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Malaysia Politics

Chief / Prime Minister

Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra Alhaj04 Aug 195515 Apr 1959UMNO+PP
Dato' Abdul Razak bin Hussein15 Apr 195921 Aug 1959 UMNO+PP
Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra Alhaj21 Aug 195922 Sep 1970UMNO+PP
Tun Abdul Razak bin Hussein22 Sep 197014 Jan 1976UMNO+1973 BN
Datuk Hussein bin Onn15 Jan 197616 Jul 1981UMNO+BN
Dato' Seri Mahathir bin Mohamad16 Jul 198131 Oct 2003UMNO+BN
Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi31 Oct 200303 Apr 2009UMNO+BN
Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak03 Apr 200910 May 2018UMNO+BN
Tun Mahathir bin Mohamad10 May 201801 Mar 2020PPBM+PH
Dato’ Seri Anwar bin IbrahimnonenonePKR
Tan Sri Muhyiddin bin Haji01 Mar 202015 Aug 2021PPBM+UMNO
Dato’ Sri Ismail Sabri bin Yaakob21 Aug 2021PPBM+UMNO
Tunku - prince [inherited]
Tun - most senior federal title
Tan Sri - second most senior federal title
Datuk - third most senior federal title
Dato’ Seri Utama - most senior state award
Dato’ - second most senior state award
Dato’ - third most senior state award

The Malays and the Bumiputra (son of the soil) who are the majority of the population have special position and privileges inscribed in the constitution by the country’s founding fathers at independence. The privileges, particularly access to lands, scholarships, public services, public education and businesses are coherently implemented through government policies. This inequality has led to simmering dissatisfactions amongst younger generation Malaysians from other races in the past.

Malaysia's multi-racial society contains many ethnic groups. Malays comprise a majority of just over 50%. By constitutional definition, all Malays are Muslim. About a quarter of the population is ethnic Chinese, a group which historically played an important role in trade and business. Malaysians of Indian descent comprise about 7% of the population and include Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists, and Christians. Non-Malay indigenous groups combine to make up approximately 11% of the population.

Population density is highest in peninsular Malaysia, home to some 20 million of the country's 27 million inhabitants. The remaining 7 million live on the Malaysian portion of the island of Borneo in the large but less densely-populated states of Sabah and Sarawak. More than half of Sarawak's residents and about two-thirds of Sabah's are from indigenous groups.

Malaysia's predominant political party, the United Malays National Organization (UMNO), has held power in coalition with other parties continuously since independence in 1957. The UMNO coalition's share of the vote declined in national elections held in May 1969, after which riots broke out in Kuala Lumpur and elsewhere, mainly between Malays and ethnic Chinese. Several hundred people were killed or injured. The government declared a state of emergency and suspended all parliamentary activities.

An ethnic apartheid has been part of government policy since the race riots in the 1960s. In both the ruling and opposition coalitions there are race-based parties representing the ethnic Malays, Chinese and South Asians. The classic, politically correct, stereotype of Malaysian society is Melayu, Cina dan India - Malay, Chinese and Indian.

In the years that followed, Malaysia undertook several initiatives that became integral parts of its socioeconomic model. The New Economic Policy (NEP), launched in 1971, contained a series of affirmative action policies designed to benefit Malays and certain indigenous groups (together known as bumiputera or "sons of the soil"). The Constitution was amended to limit dissent against the specially-protected and sensitive portions of the Constitution pertaining to the social contract. The government identified intercommunal harmony as one of its official goals. The previous alliance of communally based parties was replaced with a broader coalition--the Barisan Nasional (BN) or National Front. The BN won large majorities in the 1974 federal and state elections. The New Economic Policy (NEP), remains a longstanding sore point for Chinese Malaysians as the policy is now seen more and more as directed against Chinese wealth rather than against foreign ownership, as it was originally designed.

Over the years, Parliament's function as a deliberative body has deteriorated. Legislation proposed by the Government rarely was amended or rejected. Legislation proposed by the opposition never was given serious consideration. Opposition opportunities to hold legislation up to public scrutiny have diminished. In September, a member of Parliament from the opposition Democratic Action Party was suspended without pay for 6 months after failing to apologize to the parliamentary Speaker for "misleading the House" on the question of whether or not M.P.s had to raise their hands when taking their oaths of office.

