Politics of Malaysia

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Malaysia

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The politics of Malaysia takes place in a framework of a federal parliamentary monarchy, whereby the Prime Minister of Malaysia is the head of government, and of a pluriform multi-party system. Executive power is exercised by the government. Federal legislative power is vested in both the government and the two chambers of parliament, the Senate (Dewan Negara) and the House of Representatives (Dewan Rakyat). Since the formation of Malaysia in 1963, politics has been dominated by the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), the lead component of the Barisan Nasional (National Front) coalition. Although Malaysian politics has been relatively stable, critics allege that "the government, ruling party, and administration...are intertwined with few countervailing forces."[1]

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[edit] Political conditions

Malaysia's predominant political party, the United Malays National Organization (UMNO), has held power in coalition with other parties since Malaya's independence in 1957. In 1973, an alliance of communally based parties was replaced with a broader coalition the Barisan Nasional composed of fourteen parties. Today the Barisan Nasional coalition has three prominent members the UMNO, MCA (Malaysian Chinese Association) and MIC (Malaysian Indian Congress). The Prime Minister of Malaysia has always been from UMNO.

The political process in Malaysia has generally been described as taking the form of "consociationalism" whereby "communal interests are resolved in the framework of a grand coalition""Malaysia: Developmental State Challenged". In Government and Politics in Southeast Asia' The executive branch has tended to dominate political activity, with the Prime Minister's office being in a position to preside "over an extensive and ever growing array of powers to take action against individuals or organizations," and "facilitate business opportunities". Critics generally agree that although authoritarianism in Malaysia preceded the administration of Mahathir bin Mohamad, it was he who "carried the process forward substantially" Legal scholars have suggested that the political "equation for religious and racial harmony" is rather fragile, and that this "fragility stems largely from the identification of religion with race coupled with the political primacy of the Malay people colliding with the aspiration of other races for complete equality."

Like the desire of a segment of the Muslim community for an Islamic State, the non-Malay demand for complete equality is something that the present Constitution will not be able to accommodate. For it is a demand which pierces the very heart of the political system a system based upon Malay political pre-eminence. It is a demand that challenges the very source of Malay ruling elites' power and authority.

In early September 1998, Prime Minister Mahathir bin Mohamad dismissed Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim and accused Anwar of immoral and corrupt conduct. Anwar said his ouster actually owed to political differences and led a series of demonstrations advocating political reforms. Later in September, Anwar was arrested, beaten while in prison (by among others, the chief of police at the time), and charged with corrupt practices, in both legal and moral contexts, charges including obstruction of justice and sodomy. In April 1999, he was convicted of four counts of corruption and sentenced to six years in prison. In August 2000, Anwar was convicted of one count of sodomy and sentenced to nine years to run consecutively after his earlier six-year sentence. Both trials were viewed by domestic and international observers as unfair. Anwar's conviction on sodomy has since been overturned, and having completed his six-year sentence for corruption, he has since been released from prison. In the November 1999 general election, the Barisan Nasional was returned to power with three-fourths of the parliamentary seats, but UMNO's seats dropped from 94 to 72. The opposition Barisan Alternatif coalition, led by the Islamic Party of Malaysia (PAS), increased its seats to 42. PAS retained control of the state of Kelantan and won the additional state of Terengganu.

The current Prime Minister is Dato' Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi (colloquially known as "Pak Lah"). He took office following the retirement of Dr. Mahathir (now Tun Dr. Mahathir) on October 31, 2003. He is seen as a more compromising and affable figure as opposed to Tun Dr. Mahathir's more confrontational and direct style. He has pledged to continue Tun Dr. Mahathir's growth oriented policies, while taking a less belligerent stance on foreign policy than Tun Dr. Mahathir, who has regularly offended Western countries, the United States of America and Australia in particular.

In the March 2004 general election, Dato' Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi led Barisan Nasional to a landslide victory, in which Barisan Nasional recaptured the state of Terengganu. The coalition now controls 92% of the seats in Parliament. In 2005, Mahathir stated that "I believe that the country should have a strong government but not too strong. A two-thirds majority like I enjoyed when I was prime minister is sufficient but a 90% majority is too strong. ... We need an opposition to remind us if we are making mistakes. When you are not opposed you think everything you do is right."

