumpur, Labuan, and Putrajaya

Independence: August 31, 1957 (from the UK). National holiday: Independence Day: August 31 (independence of Malaya); Malaysia Day September 16 (1963) (formation of Malaysia)

Short History of Malaysia

Malaysia did not exist as a unified state until 1963. Previously, a set of colonies was established by the United Kingdom from the late 18th century, and the western part of today’s Malaysia was composed of several separate sultanates. This group of colonies was known as British Malaya until its dissolution in 1946, when it became the Malayan Union. Owing to general opposition, it was reorganized again as the Federation of Malaya in 1948 and later gained independence in 1957. Singapore, Sarawak, British North Borneo and the Federation of Malaya were united to form Malaysia on 16 September 1963. The early years of the new union were marred by a conflict with Indonesia and the expulsion of Singapore in 1965.

Malaysia’s strategic sea-lane position brought trade and foreign influences that fundamentally influenced its history. Hindu and Buddhist cultures imported from India dominated early Malaysian history. They reached their peak in the Sumatran-based Srivijaya civilisation, whose influence extended through Sumatra, Java, the Malay Peninsula and much of Borneo from the 7th to the 14th centuries. Over the past 600 years, Malaysia was largely controlled by foreigners: the Prince of Plamberg, the kings of Siam, the Portuguese, the Dutch, the Brooke family (the famous White Rajas of Borneo), the British and the Japanese. [Source: Wikipedia]

Although Muslims had passed through Malaysia as early as the 10th century, it was not until the 14th and 15th centuries that Islam first established itself on the Malay Peninsula. The adoption of Islam by the 15th century saw the rise of number sultanates, the most prominent of which was the Melaka (Malacca). Islamic culture has had a profound influence on the Malay people, but has also been influenced by them. The Portuguese were the first European colonial powers to establish themselves in Malaysia, capturing Malacca in 1511, followed by the Dutch. However, it was the British, who after initially establishing bases at Jesselton, Kuching, Penang and Singapore, ultimately secured their hegemony across the territory that is now Malaysia. The Anglo-Dutch Treaty of 1824 defined the boundaries between British Malaya and the Netherlands East Indies (which became Indonesia). A fourth phase of foreign influence was immigration of Chinese and Indian workers to meet the needs of the colonial economy created by the British in the Malay Peninsula and Borneo.

During the late 18th and 19th centuries, Great Britain established colonies and protectorates in the area of current Malaysia.Japanese invasion during World War II ended British domination in Malaysia. The subsequent occupation from 1942 to 1945 unleashed nationalism in Malaya and Borneo. In 1948, the British-ruled territories on the Malay Peninsula except Singapore formed the Federation of Malaya, In the Peninsula, the Malayan Communist Party took up arms against the British. A tough military response was needed to end the insurgency and bring about the establishment of an independent, multi-racial Federation of Malaya in 1957.

On August 31, 1963, the British territories in North Borneo and Singapore were granted independence and formed Malaysia with the Peninsular states on 16 September 1963. The first several years of the country's independence were marred by a Communist insurgency, Indonesian confrontation with Malaysia, Philippine claims to Sabah. In 1965 Singapore was expelled from the Federation. A confrontation with Indonesia occurred in the early-1960s. Race riots in 1969 led to the imposition of emergency rule, and a curtailment of political life and civil liberties which has never been fully reversed.

Since 1970 the "National Front coalition" headed by United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) has governed Malaysia. Economic growth dramatically increased living standards by the 1990s. This growing prosperity helped minimise political discontent. During the 22-year term of Prime Minister Mahathir bin Mohamad (1981-2003), Malaysia was successful in diversifying its economy from dependence on exports of raw materials to the development of manufacturing, services, and tourism. Prime Minister Mohamed NAJIB bin Abdul Razak (in office since April 2009) has continued these pro-business policies and has introduced some civil reforms. [Source: CIA World Factbook]

Symbols and Flag of Malaysia

The Malaysian flag: Known as the Jalur Gemilang (Stripes of Glory), it has 14 horizontal stripes of equal width: red (top) alternating with white (bottom); there is a blue rectangle in the upper, left corner bearing a yellow crescent and a yellow 14-pointed star. The 14 stripes stand for the equal status in the federation of the 13 member states and the federal government. The 14 points on the star represent the unity between these entities. Tthe crescent is a traditional symbol of Islam; blue symbolizes the unity of the Malay people and yellow is the royal color of Malay rulers. The design is based on the flag of the United States.

The Malaysian flag was adopted in 1963. The 14 stripes and 14-pointed star represent the 14 states that made up Malaysia at the time it was created in 1963. The flag is similar to the old Federation of Malaya flag which had 11 stripes. The Malaysian government encourages the flying of the Jalur Gemilang particularly during the Month of Independence in August as an expression of love, loyalty and pride for the country.