The 1995 parliament amended its rules to strengthen the power of the Speaker and to curb parliamentary procedures frequently used by the opposition. The amendments empowered the Speaker to ban members he considered unruly for up to 10 days, imposed limits on deputies' ability to pose supplementary questions and revisit non-germane issues, and established restrictions on the tabling of questions of public importance. Further measures in 1997 and 1998 limited even more severely members' opportunities to question and debate government policies. In 2001, an amendment to the parliamentary Standing Orders permitted the Speaker to edit written copies of members' speeches before the speeches were delivered. Nonetheless, Government officials often faced sharp questioning in Parliament, although this was not always reported in detail in the press.

The marriage of convenience which saw Mahathir back in the top office after 15 years came with an agreement that he will eventually hand over the position to Anwar sometime after the latter is released from jail, but before the end of the mandate, sometime in 2023. The ambiguous nature of the agreement provided an opportunity of contention for the public, who are still suspicious about the warming relations of these two bitter enemies. Malaysian social media is rife with speculations of how Mahathir never intended to fulfill his promise but instead will stay on until the end of term, while keeping Anwar perpetually waiting in good behavior and out of the way.

What started as an internal dispute during a meeting of the ruling Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition erupted into a political circus for Malaysia on 23 February 2020 as members of the opposition, who were ousted from power in 2018 after 60 long years of governing the country together with the country’s hardline Islamist party, as well as members of Mahathir’s own coalition, met in a fancy hotel ballroom to tell the world that they had the numbers to bring down the government by the end of the day. What differs from any regular coup was that instead of ousting the prime minister, the conspirators pledged loyalty to him and instead wanted him to stay where he is, but this time for their team. Mahathir’s deafening silence ensued into 24 February 2020 when all of the sudden, news broke that Mahathir had sent his resignation letter to the king.

Although Mahathir Mohamad's sudden departure from the top post came as a surprise to many political pundits, the country's power corridors had been strife with political bickering over the previous week. In Malaysia, a failed coup attempt by the opposition and ambitious members of the ruling establishment saw the consolidation of power in the hands of a man famous for proclaiming that he is ‘not a dictator’: 95-year old Mahathir Mohamad.

Muhyiddin Yassin, a Malay nationalist politician backed by the corruption-tarnished former ruling United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) party, was sworn in as prime minister 01 March 2020 after the king picked him to replace 94-year-old Mahathir Mohamad. To become prime minister, a candidate must prove to the King, who appoints the prime minister, that he has the backing of at least 112 MPs. The swearing-in capped a week of turmoil that began with Mahathir’s resignation in an apparent bid to consolidate power, but ended with him sidelined and complaining of betrayal after decades dominating Malaysian politics. Muhyiddin Yassin headed a coalition dominated by the multi-ethnic country's Muslim majority and has faced criticism for controversial remarks about race.

For the first time since independence, there was no non-Malay party at the core of the government. Bersatu, UMNO and PAS are all Malay-centric parties and all three do not have a single non-Muslim MP. The move forstalled the impending rise to the Prime Minister's office of Anwar Ibrahim, who had campaigned on a platform of fighting corruption and rolling back race-based policies that favor ethnic-majority Malays.

Mahathir insisted that his former ally cannot be recognized as prime minister because he does not have the support of a majority of lawmakers. He proposed the no-confidence motion against the new government. On 19 May 2020 came the first session of parliament since the country's new leader, Muhyiddin Yassin, was sworn in. The king, Sultan Abdullah Ri'ayatuddin, said, "I would like to advise the honorable members of parliament not to drag the country into more political uncertainty. The honorable members should always show political maturity." Officials in parliament say the session was capped at two hours to keep the virus from spreading. Analysts say the move will give Muhyiddin's government time to consolidate power. Mahathir was not happy about the decision. He told reporters, "This will spell the end of democracy, where we cannot speak as representatives of people." The no-confidence vote was postponed until July, when the next session of parliament is scheduled. In the meantime, there are growing concerns that the political situation may affect how the country handles the coronavirus.

The largest party in Malaysia's ruling alliance said 07 July 2021 that it would withdraw support for Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin immediately and urged him to make way for a new leader. The was a political bombshell that could spark a general election and potentially trigger the collapse of Yassin's government if he refused to quit. Yassin took power in March 2020 after he withdrew from the former ruling alliance and united with the United Malays National Organization, or UMNO, and other parties to form a new government. But UMNO had been unhappy at playing second fiddle to Yassin's own Malay party.

The next Malaysian general election, formally the 15th Malaysian general election, is scheduled to be held on or before 14 September 2023.

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Page last modified: 22-08-2021 14:57:10 ZULU