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Democracy System Between Malaysia And Singapore
A government is the political entity within a country which has the power to create and enforce rules, laws, and regulations.
There are two types of government which are autocracy and democracy.
In the autocratic system, political authority is concentrated in a single individual. Currently, there are only few countries practicing this system, for examples, Morocco, Bahrain, Oman, Qatar, Yemen, Kuwait, and Jordan.
On the other hand, democracy is a system in which the policy is decided by the preference of the majority in elections.
One of the forms of democracy is representative democracy.
A representative democracy which emphasizes individual liberties is known as a liberal democracy (constitutional democracy).
The elected representatives have the ability to exercise decision-making power. However, their power is subject to the rule of law, and it is usually moderated by a constitution. The constitution emphasizes the rights and freedoms of individuals.
Generally there are two forms of representative democracy, which are constitutional monarchy, as the Malaysia or United Kingdom, and republic, as the Singapore or United States. Each democratic government may have different system, such as parliamentary system (UK and Commonwealth countries), presidential system (United States), or semi-presidential system (France).
In this report, we are going to compare the democratic system in Malaysia and Singapore.
System of Democracy
Both Malaysia and Singapore practice parliamentary democracy. In these countries, the government is appointed by parliamentary representatives elected by the citizen.
In a parliamentary system, the ministers of the executive branch are picked from the legislature, and are responsible to that body. Therefore the executive and legislative branches are intertwined to each other. This results in no clear-cut separation of powers between the executive and legislative branches.
There is usually a clear differentiation between the head of government and the head of state in parliamentary system. The head of government is often the prime minister, and the head of state is either a president (elected either by the citizen or the parliament) or a hereditary monarch.
Malaysia and Singapore apply different form of representative democracy.
Constitutional monarchy is practiced in Malaysia. It is a form of government in which a monarch acts as head of state according to the constitution of the nation.
The monarch is the ceremonial head of state in most countries that exercise constitutional monarchy. Effective political power is exercise by the head of government, the prime minister.
The Yang Di-Pertuan Agong (YDPA) is the supreme head of Malaysia. He is elected by the Council of Rulers which comprises of the nine rulers from the states in Malaysia. Each YDPA will hold the duty for 5 years. According to the Constitution, he cannot be convicted in trial or in court except special court.
YDPA exercises power on the advice of the Prime Minister. He is responsible to dissolve Parliament, and to call meetings with the Conference of Rulers. Whenever the Prime Minister dissolves Parliament, he calls for a general election. However, as one of his discretionary powers, YDPA may choose to refuse a Prime Minister's request to dissolve Parliament.
The 13th and current YDPA
Sultan Mizan Zainal Abidin
Unlike Malaysia, Singapore practices constitutional republic. A constitutional republic is a state where the head of state is elected as representative of the people. The state has to be governed according to existing constitutional law which limits the government's power over the citizens.
President is the head of country in Singapore. Similar to Malaysia, the head of country of Singapore also had large ceremonial role. Before 1991, the President was appointed by Parliament. In January 1991, the Constitution was amended to allow for the election of a President by the citizens. The elected President will hold the duty for six years.
The president exercises powers over the appointment of public officers and government budgets. Besides that, he also examines government's exercise of its powers under the Internal Security Act and religious harmony laws. Furthermore, he also responsible for investigations into cases of corruption. However, the president must consult the Council of Presidential Advisers before he takes a decision on some of these matters.
The 6th and current President
Separation of Power
Separation of power is practiced in both the government of Malaysia and Singapore. The power to govern these countries is divided into Executive, Legislative and Judicial.
Government Structure in Malaysia
Government Structure in Singapore
In both the Malaysia and Singapore, the executive power is vested in the cabinet. The cabinet is a council of ministers that are accountable to the Parliament. The Cabinet is responsible for government policies and the administration of the affairs of state. It is led by the Prime Minister, who is appointed by the head of country, as the Member of Parliament who commands a majority of the Members of Parliament. The prime minister has the authority to select and dismiss members of the cabinet, and delegate posts to the members.
Unlike Singapore where executive power is exercised only by the federal government, the executive power in Malaysia is exercised by the federal government and 13 state governments. The state governments are led by chief ministers (Menteri Besar or Ketua Menteri), selected by the state assemblies (Dewan Undangan Negeri) advising their respective sultans or governors.
The legislative power in both Malaysia and Singapore is vested in the parliament led by Prime Minister. The functions of Parliament are:
control the state's finances
check on the actions of the governing party and the Ministries.
