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Politics and Government

by The Expatriate Lifestyle Editorial Team 1 Jun 2013
Politics and Government


The political structure of Malaysia is straightforward, taking place under the framework of a federal parliamentary monarchy, whereby the prime minister of Malaysia is the head of government and of a 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.

In recent years the very stable political landscape of Malaysia has seen some major changes. The first came when, after 22 years of strong handed rule, Tun Mahathir (affectionately known as “Dr M”) handed over the Prime Minister’s seat to his deputy, Abdullah Badawi. This change in administration proved relatively unmarked by incident until 2008, when the then ruling coalition party Barisan Nasional witnessed the strongest show of opposition in 50 years. This was the Pakatan Rakyat, a coalition of opposition political parties, led by the former Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim.

2008 saw Barisan Nasional win a simple majority to form the next government however they missed out on the two-thirds majority needed in parliament. However, several by-elections held since have seen tipped the balance back in favour of Barisan National.

Badawi stepped down as Prime Minister in April 2009, less than a year into his second term, handing the reins over to his Deputy Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak, who has since overseen a much calmer political scene. Najib has spearheaded a number of programmes to encourage national unity and harmony, most noteably the 1Malaysia foundation that aims to unite all Malaysians regardless of race or religion.

International relations

Diplomatic relations with all Malaysia’s neighbours are peaceful with no wars or large conflicts to speak of and the same can be said of western countries and other Muslim nations. However, the military is ever poised to stand an assault from Singapore, seen as a threat based on the Chinese majority in the small city state as well as a presence against Indonesia which—mostly because of Borneo—have had competing geographical and resource ambitions. Discussions over pollution and illegal logging are problematic between Indonesia and Malaysia. Recent criticism from the US government has caused some harsh dialogue from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to the US .


Malaysia is a remarkably safe place, free of the levels of crime of say, Indonesia, India or Thailand. As far as big cities go, KL is among the safest in the world, but as is true anywhere, a modicum of caution is advised. There are dangers to look out for. Bag snatching by scooter thieves is an issue; keep your bag safely around your arm, away from the roadside and keep an eye on your back. Drug-related crimes are a very serious matter in Malaysia and can carry severe sentences up to the death penalty. So be warned!

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