Federal-State Relations under the Pakatan Harapan Government

This was published as a “Trends” by the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute Singapore, at which I am a Visiting Research Fellow (July to December 2020) in October 2020.

The full publication can be accessed here.

Executive Summary

• On 9 May 2018, Malaysia’s Barisan Nasional (BN) government lost
the country’s 14th general election (GE14). Replacing it was the
Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition, made up of four parties, three of
which had had experience cooperating with each other for a decade,
namely Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR), the Democratic Action Party
(DAP) and Parti Amanah Negara (Amanah). The fourth was the
new Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (PPBM) led by Dr Mahathir

• The election also saw equally significant changes at the state
government level. PH now controlled seven states in total, up from
two, while BN went from controlling ten states to retaining but two.
PAS regained Terengganu and with its control over Kelantan now
held the two East Coast states. The Sabah state government, held by
Parti Warisan Sabah (Warisan) aligned itself with PH, while the
Sarawak state government chose to stick with BN.

• As many as ten of the sixty promises listed in the PH 2018 election
manifesto related to federalism and Sabah and Sarawak, an
indication of the growing importance of these two states (and of
state issues more generally).

• The PH administration’s two significant set-ups were the Special
Select Committee on States and Federal Relations and the
Special Cabinet Committee on the Malaysia Agreement 1963
(MA63). Serious attempts were made to address concerns by
both committees, with achievements being more visible in the
Special Cabinet Committee on MA63, possibly due to the greater
attention given on Sabah and Sarawak. Issues brought up within
the Parliamentary Special Select Committee were not substantively

• PH’s time in power saw how states aligned to it maintained a
smooth working relationship with the federal government. What was
more interesting to note was that even non-PH aligned states such as
Kelantan, Terengganu and Perlis also received favourable attention
from the federal government.

• Federal-state relations were much more aggressively tackled under
the PH government than under any other preceding administration.

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