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Why real political change in Malaysia is not going to happen

By Murray Hunter - posted Wednesday, 19 July 2023

Malaysia is under pressure from various corners of the nation, as to what the country should look like in the future.

Great polarisation has created a contemporary dilemma. There is a vision of a 'Malaysian Malaysia', that is secular, but within the confines of Article 3(1) of the Constitution that states "Islam is the religion of the Federation". Another vision sees Malaysia as a Malay state where other races with historical connections also reside.

There is a more extreme Ketuanan Melayu-Islam (Malay nationalist Islamic state) view. Finally, there is the three-Malaysia view, where Malaya, Sabah and Sarawak are semi-autonomous from each other, and practice their own cultural, political, and religious outlooks.


There are forces for and against each of the above scenarios.

The formation of two Pakatan Harapan (PH) governments has brought hope there is a real alternative to what can be called a Malay-centric led government.

However, the structure of the constitution, demographics, and the legacy of 60 years of Umno rule are probably better indicators of what Malaysia will look like in the future.

The two PH governments are most probably just a blimp in what is the natural government of Malaysia. These blimps were not caused by popular mandates, but by political infighting between a fractured and now splintered Malay polity, who used Pakatan Harapan for their ends in power plays.

The most likely resolution of the way Malaysia will be governed will be greatly influenced by the factors outlined below. These include demographics, institutions, and the two major political coalitions.



The biggest pressure for maintaining the status quo in governance are the current demographics of Malaysia. There are varying estimates of Malaysian population demographics, and the accuracy of any estimate can be questioned. A recent study by Statista released in April 2023, indicates that Bumiputeras consist of 69.9% of the population, Chinese 22.8%, Indians 6.6%, and others 0.7%.

Other reports claim Malays represent 17.6 million or 57.9% of Malaysia's population, and thus are the majority grouping within Malaysia's total population. On the peninsula, Malays are the majority population of each state, with the exception of Penang.

This indicates that within Malaysia's primary race-based political party system, a Malay centric government should be the natural form of government. Consequently, any non-Malay led government will find it difficult to win any majority in its own right to govern.

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This article was first published on FMT, and Murray Hunter.

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About the Author

Murray Hunter is an associate professor at the University Malaysia Perlis. He blogs at Murray Hunter.

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