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How Does The Malaysian Election System Work? Here Are 3 Key Things Voters Should Know

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Malaysian Prime Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob announced the dissolution of parliament on Monday, 10 October, paving the way for the nation’s 15th general election at a date to be fixed by the Election Commission (EC)

Image via Reuters

Here is a breakdown of how Malaysian elections work:


Malaysia is a parliamentary democracy, and a constitutional monarchy in which the king plays a largely ceremonial role, although he has certain discretionary powers.

Elections are held every five years unless the prime minister calls for an early poll.

The election process is based on the ‘first-past-the-post’ system, which means the party that wins 112 seats – the number needed for a simple majority in the 222-seat lower house of parliament – will form a government.

An election must be held within 60 days of the dissolution of parliament, which means the upcoming vote should be held by 9 December.

Image via The Malaysian Reserve


About 21.1 million Malaysians are eligible to vote in the upcoming election, the law minister said in December.

Some five million will be voting for the first time, largely as a result of the government lowering the minimum voting age to 18 years from 21.

Voting is not compulsory and turnout fluctuates. In the last 2018 polls, 82.3% out of nearly 15 million voters cast their ballots – one of the highest in Malaysia’s history.

A high turnout typically tends to favour the opposition, while a lower participation favours the incumbent.

Image via East Asia Forum


No single political party has ever formed a government on its own, and the multi-ethnic make-up of Malaysia’s society has a major influence on the composition of coalitions.

There are two main coalitions vying to form government – Barisan Nasional (BN), which is part of the current ruling coalition, and the opposition Pakatan Harapan (PH).

Barisan Nasional is led by the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), a Malay nationalist party that aims to prioritise interests of the ethnic-Malay majority.

The alliance, which includes smaller parties representing ethnic-Chinese and Indian minorities, governed Malaysia for six decades before it was toppled by Pakatan in the 2018 polls due to widespread allegations of corruption.

But UMNO returned to power in 2020 as part of another alliance after the Pakatan-led coalition collapsed.

The opposition, Pakatan, is a multi-ethnic coalition led by the reformist party, Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR).

PH won the 2018 election under the leadership of former premier Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, but lost power two years later due to infighting. Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim currently leads the alliance.

There are several other smaller political parties and alliances in the fray, including Islamic party PAS, the newly formed youth-centric MUDA, the Malay-focused Bersatu, and the Borneo-based Gabungan Parti Sarawak coalition. Obtaining their support could prove crucial to the next coalition government.

Current premier Ismail Sabri has been named as UMNO’s candidate to be prime minister again. Other parties haven’t named their candidates for the premiership yet.

Campaigning lasts for up to 15 days with one day of polling. The Election Commission typically declares a winner on the same night.

Image via Hasnoor Hussain/Reuters

Parliament was dissolved yesterday after Ismail Sabri obtained the Yang di-Pertuan Agong’s approval:

The announcement was made just days after the tabling of #Budget2023:

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