The Malaysian electorate has come to the spotlight in recent weeks with the general election that occurred on November 19 with the results stuck in a stalemate as no prospective Prime Minister has secured the votes necessary to form their own government. The Malaysian government works in a parliamentary system, much like that of the United Kingdom, but the country still has aspects of its past monarchy, opting for an elective monarchical structure in opposition to a hereditary monarchy. The stalemate in the election looks at the electoral process of Malaysia. Opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim collected a majority of the parliamentary seats with a total of 82, and despite being the majority leader, it did not hit the 112 seat threshold necessary to take his place as Prime Minister. It came down to the king, Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah, who failed to come to a decision. The prolonged process of the election keeps the current incumbent and candidate for Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin in power. This after a tumultuous administration and time in office for the Prime Minister.
Although the opposition leader is on track to win the current elections, Malaysia has had a history of electoral facades, a singular party having ruled the entire country for decades. The current Prime Minister’s rule over the country is a continuation of the decades long legacy of electoral suppression, with the country just recently making changes to allow more people to vote such as lowering the voting age.
Despite the constant challenges to government, the party of Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin, the United Malay National Organization (UMNO) kept its power by leveraging racial and ethnic inequalities in the country as well as taking advantage of survival conditions during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic. In July of 2021, the Prime Minister was able to avoid a confidence vote by postponing the relevant parliamentary session, stating that the issue of the pandemic was more important than that of the constitution of the government. And despite the pleas of the public, Yassin used the opportunity to rule the country without the input of the legislature, effectively instating autocratic rule. Yassin’s rise to power in itself was inconsiderate of the electorate of Malaysia. With the collapse of the government led by former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, the King appointed Yassin as Prime Minister under the belief that he had majority support in parliament, without the consent of the people. Despite his resignation, until a new Prime Minister can be appointed through the election and the gain of the necessary support in parliament, Yassin will stay in power and continue his rule, furthering the governance of an administration that has been facing significant pushback from the general public since day 1 of taking office. With the requirement of 112 parliamentary seats necessary to appoint an individual as Prime Minister, the current deadlock in the elections process is rendering the government ineffective.
The political crisis described above is not unfamiliar to Malaysia, but having happened during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, the political turmoil contributed even further to what is considered to be a failure of the government in handling the outbreak. Due to the suspension of parliament under Yassin, the public health authorities of the country were unable to put forth a solid plan to tackle, at the time, some of the worst outbreaks seen globally. During this time, the Prime Minister played political games to hinder the legislative process and to continue to develop his own autocratic rule. With legislators and other government officials unable to grab a seat at the policymaking table to make sure the policy being put forth is sound and effective, issues that permeated the social inequalities in Malaysia were brought to the forefront. Issues of vaccine distribution and the general accessibility of healthcare resources were pushed through with little transparency, leaving minorities of the country in the dust with little relief from the pandemic – all in an effort to avoid a vote of no confidence.
The political instability within the government permeates the rest of the Malaysian electorate. With candidates for the position of Prime Minister only collecting slim majorities of government support during elections, the polarization in the country is incredibly high amongst the people. And with the government’s lack of effectiveness intersecting with the COVID-19 outbreaks, the state institutions and national infrastructure is being cracked. This brings into question the effectiveness of the Malaysian democracy and whether or not it is a system that truly works.