The coat of arms of Malaysia shows a 14-pointed star representing the 13 constituent states within the Federation of Malaysia together with the Federal Government, while the star and the crescent together symbolise Islam as the official religion of Malaysia. The five Kris represents the five former Unfederated Malay States (Johor, Kedah, Perlis, Kelantan and Terengganu). The left-hand division of the shield represents the state of Penang and the right-hand section shows the Malacca tree that depicts the State of Malacca. These two states formed part of the former Straits Settlements.

In the four equal sized panels in the centre, the colours black and white are colours of the State of Pahang; red and yellow are colours of the State of Selangor; black, white and yellow are the colours of the State of Perak; and red, black and yellow those of the State of Negeri Sembilan. These four States formed the original Federated Malay States. The three sections below represent the State of Sabah on the left and the State of Sarawak on the right. In the centre is the hibiscus, the national flower. Flanking the shield are tigers, a design element retained from the earlier armorial ensign of the Federation of Malaya (and before that, of the Federated Malay States).

The motto in Romanised-script on the left and Jawi (Arabic) script on the right reads “Bersekutu Bertambah Mutu”, the Malay equivalent of “Unity is Strength”. The yellow colour of the scroll is the royal colour of the Rulers.

The tiger is the national symbol of Malaysia.

Rukunegara: Malaysia’s National Ideology

Malaysia’s national ideology, the Rukunegara was formulated with the purpose to serve as a guideline in the country’s nation-building efforts. The Rukunegara was proclaimed on August 31, 1970 by the Yang di-Pertuan Agong IV. [Source: Malaysian Government]

The pledge of the Rukunegara is as follows: “Our Nation, Malaysia is dedicated to: Achieving a greater unity for all her people; maintaining a democratic way of life; creating a just society in which the wealth of the nation shall be equitably distributed; ensuring a liberal approach to her rich and diverse cultural tradition, and building a progressive society which shall be oriented to modern science and technology.

We, the people of Malaysia, pledge our united efforts to attain these ends, guided by these principles: 1) Belief in God; 2) Loyalty to King and Country; 3) Upholding the Constitution; 4) Sovereignty of the Law; and 5) Good Behaviour and Morality.

Malaysian National Anthem

The national anthem of Malaysia, “Negaraku” (My Homeland, or “My Country) was adopted 1957 using music from a popular French melody titled "La Rosalie.” It was originally the anthem of the state of Perak. The lyrics are by former Malaysian Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman/ The music is by Pierre Jean De Beranger. According to the Malaysian government: “The Negaraku was first played and sung in the moderato tempo as in the case of other national anthems. However, in line with the development of the country’s socio-economy, the government, in conjunction with the celebration of the National Day in 1993, changed in to a March tempo which is faster and more spirited.”

The lyrics to “Negaraku” encourage the peoples of Malaysia, who represent different ethnicities, creeds and cultures to live in unity and harmony, in the pursuit of progress. The full version is only performed in the presence of the king. When any version of the National Anthem is played or sung, all present must stand up as a sign of respect.

The lyrics in Malay are:

Tanah tumpahnya darahku
Rakyat hidup bersatu dan maju
Rahmat bahagia Tuhan kurniakan
Raja kita selamat bertakhta
Rahmat bahagia Tuhan kurniakan
Raja kita selamat bertakhta.

Its idiomatic translation is:

My country, my native land
The people living united and progressive
May God bestow His blessings and happiness
May our Ruler have a successful reign
May God bestow His blessings and happiness
May our Ruler have a successful reign.

The rules on how Negaraku is to be played are described in the National Anthem Act, 1968. According to the Act, the National Anthem consists of three versions as follows: 1) the Full Version or the Royal Version of the National Anthem; 2) the Abridged Version of the National Anthem comprising the first eight lines and the last eight lines; and 3) the Short Version comprising the last eight lines. The Act describes the circumstances in which each version is played.

When any version of the National Anthem is played or sung, all present must stand up as a sign of respect.If the National Anthem is broadcast, such show of respect for the anthem is not expected. Anybody who deliberately does not show respect for the National Anthem at any public place may be fined not more than one hundred ringgit or imprisoned for not more than one month. Any act which appears to belittle the National Anthem in the eyes of the public, is considered as not respecting the National Anthem. The Police officers are empowered to arrest without warrant anybody found to be disrespectful towards the National Anthem.

