Malaysia flag Malaysia: Economic and Political Overview

The political framework of Malaysia

Political Outline

Current Political Leaders
King: King Sultan ABDULLAH Sultan Ahmad Shah (since 24 January 2019)
Prime Minister: Anwar bin Ibrahim (since November 2022)
Next Election Dates
King nomination: 2024
Parliament: September 2023
Current Political Context
Malaysian politics has been relatively stable over the last decades. The Barisan Nasional coalition ruled the country since its independency 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 on 9 May 2018. Former Prime Minister Mahatir Mohamad returned to the office as the leader of the Pakatan Harapan centre-left four-party coalition 15 years after his first tenure. Muhyiddin Yassin was appointed prime minister in February 2020 and was able to form the National Alliance coalition with Malay-majority parties dominating the government. Tested by one of the largest pandemics in recent history, and despite relatively sound management of the crisis, Muhyiddin position in the new government coalition (Perikatan Nasional) was complex vis-à-vis the weight and popularity of United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), the old ruling party he allied with. Amid a political crisis and after losing a majority of support in parliament, he resigned in August 2021 and was replaced by Ismail Sabri Yaakob.
The government reiterated its non-aligned status through the Foreign Policy Framework of New Malaysia, especially when dealing with China and the United States.

Prime Minister Ismail dissolved parliament in October 2022 setting the stage for the country’s 15th general elections to be held on November 19. The tightly contested elections led to a hung parliament and a week of tension before Malaysia’s king swore in Anwar Ibrahim as the country’s 10th prime minister on November 24. The new parliament opened on December 19, passing a confidence motion for Anwar, who had spent over two decades in the opposition and 10 years in prison on politically motivated charges. Manoeuvrings by Malaysia's King Abdullah have led to the formation of a unity government led by Anwar Ibrahim, the leader of the multicultural Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition. His government will be supported by pro-Malay political parties, circumscribing his ability to contain Malaysia's tradition of ethnic preferences for the Malay majority. The outcome of the general election held on November 19th showed that the PH coalition won 82 seats (out of 222); the Perikatan Nasional coalition secured 73 seats and the Barisan Nasional coalition won 30 seats. The new government will initially prioritise economic issues amid an economic slowdown, with the 2023 budget to be adjusted and retabled in parliament before the year-end.
Main Political Parties
The Barisan Nasional coalition, in charge since 1957, was defeated in historical general elections in April 2018 and most of the parties left the coalition. The election was won by Pakatan Harapan, an opposition party led by Mahathir Mohamad, who had already been Prime Minister of Malaysia from 1981 to 2003. At the age of 92, Mahatir Mohamad became the oldest head of government in the world.

Barisan Nasional:
- 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
Pakatan Harapan:
- Democratic Action Party (DAP): centre-left, social democracy
- People's Justice Party (PKR): centre-left
- Malasyan United Indigenous (BERSATU): centre-right, nationalism
- National Trust Party (AMANAH): centre-left, Islamic modernism
Other parties:
- Parti Gerakan Rakyat Malaysia (Gerakan): centre
- Parti Pesaka Bumiputera Bersatu (PBB): right-wing
- Parti Rakyat Sarawak (PRS): centre
- Parti Bersatu Sabah (PBS): centre, multi-racial
- Sarawak Progressive Democratic Party (SPDP)
- United Pasok Momogun Kadazandusum Organisation (UPKO): right-wing
- Sarawak United People's Party (SUPP): centre
- Parti Bersatu Rakyat Sabah (PBRS): nationalist-oriented

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 40 are appointed by the Paramount Ruler and 26 are appointed by the 13 state assemblies, to serve six-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


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:

Indicator of Political Freedom


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.

Partly Free
Political Freedom:

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


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Latest Update: November 2023