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A Brief History of Elections in Malaysia

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Following the dissolution of Parliament in early April, the government of Malaysia announced the long-awaited date of the upcoming 13th Malaysian general election, to be held May 5, 2013.1

MCD Observers Getting Ready to Monitor May 5th Malaysia’s General ElectionCurrently engaged with Malaysians for Free and Fair Elections (MAFREL) and the Malaysian Confederation of the Disabled (MCD), AGENDA, with the support of local partners, is planning to monitor the accessibility of these elections.

In preparation for this, AGENDA has conducted several pre-election activities. In early January, AGENDA, MAFREL and MCD organized a pre-election technical assessment to discuss issues related to monitoring the May 2013 poll. A month later, AGENDA and MAFREL organized a workshop to create a checklist to ensure greater disability access. This checklist will be the main tool for election monitoring.

An Electoral Evolution

Malaysia obtained independence from the British in 1963. For the first two years of its existence, Malaysia was united with Singapore under the Malaya Federation. Singapore soon opted out of the federation in 1965 to form its own country. Malaysia had held elections before achieving independence and separation in both 1959 and 1964. Their first election held after dissolution of the federation was in 1969. Since then, Malaysia has held elections every four to five years.

The Barisan Nasional coalition (National Front or BN) has won every election sinceNajib Tun Razak is the current Prime Minister of Malaysia 1974.2 The biggest party in the coalition, the United Malay National Organization (UMNO), has generated all prime ministers since independence. Current Prime Minister and head of UMNO Najib Tun Razak recently replaced Abdullah Badawi, who ruled from 2003 to 2009.

In recent years, the BN has faced greater challenges in continuing 39 years of unbroken rule. Many observers believe the upcoming election could be a historic regime change in Malaysia. Some have called it the most hotly-contested in Malaysian history.3

The biggest opposition group to the BN is the Pakatan Rakyat (People’s Alliance/PR). This coalition consists of three political parties: the Parti Keadilan Rakyat (People’s Justice Party/PKR), the Parti Tindakan Demokratik (Democratic Action Party/PTD) and Parti Islam se-Malaysia (Pan-Islamic Malaysian Party/PAS). Anwar Ibrahim of PKR is currently considered the spokesperson for the opposition.

Malaysia Electoral System

Malaysia is a constitutional monarchy. Its head of state, the Yang Dipertuan Agong (His Royal Highness), is a ceremonial position rotated every five years among the monarchs, who still nominally ruled the states which composed Malaysia.

The Parliament buildingThe head of government is the Prime Minister. The Malaysian Constitution requires the Prime Minister be selected by the Yang Dipertuan Agong from members of the House of Representatives.4 The Prime Minister can advise Yang Dipertuan Agong on the selection of Cabinet members, which the Prime Minister will preside over. The Prime Minister will report and be accountable towards the Parliament.

Malaysia uses a bicameral system. The lower house is the House of Representatives, in which members are elected from 222 single-member constituencies. Representatives can serve for multiple terms, for each term a maximum of five years. The upper house is the Senate, which consists of 70 members. Only 26 of them, however, are indirectly elected by the state legislatures. The rest are appointed by the Yang Dipertuan Agong.5 A Senator can serve for a maximum two three-year terms.

The House of Representatives, the Senate and the Yang Dipertuan Agong makeup the Parliament. The Parliament is the highest regulatory body in the land.6

1This article is written before the election was carried out in Malaysia
2http://www.ipu.org/parline-e/reports/arc/MALAYSIA_1986_E.PDF. BN is actually the successor of the Perserikatan (Alliance), a coalition of political parties which was formed in 1951 to push for Malaysia independence from the British. See: http://hids.arkib.gov.my/print.php?type=A&item_id=1565 (Only in bahasa Melayu).
3http://carnegieendowment.org/2013/04/10/understanding-malaysia-s-pivotal-general-election/fyxs
4This authority is given under article 43 (2)(a) that says, “the Yang di-Pertuan Agong shall first appoint as Perdana Menteri (Prime Minister) to preside over the Cabinet a member of the House of Representative who in his judgment is likely to command the confidence of the majority of the members of that House.”
5Article 45 (2) of the Constitution: “The members to be appointed by the Yang di-Pertuan Agong shall be persons who in his opinion have rendered distinguished public service or have achieved distinction in the professions, commerce, industry, agriculture, cultural activities or social service or are representative of racial minorities or are capable of representing the interests of aborigines.”
6The official website of Malaysian Parliament:http://www.parlimen.gov.my/yda-maklumat-umum.html?uweb=yg

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