Officially: Persekutuan Tanah Malaysia.
Seat of government: Kuala Lumpur.
Status: Democratic.
Structure: Parliament comprises the Dewan Rakyat, elected in geographical constituencies, which chooses the prime minister (Perdana Menteri), and the Dewan Negara, theoretically chosen by the king and state legislatures. In practice, the prime minister makes the king’s appointments. The king (Yang di-Pertuan Agong) is theoretically chosen by the collective of hereditary state rulers (Majlis Raja-raja); in practice the position rotates among them every five years.
Chief governing parties: Barisan Nasional, dominated by the Pertubuhan Kebangsaan Melayu Bersatu; Perikatan Nasional (chiefly Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia and Parti Islami SeMalaysia).
Head of government: Ismail Sabri Yaakob, PKMB, prime minister (since 2021).
Chief opposition party: Pakatan Harapan, including the 民主行动党 « Bin35 Cu53 Heŋ35 Toŋ3 Toŋ53 »/Parti Tindakan Demokratik, led by 林冠英 « Lim35 Kuan534 », and the Parti Keadilan Rakyat, led by Anwar Ibrahim and Wan Azizah Wan Ismail.
Constitutional head of state: Abdullah of Pahang, Yang di-Pertuan Agong.
Recent history: The PKMB, effectively a Melayu-supremacist organization, was in power continuously from independence in 1957 to 2018, under a nominal coalition that represents other ethnicities as well. Under the long-serving prime minister Mahathir Mohamad (1981-2003, 2018-20), the state was highly autocratic; Mahathir employed a wide variety of legal mechanisms, as well as outright fraud and violence, to control opposition, and imprisoned rivals, most notably Anwar Ibrahim. Mahathir’s retirement restored a collective rule which nonetheless continued to thwart actual democracy. Deputy prime minister Anwar (1993-8), once heir apparent, fell out with Mahathir, was dismissed from office, and promptly arrested; he was convicted and imprisoned in 1999 on bogus charges. Anwar nonetheless became the leader of the Reformasi movement, the new opposition Parti Keadilan Nasional (now the PKR), and the Barisan Alternatif (later the Pakatan Rakyat, now the Pakatan Harapan); the opposition made significant gains in the 1999 election, though the BN still claimed a sizable majority. The Parti Islami SeMalaysia took control of Kelantan and Terengganu, which the central government acted selectively to weaken. Anwar’s successor as deputy PM, Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, followed Mahathir as prime minister (2003-9). In the official results of the 2004 election, the opposition was routed, and the BN claimed nine tenths of parliamentary seats. Anwar was released in 2004. In the 2008 general election (presumably called while Anwar was stilled barred from office over the earlier conviction), the official result brought the BN down to a simple majority in the federal parliament, while the PR retained control of Kelantan and took control of Penang, Selangor, Kedah, and Perak. The ban on Anwar expired shortly, immediately bringing new charges from the government; but he was elected to parliament in a by-election anyway. Abdullah resigned in 2009, but refused to call a vote of confidence; he was replaced by Najib Razak (2009-18). In an election in 2013, official results gave the PR a win in the popular vote, but the BN retained a majority of seats. The acquittal that released Anwar in 2004 was reversed in 2014, sending him back to prison in 2015. Anwar and Mahathir reconciled enough to contest the 2018 election together, along with a broad opposition coalition (Pakatan Harapan), with Mahathir as designated prime minister but a commitment that Anwar would be freed and take over within a short time. The PH won an absolute majority, Mahathir did become prime minister, and Anwar was pardoned. But Mahathir refused to effect the transition to Anwar, and after various parliamentary machinations, Mahathir resigned, and his party (PPBM or “Bersatu”) withdrew from the PH. Bersatu then formed a new governing coalition, Perikatan Nasional, and Bersatu head Mahiaddin Md. Yasin (2020-1) became prime minister. This coalition collapsed with the withdrawal of the PKMB, and PKMB’s Ismail became prime minister with a similar coalition.
FH: 4-4, partly free (not democratic). Econ: 6.36 (68), flawed democracy.
Updated: 2021 November 30.