The national media are largely controlled by the government and by political parties in the Barisan Nasional/National Front ruling coalition and the opposition has little access to the media. The print media are controlled by the Government through the requirement of obtaining annual publication licences under the Printing and Presses Act. In 2007, a government agency the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission issued a directive to all private television and radio stations to refrain from broadcasting speeches made by opposition leaders. The official state ideology is the Rukunegara, which has been described as encouraging "respect for a pluralistic, multireligious and multicultural society". However, political scientists have argued that the slogan of Bangsa, Agama, Negara (race, religion, nation) used by UMNO constitutes an unofficial ideology as well. Both ideologies have "generally been used to reinforce a conservative political ideology, one that is Malay-centred"

Malaysia is a federal constitutional elective monarchy. It is nominally headed by the Paramount Ruler or Yang di-Pertuan Agong, commonly referred to as the King of Malaysia. Yang di-Pertuan Agong are selected for five-year terms from among the nine Sultans of the Malay states; the other four states, which have titular Governors, do not participate in the selection. The king also is the leader of the Islamic faith in Malaysia. The system of government in Malaysia is closely modeled on that of Westminster parliamentary system, a legacy of British colonial rule. In practice however, more power is vested in the executive branch of government than in the legislative, and the judiciary has been weakened by sustained attacks by the government during the Mahathir era. Parliamentary elections are held at least once every five years, with the last general election being in March 2004. Since independence in 1957, Malaysia has been governed by a multi-racial coalition known as the Barisan Nasional (formerly the Alliance).

Executive power is vested in the cabinet led by the prime minister; the Malaysian constitution stipulates that the prime minister must be a member of the lower house of parliament who, in the opinion of the Yang di-Pertuan Agong, commands a majority in parliament. The cabinet is chosen from among members of both houses of Parliament and is responsible to that body.

In recent years the opposition have been campaigning for freer and fairer elections within Malaysia. On 10 November 2007, a mass rally, called the 2007 Bersih Rally, took place in the Dataran Merdeka Kuala Lumpur at 3pm to demand for clean and fair elections. The gathering was organised by BERSIH, a coalition comprising political parties and civil society groups, and drew supporters from all over the country.

On 11 November, the Malaysian government briefly detained de facto opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim on Tuesday and arrested a human rights lawyer and about a dozen opposition leaders, amid growing complaints the government is cracking down on dissent. Dozens of policemen blocked the main entrance to the parliament building in Kuala Lumpur to foil an opposition-led rally demanding free and fair elections. The rally carried out hand with the attempt to submit a protest note to Parliament over a government-backed plan to amend a law that would extend the tenure of the Election Commission chief, whom the opposition claims is biased.

[edit] Legislative branch

The Parliament building in Kuala Lumpur

The Parliament building in Kuala Lumpur

The bicameral Parliament consists of the Senate (Dewan Negara) and the House of Representatives (Dewan Rakyat). All seventy Senate members sit for three-year terms (to a maximum of two terms); twenty-six are elected by the thirteen state assemblies, and forty-four are appointed by the king based on the advice of the Prime Minister. The 219 members of the Dewan Rakyat are elected from single-member districts by universal adult suffrage. Parliament has a maximum mandate of five years by law. The king may dissolve parliament at any time and usually does so upon the advice of the Prime Minister. General elections must be held within three months of the dissolution of parliament. In practice this has meant that elections have been held every three to five years at the discretion of the Prime Minister. Legislative power is divided between federal and state legislatures. Malaysia has two sources of law.[citation needed] The national constitution, the nation's supreme law, can be amended by a two-thirds majority in parliament. (Since its formation, the BN has never lacked the necessary two-thirds.) The second source of law is syariah (Islamic law), which applies only to Muslims. The federal government has little input into the administration of syariah; it falls to the states to implement Islamic law, and interpretations vary from state to state.[citation needed]

[edit] State governments

The state governments are led by chief ministers (Menteri Besar or Ketua Menteri, the latter term being used in states without hereditary rulers), selected by the state assemblies (Dewan Undangan Negeri) advising their respective sultans or governors. Although Malaysia is a federal state, political scientists have suggested that its "federalism is highly centralised": Our federalism gives the federal government not only the most legislative and executive powers but also the most important sources of revenue. State governments are excluded from the revenues of income tax, export, import and excise duties, and they are also largely restricted from borrowing internationally. They have to depend on revenue from forests, lands, mines, petroleum, the entertainment industry, and finally, transfer payments from the central government.

[edit] Legal system

The Malaysian legal system is based on English common law. However, most of the laws and the constitution are adapted from Indian law. The Federal Court reviews decisions referred from the Court of Appeals; it has original jurisdiction in constitutional matters and in disputes between states or between the federal government and a state. Peninsular Malaysia and the East Malaysian states of Sabah and Sarawak each has a high court. The federal government has authority over external affairs, defense, internal security, justice (except civil law cases among Malays or other Muslims and other indigenous peoples, adjudicated under Islamic and traditional law), federal citizenship, finance, commerce, industry, communications, transportation, and other matters.

[edit] References

  1. ^ "Conclusion". In John Funston (Ed.), Government and Politics in Southeast Asia, p. 413. Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies. ISBN 1-84277-105-1.

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