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Explainer: How Malaysia's election system works

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

Explainer: How Malaysia's election system works

Political parties' flags hang at a junction during the campaign period of the Johor state election in Johor Baru on Mar 4, 2022. (Photo: Reuters/Hasnoor Hussain)

Malaysian Prime Minister Ismail Sabri announced the dissolution of parliament on Monday (Oct 10), paving the way for the nation's 15th general election at a date to be fixed by the Election Commission.

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 Dec 9.


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

About 5 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 per cent 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.


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.

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 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.

Pakatan Harapan won the 2018 election under the leadership of former premier Mahathir Mohamad, but lost power two years later due to infighting. 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 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.

Source: Reuters/zl


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