In Malaysia, the legislative power is shared between the Federal Government, State Government which systematically distributes it in a Federal list, State List and Concurrent list.
Agriculture & Forestry
Protection of Wildlife
Civil & Criminal Law
Town & Country Planning
Drainage & Venery
Commerce & Industry
Culture & Sport
Communication & Transportation
On the other hand, in Singapore, there is no division of legislative power because it has only one state.
Parliament in Malaysia
In Malaysia, parliament is bicameral. The bicameral parliament comprises the lower house, the House of Representatives or Dewan Rakyat and the upper house, the Senate or Dewan Negara.
House of Representatives’ main function is to formulate, discuss, and approve the law. It consists of 222 members who elected by the citizen in election. The members are often referred to as Members of Parliament or MPs.
The Senate reviews legislation that has been passed by the House of Representatives. It consists of 70 members, the membership are distributed as below:
26 are elected by the 13 state assemblies (2 senators per state)
4 are appointed by the YDPA to represent the federal territories
40 members are appointed by the YDPA on the advice of Prime Minister
All bills must be passed by both the House of Representatives and the Senate, before they are given Royal Assent by the YDPA. However, if a bill is rejected by the House of Representative, the bill's passage can only be delayed by a year before it is sent to the YDPA.
Parliament in Singapore
In Singapore, the parliament is unicameral (single house).
The main functions of the parliament are:
controlling the nation's finances
ensuring ministerial accountability.
Following the 2006 general election, the parliament is made up of 94 Member of Parliament consisting of:
84 elected members of parliament(MPs) who are elected
1 Non-constituency Members of Parliament (NCMPs) who are appointed
9 Nominated Members of Parliament (NMPs) who are appointed
The 84 elected members of parliament (MPs) are elected by the citizen. They represent either single-member constituencies (SMCs) or group Representation Constituencies (GRCs).
Non-Constituency Members of Parliament (NCMPs) are members appointed from the opposition political parties. The candidate must have polled more than 15% of the total number of vote to be eligible to be appointed. The maximum number of NCMPs that can be appointed is 3. This is to ensure that there will be at least one opposition representatives in Parliament and that views other than the Government's can be expressed in Parliament. The NCMP scheme was introduced in 1984 in order to provide a voice for the opposition in parliament.
A Nominated Member of Parliament (NMP) is appointed by the President of Singapore for a term of 2.5years recommended by a Special Select Committee chaired by the Speaker of the House. The Nominated Members of Parliament scheme was introduced in 1990 with the idea to allow citizens to participate and contribute to parliamentary debates without undergoing election. NMPs should not be linked to any political parties.
The charts below show the judicial system in Malaysia and Singapore.
Judicial System in Malaysia
Judicial System in Singapore
Comparing the Judicial System in Malaysia and Singapore
Both Malaysia and Singapore’s legal system are based on British Common Law.
Common law is the law determined by judges and it is based on past legal decisions.
Another similarity in both countries is the way of selection of judges. All the judges are appointed by the head of country with recommendation of Prime Minister.
There is a major difference between the judicial system in Malaysia and Singapore. Special court is established only in Malaysia but not in Singapore. The Special Court was introduced in 1993 to hear any cases of criminal or civil made by the YDPA or any of the Rulers. Before this court is established, YDPA and Rulers can be exempted from any proceedings brought against them.
An election in representative democracy is a method by which an individual is chosen by process of voting to represent the citizen. There is a commission that responsible to all election process. In Malaysia, it is called as Election Commission of Malaysia (EC), whereas in Singapore, it is called as Elections Department of Singapore (ELD).
Currently, EC consist of a chairman, a deputy chairman and 5 members. The members of Election Commission of Malaysia (EC) are appointed by YDPA after discussing with the nine Malay Rulers. However, according to the constitution in Malaysia, YDPA must make appointment with the advice of Prime Minister. On the other hand, ELD is a department under the Prime Minister’s Office headed by Prime Minister.
Qualifications to be a Voter
The qualifications to be a voter in both Malaysia and Singapore are similar. They are:
The voter must be a citizen of the country
The voter must at least 21 years old
The voter must be an ordinary resident or deemed to be ordinary resident in the country at an address that is in that constituency.
Election in Malaysia
In Malaysia, elections exist at national level and state level. At national level, members in House of Representatives (Dewan Rakyat) will be elected once every five years. At state level, members of the State Legislative Assemblies (Dewan Undangan Negeri) are elected every five years. Usually, both elections in national level and state level are conducted together. Once the Parliament is dissolved, the elections in West Malaysia must be held within 60 days and elections in Sabah and Sarawak must be held within 90 days.
