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How Malaysia's election system works

How Malaysia's election system works

Maps of Malaysia's parliamentary constituencies are displayed at the country’s election commission’s headquarters in Putrajaya, Malaysia, Oct 20, 2022. (Photo: Reuters/Hasnoor Hussain)

Malaysia will hold a general election on Nov 19, its election commission said on Thursday (Oct 20).

Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob dissolved parliament on Oct 10 and called for snap polls, saying an election would end years of political instability.

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 or coalition that wins 112 seats – the number needed for a simple majority in the 222-seat lower house of parliament – will form a government.


About 21.1 million Malaysians are eligible to vote in the upcoming election.

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 last year.

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 the government – Barisan Nasional (BN), which is 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 prioritises the 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 Harapan 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 Harapan-led coalition collapsed.

The opposition 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, and will be the coalition's candidate for prime minister.

Current premier Ismail Sabri has been named as Barisan Nasional's candidate to be prime minister again.

His predecessor Muhyiddin Yassin will also vie for the top post as candidate for a third alliance between the Malay-focused Bersatu and Islamist party PAS.

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

This year's election will have 14 days of campaigning, with candidates to file their nominations on Nov 5, the commission said.

Source: Reuters/lk


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