The Rise and Fall of State Governments in Malaysia: Institutions, Constitutions and Political Alignment

This piece was published as a “Perspectives” by ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute Singapore, at which I am currently a Visiting Research Fellow (July to December 2020), on 11 September 2020.

The full publication can be accessed here.


• The Pakatan Harapan-aligned Sabah state government held by Parti Warisan Sabah (Warisan) fell in late July 2020 when 13 state assemblypersons defected to align with former Sabah Chief Minister and Sabah Barisan Nasional chairman Musa Aman.

• The Sabah state election will be held on 26 September 2020, ahead of a general election which is widely expected to be called before the end of the year. The outcome of the Sabah state election will therefore carry important lessons for all political parties at the national level in crafting their political strategies.

• Historically, political alignment with the federal government seemed to be the most decisive factor in shaping the outcome of state government formation. Nonetheless, the Rulers or governors of respective states have played a crucial role on various occasions, by exercising their discretion on whether it was appropriate to appoint a new Chief Minister or allow the dissolution of a state legislature to hold new elections. The Rulers in turn have to operate within the framework of the state constitutions.

• The electoral strategies at state level have become extremely complicated, given the existence of multiple parties, the fluidity of their collective and individual members’ political loyalties, and the ongoing negotiations over leadership and prime ministerial candidacies.

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