History of the Malaysian National Anthem

According to Tuan Haji Mustapha Albakri, the tune of “Negaraku” was used as the Perak State anthem for the first time in England during the installation of King Edward VII in 1901. It was the tune of a very popular contemporary song entitled Terang Bulan. Sultan Idris Murshidul’adzam Shah (the Ruler of the State of Perak from 1887 to 1916) represented the Malay Rulers of the Federated Malay States at the installation ceremony of King Eward VII in 1901. When the ship carrying His Royal Highness docked at the Southampton Port, a protocol officer from the Colonial Office boarded the ship to enquire about the Perak State anthem. It was a practice in those days, to play the state or national anthem of the visiting head of state or king on his arrival in England. [Source: malaysianmonarchy.org ]

At that time Perak did not have a State anthem. It so happened that Raja Harun bin Sultan Abdullah, the private secretary to the Sultan, was himself a musician. Although Perak did not have a State anthem, Raja Harun refused to admit it. He told the protocol officer that Perak had its State anthem, but the music sheets were not brought along. Nevertheless, he said that he could play the song without looking at the notes. After hearing the explanation, the protocol officer allowed Raja Harun to proceed. The tune that he played was actually Terang Bulan. So Terang Bulan was played for the first time on English soil in 1901. Since then, the tune was adopted as the Perak State anthem until it became the tune for the National Anthem.

Another story about the origin of Negaraku was related by Raja Kamarulzaman, son of Raja Mansur who used to serve as aide-de-camp to Sultan Idris. According to him, Terang Bulan was first used as the tune for the Perak State anthem when Sultan Idris visited London in 1888, one year after he was installed as Sultan. His visit to London was in conjunction with the Coronation of Queen Victoria in 1888. Upon the arrival of the royal entourage in London, a representative of Queen Victoria asked Raja Mansur, the aide-de- camp of Sultan Idris, for the note of the Perak State anthem. Protocol required that the Perak State anthem be played as the Sultan walked into the coronation hall. To avoid embarrassment, the quick-witted Raja Mansur told the representative of the Queen that the music sheets for the State anthem had been left behind. However, if the officer could get a musician, Raja Mansur said he could whistle the tune for the musician to write the notes. When a musician was brought forth, Raja Mansur whistled the song that was very popular among the Perak people at that time. So the Perak State anthem was officially played for the first time during the coronation of Queen Victoria in London. And it was actually the tune of Terang Bulan.

Tuan Haji Mubin Sheppard who was at one time the Director of the National Archives had done a research on the origin of Negaraku. His sources were two sisters, Raja Aminah and Raja Halijah, the daughters of Sultan Abdullah and also Raja Kamarulzaman. According to these sisters, the first time they heard the tune, now known as that of Negaraku, was in Mahe, one of the Seychelles islands, where their father, the former Sultan of Perak, lived in exile. They said the song was very popular there and very often played by a French band which usually played a variety of songs and held concerts for the people of that island. It was believed that the melody of the song was composed by a French musician named Pierre Jean de Beranger who was born in France in 1780 and died in 1857.

According to Raja Kamarulzaman’s story, the song was introduced by an opera group from Indonesia during a show in Singapore. Over a short span of time the song became very popular in Singapore and was given the name Terang Bulan. Even after the song had become the tune for the Perak State anthem, it was still played at social functions. It remained as such until it became the tune for the Malaysian National anthem named Negaraku.

In 1956, all the states already had their own anthem. However, a song that could be made a national anthem had yet to be identified. As Malaya was poised for independence at the time, it was thought appropriate that the country should be ready with its own national anthem. Tunku Abdul Rahman, who was the Chief Minister and Minister of Interior Affairs of Malaya, decided that a national anthem be composed before the Independence Day. Hence a committee was formed to select a song as the national anthem for the soon-to-be independent Malaya.

Tunku Abdul Rahman suggested that a competition be held for composing the National Anthem. The Tunku’s suggestion was agreed to and implemented. The competition which was not restricted to Malayan composers but open to composers throughout the world, resulted in 514 songs compositions. A committee was formed to analyze all the songs and select the most suitable one. The committee members were diligent in their task. They examined each of the 514 songs that were submitted but found none suitable for the national anthem. It then decided to invite selected renowned composers as another option in their search for a suitable song. A few songwriters of international repute were specially invited to compose the national anthem.They composed a number of songs which were considered by a special panel of judges. The panel conceded that all the songs were of a high standard but none was suitable as a national anthem.

Despite the song-writing competition and the competitions from renowned song writers, a suitable song was yet to be found. This prompted the committee to consider the existing State anthems, with the hope of coming up with the right tune. The Perak State anthem was found to be the most suitable and was then selected as the tune national anthem of independent Malaya and later of Malaysia. A panel of judges wrote the lyrics for the national anthem with Y.T.M Tunku Abdul Rahman playing a significant role.

