Nov, 2018 - An Introduction to the Malaysian Parliamentary System

Members of MCG were treated to a fascinating and enlightening talk on the Malaysian Parliamentary System by Faisal Abd Rahaman. Currently he is the Advisor of the Association of Tourism Training Institutes of Malaysia (ATTIM).


He introduced his talk with photos of four important buildings which represent the four main branches of the Malaysian Government System. The first, the King’s Palace, the second, the Houses of Parliament, both in Kuala Lumpur. The third, the House of Government and fourth, the Palace of Justice both in Putrajaya.


Malaysia was a Federation of 13 States similar to other Federations such as the US and Australia. He continued by explaining the history and background of how the Federation was formed. At the time of Independence in 1957 the Federation was made up of 11 states.


Before 1896 there were a number of separate states. Federated States - Selangor, Negri Sembilan, Perak and Pahang; Un-federated states Perlis, Kedah, Kelantan, Terengganu (originally Thai provinces) and Johor. British Protectorates - Malacca, Singapore, Penang, the Dindings (now Pangkor Island); Sarawak ruled by three generations of the Brooks Family leased from the Sultan of Brunei; Sabah ruled by a company, the British North Borneo Company leased from the Sultanate of South Sulu in the Philippines.

An agreement between the British and Thais brought the states of Perlis, Kedah, Kelantan and Terengganu (previously Thai Provinces) under British protection. The first Federated states: Selangor, Negri Sembilan, Perak and Pahang, became the basis for all the above states to join the Federation. Johor was the last state to Federate. 1963 saw 3 more states joining the Federation, Sabah, Sarawak and Singapore - Singapore left in 1965.

The Malaysian Emblem (coat of arms) of 1896, 1948-1963, 1963-1965, 1965-1982 and 1982 to present day illustrated how the federation evolved.


In 1948 there were 9 royal families. At Independence in 1957 a constitutional monarchy and parliamentary democracy at Federal and State level were formed with the parliamentary system copied from Westminster.


Rashid gave the historical background and development that led to the establishment of the Federal Constitution.  He also explained that UMNO was formed in1948 to stop the 1946 Malayan Union Order happening. This called for all state borders to be erased and sultans abolished. UMNO’s remit was to protect the State and rulers.

The Federal Constitution established Malaysia as a Federation and Constitutional Monarchy and established the Separation of Powers. He explained what the latter meant at Federal and State Level and what the work of the Legislative, Executive and Judiciary entailed.  (At Federal level the Head of State is the Yang di-Pertuan Agong (Agong means King). Under him sit the Legislative (Parliament), Executive (Government) and Judiciary (Courts).  At State Level the Head of State is a Sultan or Governor with the Legislative (State Assembly) Executive (State Government) Judiciary (Courts) under him.) Kuala Lumpur is the Federal Capital and Putrajaya the Administrative Capital. The Government is appointed from members of the Legislative. Some State laws differ from Federal laws.  Islamic law comes under the State with 13 Islamic Councils.

He continued by quoting the following: ‘There shall be a Supreme Head of the Federation, to be called the Yang di-Pertuan, who will take precedence over all persons in the Federation’.  The Yang di-Pertuan Agong is elected by the Conference of Rulers (the 9 rulers of the Malay States) for a period of 5 years on a rotation of seniority. After the second rotation ended it was decided to follow the same rotation as the 1st rotation and not by seniority. He also explained that the order in which the state flags are flown must follow the seniority of the rulers. The four states, Penang, Malacca, Sabah and Sarawak have no sultans and have governors instead, who are appointed by the King.  These governors are not involved in the elections of the King.


The different Powers of the Yang di-Pertuan Agong were explained. At Legislative level to summon Parliament, dissolve Parliament, grant assent to the Bills.


At Executive level to act on advice by Cabinet (Prime Minister), appoint the Prime Minister.


At Judiciary level to appoint the Chief Justice of the Federal Court, the President of the Court of Appeal, the Chief Judge of Malaya, Sabah and Sarawak and other judges.


The King is also Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, Head of the Civil Service, has the Power of Pardon.


We then learnt about the Legislative (Parliament) and it’s role to create, amend and end laws; approve government budget and to examine the work of the government. Each parliament lasts 5 years from the date of the first meeting, unless dissolved earlier by the Yang di-Pertuan at the request of the Prime Minister. Once dissolved an election has to take place after 60 days, with a total of 120 days before the next parliament sits. There have been 14 parliaments since 1957, with no parliament between 1969 and 1971.


Next we looked at the components of Parliament headed by the Yang di-Pertuan and made up of two houses - Dewan Negara (Upper House - House of Senates) presided over by the President of the House of Senate and Dewan Rakyat (Lower House - House of Representatives) presided by the Speaker of the House of Representatives. The former is made up of 70 Senators, 26 appointed by State Legislature (2 each), 4 appointed to represent FT, 40 appointed by Yang de-Pertuan Agong; tenure 3 years (limited to 2 terms).  At present consists of 19 Pakatan Harapan, 49 others and 2 vacancies. The latter made up of 222 Members of Parliament but not all states are equally represented.  At present it consists of Barisan National 133, Pakatan Rakyat 89, Pakatan Harapan 117 and others 105. There are 5 main political parties and 14 other parties.

The State Opening of Parliament is the formal start of the parliamentary year and the YDPA’s speech sets out the government’s agenda, outlining policies and legislation.  It is the only occasion when the 3 components of Parliament meet.


Parliament can make federal laws in respect of matters falling under the Federal List (defence, finance, security, citizenship, trade and transport and from the Concurrent List (areas shared by Parliament and State, e.g. housing, national park, social welfare). The State Legislature can only make laws from the State List (local government, Syariah courts, mining). A bill can originate from either House but has to be approved by all three components of Parliament.


The Executive Authority of the Federation is vested in the Yang di’Pertuan Agong.  As a constitutional monarch he must act in accordance with the advice of the Cabinet, except in limited matters such as the giving of consent to dissolve Parliament and the appointment of Prime Minister. The YDPA appoints the Prime Minister and appoints other ministers under the advice of the Prime Minister. The Cabinet is the executive branch of Malaysia’s Government, with at present, 33 members.


Lastly we looked at the Judiciary. We learnt that this consists of two branches of law. Islamic Law (limited to Muslims and Jurisdiction of the State, limited to personal matters) and Civil Law (civil and criminal). The latter was introduced by the British and consists of Written Laws, made by Parliament - Constitution, Acts, Regulations; and Unwritten Laws, made in court - Common Law, Case Law, Customary Law. Until 1978 all appeals from the Federal Court where heard at the British Privy Council after 1 January 1978 only Civil and Criminal Appeals were heard by the Privy Council.  In 1985 the Supreme Federal Court was established and all appeals have subsequently been heard in Malaysia.


The Federal Court has 6 Judges, the Court of Appeal 10 Judges, the High Court of Malaya 49 Judges and the High Court of Sabah and Sarawak 6 Judges.  There is one judge who is Chief Judge of Malaya, Sabah and Sarawak.


Faisal achieved condensing a complex subject into a very clear and instructive talk which provided us all with a better understanding of the  Malaysian Federal and Government System and a basis to explore and learn more about the subject.


Jane Duxbury