The political system practised by Malaysia’s multi-racial society since its formation as a modern state in 1963 has been a fairly complex but successful one. It is a parliamentary democracy, which functions within the framework of constitutional monarchies and a federal structure. The parliamentary opposition is officially recognised, but is so small in size and so weak and disunited that it has no hope of ever being an alternative government. The system reflects the political dominance of the Malays and their control of the administration as indigenous masters of the country. The Malaysian Constitution guarantees ‘special rights’ for the Malays, or bumiputra (sons of the soil), which are also extended to the ‘natives of Borneo’. These rights had been agreed to by the Chinese and Indian leaders in 1955 as part of an ‘historic bargain’ with Malay leaders prior to Malaya’s independence in 1957. Malaya joined with Singapore, Sarawak and Sabah in 1963 to form Malaysia, but Singapore left the federation in 1965. Under the ‘bargain’, in return for citizenship, freedom of worship and the right to use their own languages, the non-Malays accepted the ‘special position’ of the Malays; Malay as the national language; Islam as the official religion; and the Malay rulers as constitutional monarchs.
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Cheah Boon Kheng
- Palgrave Macmillan UK