Malaysia Celebrates 50th Birthday, Prays for Unity

On August 31, 2007, Malaysia celebrated the 50th anniversary of its independence with fireworks, flag-waving and a prayer for unity among its races and religions. Reuters reported: “Malaysia's premier used his anniversary speech, made in the midnight hour of the nation's birth, to voice pride in the country's record of religious tolerance, but he and others hinted at recent undercurrents of social tension. "We must take care of our unity and we must be ready to destroy any threat which may affect our unity," Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi told tens of thousands of Malaysians who had turned out in the capital's main square to see the fireworks. [Source: Reuters August 31, 2007]

As flag-waving Malaysians again streamed into Merdeka (Freedom) Square for the main daytime celebrations, some Christian groups prayed for unity at churches nationwide. "Today, after 50 years of nationhood, we realize that we cannot take unity-in-diversity for granted. What divides us has become more accentuated than what unites us," the Christian Federation of Malaysia said in a "national day message." "Signs of polarization along ethnic and religious lines, along with all forms of chauvinism, racism and superiority are eroding our national unity."

But in Merdeka Square, as helicopters sprinkled the crowd with powder in the red, white, blue and yellow colors of the national flag, thoughts of religious and racial tension gave way to a party atmosphere. Thousands of dancers, a choir of around 2,300 teachers and 1,000 drummers performed patriotic songs, watched by Abdullah, Malaysia's king and queen and dozens of foreign dignitaries, including the British queen's representative, Prince Andrew.

The leaders of six other Southeast Asian nations also gathered on the podium to watch the celebrations, which included a fly-past by Malaysia's new Russian-made fighter jets. "I am happy to live in Malaysia. There is unity here," said Hew Kam Yean, 30, an ethnic Chinese insurance agent who came to the square with her 4-year-old son and her husband, who flew a small Malaysian flag from his baseball cap.

Capital and Constitution of Malaysia

Capital: Kuala Lumpur. Putrajaya is referred to as an administrative center not the capital; Parliament meets in Kuala Lumpur.

The garden city of Putrajaya is the seat of the Malaysian Government, having taken the role from Kuala Lumpur since 1999. Putrajaya was named after Malaysia’s first Prime Minister, Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra. The moder and high-tech city sits on a magnificent 4,931 hectare spread located in the middle of the Southern Growth Corridor, which forms part of the Multimedia Super Corridor (MSC).

Constitution: adopted on Malaysia’s Independence Dat on August 31, 1957; amended many times. The Malaysian constitution prohibits discrimination on the grounds of religion, race, descent, sex and place of birth. The basis of the Federal Constitution of Malaysia is the Constitution of the Federation of Malaya.

The Federal Constitution of Malaysia is the supreme law of the nation that distributes the power of governance in accordance with the practice of Parliamentary Democracy. The Constitution may be amended by a two-third majority in Parliament. In Malaysia, human rights are partially enshrined in the Federal Constitution. Among others, the Constitution guarantees the right to life; freedom of movement; freedom of speech, assembly and association; freedom of religion; and rights in respect of education. [Source: Malaysian Government]

The drafting of the Constitution of the Federation of Malaya was the first step toward the formation of a new government after Britain agreed to concede independence to Malaya in 1956. For the task of drafting the Constitution, the British Government formed a Working Committee comprising representatives from their side, advisors from the Conference of Rulers and Malayan political leaders.

Following the Alliance’s landslide victory in the first Federal Election in 1955, Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra was appointed Chief Minister. In January 1956 the Tunku headed a delegation to London to discuss the Federal Constitution and negotiate the date for independence of Malaya. In March 1956 a Commission chaired by Lord Reid was set up to formulate a draft and refine the Constitution of the Federation of Malaya. The Commission sought the views of political parties, non-political organisations and individuals on the form of government and racial structure appropriate for this country. In the consultation process, a memorandum from the Alliance had gained precedence.

The memorandum, an inter-communal conciliation aimed at mutual interests and strengthening the nation's democratic system of government, took into account five main factors namely the position of the Malay Rulers, Islam as the official religion of the Federation, position of the Malay language, the special rights of the Malays and equal citizenship.

The draft drawn up by the Reid Commission was authorised by the Working Committee as the Constitution of the Federation of Malaya commencing on the date of the nation’s independence on August 31, 1957. When Sabah and Sarawak joined Malaya in 1963, several provisions in the Constitution were amended and the country’s name was changed to Malaysia.

Executive Branch and Head of State (King) of Malaysia

Executive Branch: Malaysia has several bodies that can exercise executive power. The Conference of Rulers (Majlis Raja-Raja) is the supreme institution that is constitutionally empowered to select the king (Yang di-Pertuan Agong), approve appointed judges, rule on administrative policy changes, and deliberate on national policy questions. The king is the head of state and supreme commander of the armed forces, and he may authorize requests to dissolve parliament and approve parliamentary bills. However, the king actually has limited executive powers and may act only under the advice of the prime minister and cabinet.

