Bases of Malaysian Politics

This post may be irrelevant to those proficient in Human Sciences subjects. As for those who are interested in having some basics in Malaysian Politics, read on.



In order to understand the Malaysian political scenario and its patterns, it is vital for us to comprehend the workings of its political system. This minor essay will examine primarily the nature of Malaysian political system and its salient features. In doing so, the article first of all, offers some conceptual framework of political system as developed by David Easton. It is then followed by constructing the meaning of Malaysian political system, and then identifying its salient features. The findings here is that the Malaysian political system is governed by several important elements, such as monarchical system, democracy, consociationalism, etc.



What is a Political System?
The term political system was firstly used by David Easton in his various writings, particularly his classics The Political System: An Inquiry into the State of Political Science (1953) and his subsequent works such as A Framework for Political Analysis (1965) and A Systems Analysis of Political Life (1965) . David Easton tries to understand politics as a system; a set of interrelated parts that forms a collective whole. Easton applies this term into the realm of politics. According to Easton, politics should be viewed as a set of interrelated parts that works together as a system (or similar to a system); this system is an “organic” or living object that survives, changes, transforms, adapts, produces and reproduces to adapt with ever-changing environment.

A Political System has four major parts;
1) inputs/demands,
2) process of the inputs/demands,
3) outputs/policy,
4) feedback.


Inputs/demands are the wishes of the people, citizens, civil societies, political parties, etc. This demand will then be processed in the so-called “black box”, given its secretive nature of the process that takes place in the “box” (or system). After this deliberation, the outputs will be produced and it appears in the form of policy, bills, government decisions, order, etc. The policy will be implemented in the society. The people on the ground (also part of the political system) will give their feedback toward the effectiveness and efficacy of the policy. If the policy is favourable to the people, government will continue to implement it. Otherwise, the policy will be amended to suit the demands of the people.



It is also important to mention that, there are many actors existing or play their role in political system. These include government itself, political institutions, political party, civil societies, interest groups, media, private citizens, and the international environments. These actors are playing the important role in contributing the inputs/demands to the system. Their roles however, are determined by the nature of politics in the state. If the state is highly democratic; values freedom, liberty, equality, justice, and representation, the people can play an active role. Otherwise, they become inactive and ineffective in advancing the interests of the people.



In addition to this, environment in which the political entities operate also play an important role in political system. Environment simply refers to the domestic political environment as well as international environment. But, in this paper, I will concentrate only to the domestic political environment.


Malaysian Political System

In this part, we will discuss two major issues; 1) what is the Malaysian political system; 2) what are the features/characteristics of Malaysian political system.

Given the concept of political system stated above, we can suggest that the Malaysian political system refers to set of interrelated objects/actors that play their roles in various capacity in Malaysian politics. These include government, political institutions, political parties, civil society and interest group, media, private citizens, the system of monarchy, the role of constitution, ethnic groups, and others. As a whole, the Malaysian politics operates within the framework of a federal parliamentary monarchy government. We shall further elaborate the significant features that identify the uniqueness of the Malaysian politics in comparison with other pluralistic nations.


Features of the Malaysian Political System
An imperative feature of the Malaysian political system is that it operates on the platform of the Malaysian Constitution which was formed in 1957. The major characteristics of the Constitution was influenced by the country’s course of history.


Constitutional Monarchy
Firstly, it establishes the constitutional monarchy in a bicameral democratic parliamentary system. At the Federal level, the monarchy must act on general duties upon the advice of the Prime Minister and cabinet ministers who are responsible to the legislature. The monarchy who is also known as the Yang di-Pertuan Agong is elected among the rulers of only 9 states in the Conference of rulers for every five years. According to the Constitution, the monarchy’s right of jurisdiction involves in areas such as the appointment of the Prime Minister, dissolving the Parliament and calling upon the Conference of Rulers to discuss on the rights or the royal monarchies .


As for the State level, the head of state is known as the Sultan, Raja or Yang Dipertua Negeri who is also the leader of religion whereas the head of the state government is the Menteri Besar or Chief Minister.


Branches of Malaysian Government
Second feature is that under the Constitutional Monarchy there are three branches of the Malaysian government. The first branch is the Legislative branch which consists of the bicameral democratic parliamentary system which is responsible for the amendment of laws. The bicameral system is based on the Westminster model which comprises the Senate (Dewan Negara) and House of Representatives (Dewan Rakyat) and headed by Yang di-Pertuan Agong. The legislative process may start from either of these two Houses but the Bill has to be passed by the Yang di-Pertuan Agong to be implemented. However, if the Bill is not passed within 30 days then it is automatically considered as a part of the constitution law.


