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Explainer: How Malaysia's king will decide on country's next prime minister

SINGAPORE — With Malaysia facing a hung parliament for the first time in its history, the formation of the new government now lies in the hands of the country’s king.

Malaysia's king, Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah (second from right), walking to meet members of the media outside the National Palace in Kuala Lumpur on Nov 21, 2022.

Malaysia's king, Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah (second from right), walking to meet members of the media outside the National Palace in Kuala Lumpur on Nov 21, 2022.

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  • Malaysia's king has imposed a deadline for political party leaders to inform him of their choice of prime minister by Nov 22 afternoon
  • The country's general election on Nov 19 has resulted in a hung parliament
  • Based on the parties’ submissions, the king will determine which prime minister candidate has the support of the majority of lawmakers in parliament
  • Analysts said that the king may have to take other steps to determine this candidate, such as interviewing members of parliament individually

SINGAPORE — With Malaysia facing a hung parliament for the first time in its history, the formation of the new government now lies in the hands of the country’s king.

Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah, the current monarch, has asked political party leaders to inform him of their choice of prime minister and alliances by 2pm on Tuesday (Nov 22), after extending the deadline by a day earlier on Monday.

Mostly a figurehead, the king of Malaysia possesses limited powers, including the ability to name the prime minister that commands the confidence of the majority of the parliament.

Malaysia’s king has had to exercise this power more frequently than usual in the last four years, having determined the appointment of the prime ministers in 2018 (Dr Mahathir Mohamad), 2020 (Mr Muhyiddin Yassin) and in 2021 (Mr Ismail Sabri Yaakob).

However, analysts told TODAY that this power does not mean that the king can choose any candidate he likes to be the prime minister.

Rather, his powers are limited by the country’s constitution to ascertaining which candidate has the support of the greatest number of members of parliament.

In doing so, party leaders will have to submit the names of candidates who they believe can command a parliamentary majority.

However, if it is not clear by the 2pm deadline on Tuesday who commands the majority support of parliament, the king will have to take other steps to determine who will be the country's 10th prime minister, such as through interviewing every member of parliament, the analysts said.

TODAY looks at the role of the king in Malaysia, including his significance in appointing the prime minister following the general election and what to expect after the given deadline.

HOW MUCH SAY DOES THE KING HAVE?

Although the king’s role is largely advisory, he has certain important responsibilities including naming the prime minister, withholding permission to dissolve parliament and declaring a state of emergency upon advice of the prime minister.

Dr Serina Rahman, a lecturer from the department of Southeast Asian Studies at the National University of Singapore (NUS), said that these responsibilities, however, must be guided by the rules and regulations in the constitution.

Dr Francis Hutchinson, the coordinator of the Malaysia Studies Programme at Iseas-Yusof Ishak Institute, said that the king’s responsibility at this point in time is to name the prime minister, now that there is a hung parliament.

This means appointing the person that, in the king’s judgement, commands the confidence of the majority of parliament, he added.

The power of the king provided in the constitution to name and appoint a prime minister after a general election is typically "relatively straightforward".

This is because a party would win a clear majority, Dr Hutchinson said, so the king could already tell who commands the confidence of the majority of parliament.

Now, it will be less so because there is no party or coalition with a majority, he added.

The outcome of the 15th general election was that the Pakatan Harapan (PH) and Perikatan Nasional (PN) coalitions claimed to have enough numbers in the 222-seat parliament to form a government. PH has 82 seats, PN has 73 and Barisan Nasional coalition has 30 seats.

For a start, statutory declarations or letters of support for one political party or prime minister are often sought to assemble a majority and then this list of documents will be submitted to the king, he added.

HOW WILL THE KING CHOOSE THE PRIME MINISTER?

Professor Andrew Harding, a visiting research professor at NUS’ law faculty, said it is a misconception that the king has absolute discretion to choose the prime minister or, in other words, chooses “whoever he likes”.

Rather, Malaysia’s constitution limits the scope of the king’s discretion to choosing who is likely to command the confidence of a majority of members of parliament.

“He is not concerned with who deserves to be appointed on merit, or who is a good prime minister,” Prof Harding said.

It is within the scope of the king's powers to come up with the procedures to decide on who has the confidence of the majority of members of parliament, he added. Such procedures include requiring party leaders to submit statutory declarations, setting a timeline for the submission of such declarations or interviewing party leaders or members.

On the deadline imposed by the king, Prof Harding called it “unusual” but not outside the king’s discretion.

The king probably set a deadline so quickly after the general election so that the country will not go without an appointed government for an extended period of time, Prof Harding added.

The other analysts said that the extension of the deadline to Tuesday is due to the time needed by different parties to come to a decision on who they want to support.

WHAT WOULD HAPPEN NEXT?

In the lead-up to the deadline, party leaders will aim to amass as many statutory declarations as they can to prove that they have the minimum 112 members of parliament required to form a government.

If it is clear that one coalition has majority support, the king will go ahead to declare the next government and prime minister, analysts said.

“However, given the possibility of individuals and parties submitting more than one statutory declaration, this majority may be difficult to ascertain,” Dr Hutchinson said.

Earlier on Monday, PN said that it had submitted statutory declarations to the king from 112 members of parliament declaring their support for party chairman Muhyiddin Yassin to be prime minister.

PH chairman Anwar Ibrahim also claimed that he has the majority support to form a government.

Prof Harding said that given the tight race in numbers between the two sides, the number of statutory declarations may not give an accurate picture of who members of parliament support.

In this case, they king may have to rely on other ways to determine who has the most support among parliament members, including “interviewing every single member of parliament to ascertain their true intention and support”, he said.

The king had done the same in 2020 before appointing Mr Muhyiddin, the leader of PN, as prime minister.

Although the king has taken a more proactive role at a federal level than in the past, this could simply be a function of the current political situation where he has had to step in and decide on the government, Prof Harding said.

Such “interventionist” actions will set a norm going forward, and future kings will probably act in the same way when faced with a similar political situation, he added.

However, if Malaysia finally comes to a “stable conclusion” in its electoral saga, the king will be able to “step back and let the government do its job”, Dr Serina of NUS said.

Visit our Malaysia Elections 2022 page for coverage from TODAY journalists on the ground and more.

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Malaysia king Malaysia Elections 2022 Malaysian politics

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