Executive Authority, or the authority to rule, is vested in the Yang di-Pertuan Agong as provided for in Article 39 of the Federal Constitution, but it can be exercised by a Cabinet of Ministers headed by the Prime Minister. The Cabinet is directly responsible to the Yang di-Pertuan Agong. Every executive action is channelled to the King’s royal authority. However, in accordance with the principle of a democratic ruling system, the Prime Minister is the Chief Executive. [Source: Malaysian Government]

The Conference of Rulers is the supreme institution in the country and unique because it is the only such institution in the world today. When the country achieved independence, the Conference of Rulers was constituted under Article 38 of the Federal Constitution. Its functions are in accordance with the Fifth Schedule of the Constitution.

Chief of state: King - Tuanku Abdul Halim Mu'adzam Shah (selected on 13 December 2011; installed on 11 April 2012); the position of the king is primarily ceremonial. Kings are elected by and from the hereditary rulers of nine of the states for five-year terms; selection is based on the principle of rotation among rulers of states; elections were last held on 14 October 2011 (next to be held in 2016). Tuanku Abdul Halim Mu'adzam Shah elected king by fellow hereditary rulers of nine states.

Head of Government (Prime Minister) in Malaysia

Head of government: The prime minister, leader of the party that holds a plurality of seats in the House of Representatives (lower house of parliament), is the head of government and exercises most executive power. The prime minister appoints cabinet members with the king’s consent. Prime ministers are designated from among the members of the House of Representatives; following legislative elections, the leader who commands the support of the majority of members in the House becomes prime minister (since independence this has been the leader of the UMNO party).

Current head of government: Prime Minister Mohamed Najib bin Abdul Najib Razak (since 3 April 2009); Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin bin Mohamed Yassin (since 9 April 2009). Najib was sworn in as prime minister after former Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi stepped down; Abdullah also stepped down as UMNO president; there was no party election for the post of president; the party passed the reins to Najib who was the deputy president. Choosing the deputy president of the party is where all the politicking takes place.

Cabinet: Cabinet appointed by the prime minister from among the members of Parliament with consent of the king. The ministry positions—lead by a cabinet member and minister are: Ministry of Agriculture and Agro-Based Industry, Ministry of Defence, Ministry of Domestic Trade, Cooperative And Consumerisme, Ministry of Education, Ministry of Energy, Green Technology and Water, Ministry of Federal Territories and Urban Wellbeing, Ministry of Finance, Malaysia, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Health, Malaysia, Ministry of Higher Education, Ministry of Home Affairs, Ministry of Housing and Local Government, Ministry of Human Resources, Ministry of Information, Communication and Culture, Ministry of International Trade and Industry (MITI), Malaysia, Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, Ministry of Plantation Industries and Commodities, Ministry of Rural and Regional Development , Malaysia, Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovations, Malaysia, Ministry of Tourism, Ministry of Transport, Malaysia, Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development, Ministry of Works, Malaysia, Ministry of Youth and Sports.

The prime minister’s residence in Putrajaya is huge $50 million pink stone monstrosity wiht a green onion dome. The prime minsters office is the size of a small gym. Outside there is a white staircase that leads through palm grove to an artificial lake. [Source: Malaysian Government]

Describing the swearing in ceremony of Prime Minister Abdullah in 2008, Vijay Joshi of Associated Press wrote: “Abdullah Ahmad Badawi was sworn in at 11:10 a.m. local time in front of King Mizan Zainal Abidin, the constitutional monarch, and dozens of government dignitaries in the national palace's glittering throne room. "I pledge to carry out my duties honestly and with all my abilities," Abdullah said, reading out the oath. "I pledge to protect and uphold the Constitution." Dressed in all-black Malay attire—cap, collarless shirt and loose pants with a swath of gold embroidered cloth wrapped around the waist—Abdullah arrived at the palace with his wife, Jeanne, for the simple ceremony which was nationally telecast. He smiled occasionally, mingling with guests after the ceremony, [Source: Vijay Joshi, AP, March 10, 2008]

Legislature of Malaysia

Legislature: The parliament has an upper and lower houses and operates much like the Indian parliament, after which it modeled. The House of Representatives (Dewan Rakya) is a parliamentary-style lower house made up of elective officials. It has 222 seats (it used to have 219 seats and before that 193 seats). 112 seats needed for a majority. The less powerful upper house, or Senate (Dewan Negara), is made up of both elected and appointed representatives.

Legislative branch: The legislature consists of the king and a parliament. The bicameral Parliament or Parlimen consists of Senate or Dewan Negara (70 seats; 44 members appointed by the king, 26 elected by 13 state legislatures to serve three-year terms with a two term limit) and House of Representatives or Dewan Rakyat (222 seats; members elected in 222 constituencies in a first-pass-the-post system to serve up to five-year terms). [Source: CIA World Factbook]

The Senate is a permanent body consisting of 70 members that serve three-year terms; each of the 13 State Legislative Assemblies elects two members; and the king appoints 44 members, four of whom are from the federal territories of Kuala Lumpur (2), Labuan, and Putrajaya. The Senate elects its president and deputy president from among its own members. The House of Representatives are popularly elected for five years from single-member constituencies.

