Malaysian Practices of Parliamentary Democracies

Malaysia practises Parliamentary Democracy with Constitutional Monarchy and His Royal Highness is the Paramount Ruler. The Federal Constitution was legislated with the setting up of conditions for this system to exist. One of the conditions of Parliamentary Democracy is the division of the administrative power into three parts, which are Legislative, Judiciary, and Administrative or Executive.

Malaysia is also a country that practises a system of Democracy based on the Federation system. In accordance to this, Perlis, Kedah, Pulau Pinang, Perak, Selangor, Negeri Sembilan, Melaka, Johor, Pahang, Terengganu, Kelantan, Sarawak and Sabah have agreed to the concept of the formation of the country of Malaysia.

Each state involved has surrendered part of its power, such as financial, defence, education, foreign affairs and others, as stated in the Malaysian Constitution, which is administered by the Central Government. There are matters that are under the power of the state and each state administers the power over those matters.

As a country with a Constitutional Monarchy, it is therefore allocated by the Constitution the institutions of Yang Di-Pertuan Agong, the Paramount Ruler, the hereditary rulers of the nine states and the Council of Malay Rulers. His Royal Highness has the power to safeguard the customs and traditions of the Malay people and the Administration of the Islamic Religion in each state. Seri Paduka Baginda Yang Di-Pertuan Agong is the Head of the Islamic Religion for the states of Pulau Pinang, Sabah, Sarawak and the Federal Territories.

Seri Paduka Baginda Yang Di-Pertuan Agong is also the Paramount Ruler of the country and His Royal Highness is the Highest Commander of the Armed Forces. His Royal Highness carries out his duties under the Constitution under the advice of the Prime Minister and the cabinet ministers. Meanwhile, the hereditary rulers are Head of State of his own state and carry out their duties under the advice of their own Minister or Menteri Besar or Chief Minister.

As the ultimate legislative body in Malaysia, Parliament is responsible for passing, amending and repealing acts of law. It is subordinate to the Head of State, the Yang di-Pertuan Agong, under Article 39 of the Constitution.

The Dewan Rakyat consists of 222 members of Parliament (MPs) elected from single-member constituencies drawn based on population in a general election using the first-past-the-post system. A general election is held every five years or when Parliament is dissolved by the Yang di-Pertuan Agong on the advice of the Prime Minister. Suffrage is given to registered voters 21 years and above, however voting is not compulsory. The age requirement to stand for election is 21 years and above. When a member of Parliament dies, resigns or become disqualified to hold a seat, a by-election is held in his constituency unless the tenure for the current Parliament is less than two years, where the seat is simply left vacant until the next general election.

The Dewan Negara consists of 70 members (Senators); 26 are elected by the 13 state assemblies (2 senators per state), 4 are appointed by the Yang di-Pertuan Agong to represent the 3 federal territories (2 for Kuala Lumpur, 1 each for Putrajaya and Labuan). The rest 40 members are appointed by the Yang di-Pertuan Agong on the advice of the Prime Minister. Senators must be 30 years or above, and are appointed to a three-year term for a maximum of two terms. The dissolution of the Parliament does not affect the Dewan Negara.

Members of Parliament are permitted to speak on any subject without fear of censure outside Parliament; the only body that can censure an MP is the House Committee of Privileges. Parliamentary immunity takes effect from the moment a Member of Parliament is sworn in, and only applies when that member has the floor; it does not apply to statements made outside the House. An exception to this rule are portions of the constitution related to the social contract, such as the Articles governing citizenship, Bumiputra priorities, the Malay language, and etc. All public questioning of these provisions is illegal under the 1971 amendments to the Sedition Act, which Parliament passed in the wake of the 1969 May 13 racial riots. Members of Parliament are also forbidden from criticising the Yang di-Pertuan Agong and judges. Parliamentary immunity and other such privileges are set out by Article 63 of the Constitution; as such, the specific exceptions to such immunity had to be included in the Constitution by amendment after the May 13 incident.

The executive government, comprising the Prime Minister and his Cabinet, is drawn from the members of Parliament and is responsible to the Parliament. The Yang di-Pertuan Agong appoints the Prime Minister, who is the Head of Government but constitutionally subordinate to His Royal Highness, from the Dewan Rakyat. In practice, the Prime Minister shall be the one who commands the confidence of the majority of the Dewan Rakyat. The Prime Minister then submits a list containing the names of members of his Cabinet, who will then be appointed as Ministers by the Yang di-Pertuan Agong. Members of the Cabinet must also be members of Parliament, usually from the Dewan Rakyat. The Cabinet formulates government policy and drafts bills, meeting in private. The members must accept "collective responsibility" for the decisions the Cabinet makes, even if some members disagree with it; if they do not wish to be held responsible for Cabinet decisions, they must resign. Although the Constitution makes no provision for it, there is also a Deputy Prime Minister, who is the de facto successor of the Prime Minister should he dies, resigns or be otherwise incapacitated. If the Prime Minister loses the confidence of the Dewan Rakyat, whether by losing a no-confidence vote or by failing to pass a budget, he must either submit his resignation to the Yang di-Pertuan Agong, or ask the His Royal Highness to dissolve the Parliament. If His Royal Highness refuses to dissolve the Parliament, the Cabinet must resign and the Yang di-Pertuan Agong will appoint a new Prime Minister.

Although the judiciary is constitutionally an independent branch of the government, after the 1988 constitutional crisis, the judiciary was made subject to Parliament; judicial powers are held by Parliament, and vested by it in the courts, instead of being directly held by the judiciary as before. The Attorney-General was also conferred the power to instruct the courts on what cases to hear, where they would be heard, and whether to discontinue a particular case.

Historical Background of Parliament of Malaysia

Historically, none of the states forming the Federation of Malaysia had parliaments before independence. Although the British colonial government had permitted the forming of legislative councils for Malaya, Singapore, Sabah and Sarawak, these were not the supreme makers of law, and remained subordinate to the British High Commissioner. The Reid Commission, which drafted the Constitution of Malaya which Malaya gained independence in 1957, ahead of the other states that would later form Malaysia which modelled the Malayan system of government after that of Britain's, with a bicameral parliament, one house being directly elected, and the other being appointed by the King which just like the British House of Commons and House of Lords. Originally Parliament had no specific place to convene until with the completion of Parliament House in 1962, which comprises a three-storey main building for the two houses of Parliament to meet, and an 18-storey tower for the offices of Ministers and members of Parliament.

In 1963, when Malaya, Sabah, Sarawak and Singapore merged to form Malaysia, the Malayan Parliament was adopted for use as the Parliament of Malaysia. Under the 1957 Constitution of Malaya, most Senators were elected by the state assemblies in order to provide representation of state interests; the 1963 Constitution of Malaysia saw each state receiving two members, with the rest being appointed by the King on the advice of the Cabinet. When Singapore seceded from Malaysia in 1965, its Legislative Assembly became Parliament, and it ceased to be represented in the Parliament of Malaysia.

Parliament has been suspended only once in the history of Malaysia, in the aftermath of the May 13 racial riots in 1969. From 1969 to 1971, when Parliament reconvened, the nation was run by the National Operations Council (NOC).