Parliamentary System
This parliamentary system is democratic in nature because the members of the Parliament are elected by choice of the people during general elections which is held for every four or five years . Between both levels of the Houses, the House of Representatives is more supreme as its members are more than the Senate and the political party which gains the majority seats in the House of Representatives shall be the ruling party of the government.


The Executive Branch
The third feature of the Malaysian political system is its executive branch which is responsible in the implementation of the legislated laws by Parliament. The executive body is headed by the Yang di-Pertuan Agong as Head of State but its executive administration and activities carried out by the Cabinet Ministers led by the Prime Minister. These Cabinet Ministers are appointed by the Yang di-Pertuan Agong upon the advise of the Prime Minister. These Ministers are assisted by their Secretaries from their ministries which are headed by the Secretary of the State. Since the country practices the Democratic Parliamentary System, the appointed Cabinet Ministers are answerable to the House of Representatives in terms of its governance issues.


Judiciary
Fourth is the existence of the Judiciary body which observes the law and executes arbitrary matters. According to the Constitution, the Federal Court has the highest authority of the Malaysian judiciary. Thus any decision that is made by the Federal Court is definite and has to be obeyed by all of the courts in the judicial system.


Intergovernmental Relationship
The fifth feature is the intergovernmental relationship between the federal and state governments. The Malaysian government practiced the Federal government system ever since independence in 1957. The obligations between both federal and state governments are clearly stated in the Malaysian Constitution. The scope of power of each governments are identified in the Federal List, State List and Concurrent List. The State possesses the power of jurisdiction upon physical matters such as land, agriculture and forestry and state works and water. Whereas the federal government is responsible in terms of education, security, health, welfare and others. However, there is a clause in the Malaysian Constitution that enables the federal government to override the state power. Thus, the Federal government could still overrule the laws of the state government and delimit the state in its decision making. The administration of the federal government remains centralized in power.


Dominant-Party System
The sixth feature is the long-time reigning of one coalition political party that consists of various components of political parties which represent the different ethnic groups within the country. The National Front is been the only ruling party that has managed to retain its two third majority in the parliament since 1957 until the recent elections on 8th March 2008. Pioneered by UMNO (United Malays National Organisation) in collaboration mainly with MCA (Malaysian Chinese Association) and MIC (Malaysian Indian Congress), the National Front alliance was initially formed for communal interests with the conjoining of UMNO-MCA in 1953 and then the MIC in 1954. The 1955 general elections witnessed a victorious support of the public with 80 percent of the votes in 51 constituencies.


Consociationalism
Another unique feature of the Malaysian politics is its socially compromising nature of consociationalism. According to Lijphart, a successful consociational democracy required elite representatives to be able to accommodate and adjust to each others’ interests by understanding the dangers of its political fragmentations. As Malaya comprised of three main ethnic groups, the elite leaders of these leading groups have come to an amicable consensus to achieve independence and has never turned back ever since. The grand coalition of UMNO-MCA-MIC during independence has promised the Malays on its preservation of indigenous rights and the granting of citizenship to those born before independence. It is from these bases of consensus that our future socio-political and economic were shaped till today.

The workable consociational political system came to its test during the 1969 watershed after its general elections. One of the causes of this political fall out was due to the vast economic disparities among the main ethnic groups especially between the Chinese and Malays. The New Economic Policy was then devised and implemented within 20 years to eradicate poverty and concomitantly rectifying the Malaysian socio-economic breakdown. However, its selective implementation has not only witnessed the growth middle class but also the breeding of a corruption infested economic system that has caused a major rebound in today’s political arena.


Additional readings

  1. R. H. Hickling. Malaysian Public Law. (Selangor : Pelanduk Publications, 1997)

  2. Institut Tadbiran Awam Negara. Pentadbiran dan Pengurusan Awam Malaysia (Kuala Lumpur : INTAN, 2006)
  3. Abdullah Sanusi Ahmad, Norma Mansor and Abdul Kuddus Ahmad. The Malaysian Bureaucracy : Four Decades of Development. (Selangor : Prentice Hall, 2003)
  4. Virginia H. Danez. Women and Party Politics in Peninsular Malaysia. (Singapore : Oxford University Press, 1987)
  5. Mohammad Agus Yusoff. Consociational Politics : The Malaysian Experience. (Kuala Lumpur : Perikatan Pemuda Enterprise, 1992)
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