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  • Print publication year: 2011
  • Online publication date: June 2012

11 - Malaysia: Centralized Federalism in an Electoral One-Party State

from III - Commonwealth Parliamentary Federations



Much like India before 1990s, Malaysia is a centralized parliamentary federalism characterized by one-party predominance. However, Malaysia has never experienced party alternation at the federal level as India first had in 1977. Also unlike India's Congress Party central government, which had to deal with opposition parties controlling half of the state governments as early as 1967, merely twenty years after Independence, Malaysia's National Front [Barisan Nasional (BN)] had never lost the control of more than two out of 13 state governments at a time from 1955 till 2008.

Because of BN's dominance at both federal and state level, the federal-state inter-governmental relation is much characterized by intra- or inter-party relations. Through intra-party control, the BN state governments behave more like branches than partners of the federal government. The top leadership of the United Malays National Organization (UMNO) that dominates the BN coalition would dictate the chief ministers to head the state governments, akin to how India's Congress party operates, except that the federal's choice may be vetoed by the hereditary heads of state. Meanwhile, seen as anomaly, state governments controlled by federal opposition parties are often discriminated, penalized or ignored.

One important dimension in Malaysia's centralized federalism is the palace-party relation as the Federation and nine of her 13 constituent states are constitutional monarchies. Revered as the guardian of Malay political supremacy and Islam, the Palaces still command deference amongst many Malays and have developed a cooperative and competitive relation with UMNO, especially after the fading out of its aristocratic leadership.

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