Freedom in the World
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Najib Razak, previously the deputy prime minister, rose to the premiership in April 2009 after Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi stepped down. Abdullah had been discredited after presiding over the loss of the ruling coalition’s long-standing two-thirds majority in the 2008 parliamentary elections. Also during 2009, a constitutional crisis erupted in the state of Perak after the two main coalitions in the evenly divided legislature each claimed the right to govern, and a series of religious controversies threatened to undermine Najib’s pledge to promote unity among Malaysia’s racial and ethnic groups. Separately, the national anticorruption agency came under scrutiny in July when an opposition party official fell to his death after being questioned by agency investigators.
Malaysia is not an electoral democracy. The leader of the party that wins a plurality of seats in legislative elections becomes prime minister. Executive power is vested in the prime minister and cabinet. The paramount ruler, the titular head of state, is elected for five-year terms by fellow hereditary rulers in 9 of Malaysia’s 13 states. Mizan Zainal Abidin al-Marhum Sultan Mahmud al-Muktafi Billah Shah was elected to the post in 2006. The upper house of the bicameral Parliament consists of 44 appointed members and 26 members elected by the state legislatures, serving three-year terms. The lower house, with 222 seats, is popularly elected at least every five years.