The Senate may initiate legislation, but only the House of Representatives can initiate legislation that involves the granting of funds. Both houses of parliament and the king must approve legislation for it to be enacted into law. The king has few other legislative powers, but he may dissolve the House of Representatives on the prime minister’s advice. A two third majority in the parliament gives the ruling party to pass amendments to the constitution.[Source: Library of Congress, 2006]

The Parliament, the legislative authority for Malaysia formulates laws applicable to the country as a whole. The Parliament passes Federal laws, makes amendments to existing federal laws, examines the government’s policies, approves the government’s expenditures and approves new taxes. It also serves as the forum for debate and deliberations; and the focus of public opinion on national affairs.At the State level, the power is vested in the respective State legislature, for which elections are held every five years.Some of the laws and provisions made by the Parliament are functions of the Cabinet ministers, foreign conventions, raising of taxes and approval of expenditures, among other things. [Source: Malaysian Government]

See Elections Below

Insults, Chaos, Shouting and Foul Language in Malaysia’s Parliament

In the first session of Parliament after the Malaysia’s opposition performed well in 2008 election, opposition members disrupted the proceedings with noisy arguments as lawmakers from both sides traded insults and jeers. Associated Press reported: “The record 82 opposition lawmakers who were elected to the 222-member Parliament in the March 8 elections shouted down, in one voice, ruling National Front coalition lawmakers in an argument over a technicality. Karpal Singh, from the opposition Democratic Action Party, called National Front member Bung Mokhtar Radin a “Bigfoot,” who retaliated by calling Singh a “Big Monkey.” “This is not meant to be a shouting match!” yelled Speaker Pandikan Amin Mulia, trying to calm the screaming rival partisans who rose up to vociferously support Singh or Bung Mokhtar. The chaotic scenes were shown live on national television, the first time proceedings are being broadcast, albeit only the first 30 minutes every day. The scenes looked more like the often-rambunctious parliament sessions of India or Taiwan rather than the sedate meetings that Malaysia has been used to for the last 51 years. [Source: AP, April 30, 2008]

Wong Chun Wai wrote in The Star, “Kinabatangan MP Datuk Bung Mokhtar Radin is notorious for using un-parliamentary language in the Dewan Rakyat. The loud Sabahan politician, known for his equally loud and tacky ties, created Malaysian parliamentary "history" when he uttered a four-letter word against a DAP woman MP in 2001. The microphones of all MPs were switched off by the Speaker in the heat of the debate, but the profanity was loud enough for other members and reporters to hear. [Source: Wong Chun Wai, The Star, February 6, 2005]

The Hansard, which records the House meetings in verbatim, has no record of the outburst during the debate on the Islamic state and things would probably have remained that way until the media approached Bung Mokhtar in the lobby and asked him why he had uttered the word. To their surprise, he admitted it but said in defence it was in the "heat of the moment" and that if there were chairs in the House, "they would have been sent flying in the direction" of Chong Eng, the Bukit Mertajam member.

A year before, Bung Mokhtar sparked a controversy when he uttered a sexist-tainted "boleh masuk sikit?" (can I come in a little?) remark in his attempt to seek clarification from Chong Eng. Back then, he had said he meant no harm and that the phrase was commonly used in Sabah. The matter was subsequently dropped, much to the chagrin of many Mps. So, it came as no surprise when Bung Mokhtar was quoted as saying that strong language (euphemism for foul language) was necessary to make sure the message was delivered. Utusan Malaysia quoted him as saying "there are times we become over-expressive in presenting our views in Parliament and this is when the language problem crops up".

Some opposition politicians, too, have a reputation for using bad language. DAP MP Karpal Singh has his share of such remarks. He has called his opponents binatang (animal) and makluk (alien). I remember once, during a meeting of the Penang State Assembly, the pencil he was holding went flying towards then Chief Minister Dr Lim Chong Eu who was seated directly across. I am not sure whether it was intentional but it resulted in a furore. Dr Lim seldom lost his cool when dealing with Karpal Singh and Lim Kit Siang. The Gerakan founder leader would close his eyes, as if taking a nap, and smile. Now and then, he would stand up and make curt replies, which infuriated the opposition members more. I don't recall the "old fox" - as Karpal Singh called him - ever shouting. The man had class.

Controversial Karpal, on one occasion during the 80s, had to be escorted out of the House by then George Town OCPD Mokhtar Daud after Karpal Singh refused to be led out by the Sergeant at Arms. At another time, Penang DAP assemblyman Seow Hun Khim even brought along a cucumber to emphasise a point. In more recent times, PAS MP Mahfuz Omar called another MP, Datuk Anifah Aman, jakun. The use of the word "Jakun" (an orang asli group) is considered derogatory because it is always associated with backwardness. Many MPs, especially those from Sabah and Sarawak, were particularly offended by that remark.

