Malaysia’s election process explained

A government is formed when a party or coalition secures more than half the seats in Parliament. — Picture by Saw Siow Feng
A government is formed when a party or coalition secures more than half the seats in Parliament. — Picture by Saw Siow Feng

KUALA LUMPUR, March 23 — Here is a quick breakdown of Malaysia’s election process based on the first-past-the-post system in a parliamentary democracy.

The 14th general election must be held by August 24 this year.

1. Parliament is dissolved

The ball starts rolling the day Parliament is dissolved, which has yet to happen for the14th general election.

This sometimes happens once every four years, but a full term is five years.

The Yang Di-Pertuan Agong officially dissolves Parliament upon advice from the prime minister, who is currently Datuk Seri Najib Razak.

When Parliament is dissolved, the election is to be held within 60 days.

2. When will this happen?

The 13th Parliament automatically dissolves on June 24, but the prime minister can call for the dissolution anytime before then.

3. What or who are people voting for?

Take a deep breath.

Malaysians vote for who will sit in the Lower House of Parliament known as the Dewan Rakyat, comprising 222 seats. This is a federal level vote.

The candidates for the 222 seats are divided into respective constituencies. Or, in simpler terms, there are 222 constituencies and one seat to represent each area in Parliament.

A constituency is an area within a state. Each state has a various number of federal and state constituencies. Selangor has 22 federal constituencies, for example, while Penang has 13.

But there is also a second vote which generally coincides with the general election. The people will vote for 587 state legislative assembly seats, or “Ahli Dewan Undangan Negeri”. These assemblymen are elected to form the state government. This is a state level vote.

Voters in the federal territories of Kuala Lumpur, Putrajaya and Labuan, however, only have one vote — for their Member of Parliament — as there are no local council elections.

In the 14th general election, Sarawakians will only cast their ballots for their MPs as their state election was already held in 2016.

It is possible for candidates to run as both MPs and state assemblymen.  

Candidates will either be nominees of political parties or running as independents.

Following the Westminster system, there is also an Upper House in Parliament known as Dewan Negara. The people do not vote on these 70 seats occupied by senators.

Senators are appointed by Yang Di-Pertuan Agong upon advice from the prime minister. Each state assembly can appoint two senators to the Dewan Negara.

4. Who oversees the election?

A seven-member Election Commission (EC) appointed by the King upon advice from the prime minister.

Their first call to action is when Parliament is dissolved. The EC issues a writ to returning officers to hold elections in their respective constituencies. A returning officer is someone who represents each constituency on behalf of the EC.

Keeping up? Let’s move on.

5. Nominations begin

And the excitement commences.

Candidates must first deposit RM10,000 to contest a parliamentary seat and RM5,000 for a seat at state level. They will lose their deposit if they fail to get at least ⅛ of the total number of votes cast.

Candidates are also required to pay a campaign materials deposit of RM5,000 for a Parliament seat and RM3,000 for a state seat. The deposit will be returned once all of the candidate’s campaign materials are cleaned up within two weeks of polling.

Nomination papers are submitted to the returning officer for each constituency.

The returning officer will declare shortly after who the candidates are, trusting they are fit to stand for election.

There are three premises which determine if a person can run for election — they must be Malaysian citizens of at least 21 years of age, of sound mental capacity and not bankrupt.

6. Then some campaigning

This will begin after nominations are decided and end at midnight before polling day.

Campaigns will include tours around kampungs and holding “ceramah”, or rallies.

Rules of the campaign — no use of improper materials, no illegal forums and no going above campaign spending limits, which are RM200,000 for federal level and RM100,000 for state level votes.

7. Followed by polling

The voting day. Polling lasts for one day.

Registered voters cast their poll for both parliamentary and state level candidates.

There is no date set for voting in the 14th general election as Parliament is yet to be dissolved.

8. Count the ballots

Ballots are tallied by EC officers.

9. Declaration

Returning officer to each constituency will announce which candidate is the winner.

For each seat declared, the numbers begin to add up for which party will rule in Parliament.

10. How is the winner decided?

Using a first-past-the-post system, adopted from Britain. The winner is the candidate who gets the most number of votes out of the total ballots cast. For example, if 100 votes were cast in a constituency and Candidate A received 40 votes, while Candidate B and Candidate C each received 30 votes, Candidate A is the winner despite not getting support from majority of voters.

A government is formed when a party or coalition secures more than half the seats in Parliament.

With 222 seats on offer, 112 is the magic number needed to form a parliamentary majority and the government.