Malaysia Lawmaker Convicted of Biting Policeman

In October 2009, aMalaysian court convicted a prominent opposition lawmaker of biting a policeman at an illegal protest and sentenced him to six months in prison. News agencies reported: “Tian Chua was found guilty in the Kuala Lumpur Magistrate's Court on a charge of hurting a policeman who had tried to stop him from entering Parliament in December 2007 to protest a constitutional amendment. Magistrate Faizi Che Abu sentenced Chua to six months' jail and fined him 3,000 ringgit ($900), but put off the penalty until an appeal can be heard in a higher court. The fine means Chua could eventually lose his Parliament seat because legislators who are fined more than 2,000 ringgit ($600) or serve a year in prison must vacate their seats. [Source: Agencies, October 22, 2009]

Chua, a longtime ally of top opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim and a senior official in Anwar's People's Justice Party, has denied biting the policeman. "The charge is a malicious charge and politically motivated," Chua told reporters. "We'll continue to fight in a higher court. I maintain that I'm innocent." The policeman, Rosyaidi Anuar, accused Chua of biting his arm and spitting on him. His colleague testified that Rosyaidi had a red bruise on his arm after the incident. Faizi ruled that Chua's testimony had inconsistencies and was not credible. "I hope that this will send a strong message to the public" that such offenses are unacceptable, Faizi said.

Government lawyer Hanafiah Zakaria denied that Chua was unfairly prosecuted. "You can champion whatever cause you want, but you still have to respect the law," he said. At the time of Chua's alleged offense, he was not yet a lawmaker. Chua had sought to enter Parliament with other opposition activists to protest a constitutional amendment to electoral laws that they claimed would curtail civil rights. Months later, Chua, 46, won a Parliament seat in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia's largest city, when a three-party opposition alliance wrested slightly more than one-third of the seats in Parliament in March 2008 general elections.

Elections in Malaysia

Malaysia has universal suffrage. The voting age is 21. A general election is held every five years to elect members of the Dewan Rakyat. Parties with the most votes can form a government to rule the country. General elections decide the makeup of state assemblies as well as parliament. They are overseen by a nominally independent Election Commission. The last general election was in May 2013.

Unless dissolved, the Parliament will proceed for five years from the date of the first proceeding session conducted after a general election. At the end of the five-year period, the Parliament is automatically dissolved, and within 60 days from the date of its dissolvement, a general election to elect representatives for the Dewan Rakyat has to be held, and the Parliament calls for a meeting at a date not later than 120 days from the date of dissolvement.

Elections are usually held on Saturday, with some extra time for voting in Sabah and Sarawak on Borneo island. The polls close at 5:00pm or 5:30pm, with results often determined between 8:00pm and midnight the same day. The final election results are usually announced on Tuesday.

In 2008, about 70 percent of Malaysia’s 10.9 million eligible voters cast ballots. In an effort to curb violence, a ban on victory processions was put in place. Malaysia’s worst episode of violence, in 1969, was triggered by such a parade. In 2004, there were 10.3 million registered voters and 7,300 polling stations in Malaysia and 50,000 police backed by helicopters dogs and water cannons were deployed through out the country.

See 2008 and 2013 Elections Under History

Details and Logistics of the Malaysian Election in 2008

The Malaysian general election on March 8, 2008 was held in accordance with Malaysian laws for national elections, which states that a general election must be held no later than five years subsequent to the previous elections; the previous general election was held in 2004. Malaysia's Parliament was dissolved on February 13, 2008, and the following day, the Election Commission announced nominations would be held on February 24, with general polling set for March 8. State assemblies of all states other than Sarawak were also dissolved and their elections took place at the same time. [Source: Wikipedia]

Political parties were reported to have begun preparations for the polls as early as January 2008. As in 2004, the incumbent National Front coalition, the ruling political alliance since independence, as well as opposition parties represented primarily by Democratic Action Party (DAP), the Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS), and Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) contested the election.

As with all preceding general elections following independence, the parliamentary election was won by BN, but yielded one of the worst results in the coalition's history. Opposition parties had won 82 seats (out of 222 seats in parliament) or 36.9 percent of parliamentary seats, while BN only managing to secure the remaining 140 seats or 63.1 percent. It marked also the first time since the 1969 election that the coalition did not win a two-thirds supermajority in the Malaysian Parliament required to pass amendments to the Malaysian Constitution. In addition, five of the twelve contested state legislatures were won by the opposition, compared with only one in the last election.

Political Campaigns

Campaigning for an election kicks off less than two weeks before the election. After parliament is dissolved the Election Commission takes a couple days to fix the days of the election which are usually about three weeks after parliament is dissolved. The campaign periods are relatively short, typically around eight or nine days, between the nomination deadline and the day before the vote. In 2004, the elections were called in early March, the campaign period began about a week later and the elections were held on March 21.

The opposition doesn’t like the system because the say they don’t get enough time to get across their message and incumbents have an advantage because their message is being relayed everyday in the state-supporting press. The system was put in place to prevent pre-election violence like the kind that occurred in 1969 when the campaign period was a month.

Malaysian election campaign can be very dirty and nasty and involve a lot of name calling and mudslinging. See Elections in 2008 and 2013 under History.

Describing campaigning by the prime minister before the 2008 elections, Associated Press reported: “Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi was scheduled to meet with fishermen and visit a mosque in the northern state of Penang later Friday, making last-minute contact with his constituents before the end of campaigning at midnight. His deputy Najib Razak was to inaugurate a clinic and meet with schoolteachers and senior citizens in Pahang, another northern state. Unlike other parliamentary democracies, campaigning is low-key in Malaysia, largely because the weak opposition has little money to push through its message, and the ruling National Front has little need to prove its credentials. The National Front has won every election since independence in 1957, and is expected to win again.” [Source: AP, March 7, 2008]

Voter Irregularities in Malaysia

There have been reports of voting irregularities in Malaysia such as vote buying, bribery, stacking election rolls, placing wax on paper ballots so that voters can not mark the boxes for opposition candidates, counting phantom voters and not listing voters voter lists.

After the 2008 general election, Thomas Fuller wrote in the New York Times, “Human Rights Watch said in a statement that irregularities in the electoral rolls and curbs on media freedom would make the election “grossly unfair.” Malaysia’s election commission unexpectedly rescinded a decision to use indelible ink on voters’ fingers to prevent people from using identity cards of deceased voters and casting votes several times. Opposition parties have long complained of “phantom” voters — dead people who have never been struck from the election rolls. [Source: Thomas Fuller, New York Times, March 7, 2008]

The election commission says that 8,666 registered voters on the election rolls are more than 100 years old, including two people who are 128, which seems unlikely in a country where life expectancy is 72. Bridget Welsh, a specialist in Malaysian politics at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies in Washington, told the New York Times the monitoring of vote counting was made more difficult after a ruling by the election commission to allow only one representative per party in counting centers. “Changing of the rules at the last minute undermines faith in the electoral system,” she said.

Women in Government and the Youth Vote in Malaysia

Women are fairl well represented in government in Malaysia. There are a number of female Mps in parliament. Women have served as attorney general and central bank governor. The Trade Minister for many years, Datuk Seri Rafidah Aziz, is a woman.

But In some of the Islamic and conservative states women are discouraged from running for political office. A state official in Kelantan told AP, “The Kelantan state government puts women on a pedestal. We don’t allow them to be exploited.” There, women can not run for office. “The contest is very rough. It’s dangerous to women.” Explaining a Kelantan government policy not to hire attractive women for government jobs, the official said, “It’s to make things more balanced. We hire the less pretty, unmarried women. Once they’re on the job, maybe they ca find a husband. Most unmarred women are not pretty, don’t you agree?”

On the youth vote in Malaysia, Siva Sithraputhran and Anuradha Raghu of Reuters wrote: “Student leaders say the university education system in Malaysia promotes an environment of unquestioning obedience that leaves little room for dissent. "We are trained to follow. When students try to voice out anything, the authorities say the student is the opposition, against the university and so on," said Bawani KS, a 27-year-old law student at Universiti Utara Malaysia. She became the poster-child for fighting oppression in the education system after a YouTube post went viral in January, showing her being shouted down by a speaker linked to a pro-government body at a student event. [Source: Siva Sithraputhran and Anuradha Raghu, Reuters, April 29, 2013]

While free university education forms a central plank in the opposition's manifesto, the Barisan Nasional government has scoffed at the promise as irresponsible. Instead, BN has targeted young voters in series of pre-election giveaways, setting aside 325 million ringgit ($106.6 million) for book vouchers and 300 million Malaysian ringgit ($98.4 million) for smart phones. In an interview with Reuters last year, Khairy Jamaluddin, the 37-year-old head of UMNO's 600,000-strong youth wing, said it was a misconception that younger people would overwhelmingly vote for the promise of change represented by the opposition. "We are the ones pushing for faster change," he said. "We have to make sure the reform agenda is not the monopoly of the opposition."

"Employers are looking for candidates who are outspoken, who can think creatively. But nowadays our graduates can't fulfil these expectations," she added. Graduate unemployment levels are disproportionately high in Malaysia. According to latest available data, unemployed 21-24 year-olds made up about 61 percent of the total number of jobseekers in 2011. The Merdeka Centre poll in February found that 21-30 year olds were the group most worried about their personal finances. So Najib's campaign message of a booming economy -- which grew 5.6 percent last year -- may fall on deaf ears among many young Malaysians.

See 2013 Elections under History

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Malaysia Tourism Promotion Board, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated June 2015

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