Currently there are 222 members in House of Representatives and 576 members in the State Legislative Assemblies. The number of seats to the House of Representative and the State Legislative Assemblies are as in the table below:
House of Representatives
State Legislative Assemblies
Federal Territory (Kuala Lumpur)
Federal Territory (Putrajaya)
Federal Territory (Labuan)
Total for the States in the Peninsular
Total for Malaysia
Source from: Election Commission Malaysia (2010),
http://www.spr.gov.my/eng/, accessed 18 January 2010
Election in Singapore
In Singapore, there are two types of elections, which are parliamentary elections and presidential elections.
Parliamentary elections are held to form the parliament in Singapore. This type of elections existed since the independence of Singapore on 9 August 1965. The constitution of Singapore stated that the parliament must be dissolve within 5 years. After that, parliamentary election must be held within 3 months after the dissolution of the parliament.
Currently there are 84 elected Members of Parliament (MPs). 9 out of 84 MPs elected under Single Member Constituency (SMC). SMC is contested by individual candidate and return 1MP.
On the other hand, 73 MPs are elected under Group Representation Constituencies (GRCs). GRCs are contested by group of candidates and returns in 3 to 6 MPs. In GRCs, the contesting teams must contain a prescribed ethic mix (Malay or Indian or other minority communities). This is to ensure that minority group can be represented in Parliament.
On the other hand, presidential elections are held to select a president and it conducted when:
The office of the President becomes vacant
The term of office (6 years) of current president has been expired
The first presidential election was held in 1993 following the amendments to the constitution enacted in 1991. The President does not represent any political parties. However, the president should held office in the government for more than 3 years in order to be eligible to become a candidate in the president election.
Both Malaysia and Singapore are ruled by one of its dominant political party since the country became independent. The party ruling Malaysia is National Front (Barisan National), a coalition of fourteen parties. While for Singapore, the ruling political party is the People’s Action Party (PAP).
Political Parties in Malaysia
National Front (Barisan Nasional, BN)
National Front is a major political coalition in Malaysia. It had been ruling Malaysia since the independence until today. The vast majority of seats in National Front are held by its three main parties, which are:
United Malays National Organization (UMNO), which aims to protect Malay culture and Islamic values.
Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA), which aims to protect Chinese ethnic
Malaysian Indian Congress (MIC), which aims to protect Indian ethnic
People’s Alliance (Pakatan Rakyat)
People’s Alliance is the main opposition political party formed in 1 April 2008. It is a political coalition that comprises of:
People’s Justice Party (PKR), which its ideals revolve around social justice and anti corruption themes
Democratic Action Party (DAP), which its ideals revolve around secular, multi-racial and social democratic
Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS), which aims to establish Malaysia as a nation based on Islamic legal theory
Distribution of seats by political parties and independent candidates
The table below shows the number of seats held by the different political parties in the House of Representatives and the State Legislative Assemblies.
State Legislative Assemblies
Pan Malaysia Islamic Party
Democratic Action Party
Peoples’ Justice Party
Sarawak National Party
Source from: Election Commission Malaysia (2010),
http://www.spr.gov.my/eng/, accessed 18 January 2010
Political Parties in Singapore
People’s Action Party (PAP)
People’s Action Party is the ruling political party in Singapore. It has dominated Singapore's parliamentary democracy from the 1963 general elections. It has been central to the city-state's rapid political, social, and economic development.
Workers’ Party is one of the largest opposition parties in Singapore. The Party emphasizes a quality lifestyle where the dignity of the individual can be upheld. It also ensures that the government is democratically accountable and the citizens are able to exercise their rights to participate in the politic. It aims to reverse the PAP’s elitist structure so that the decision making and implementation are flowed from the citizens to the government.
Singapore Democratic Alliance
Singapore Democratic Alliance is an alliance of political parties in Singapore. It was formed before the 2001 General Elections as a common opposition front against the ruling People's Action Party (PAP). It consists of:
Singapore Malay National Organization
Singapore People's Party
Singapore Justice Party
The results of Parliament of Singapore election on 6 May 2006:
Parties and Alliances
People’s Action Party
Singapore Democratic Alliance
Wikipedia (2009), http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Singaporean_general_election,_2006, accessed 18 January 2010
Both Malaysia and Singapore are ranked by Freedom House as partly free countries from the aspect of political rights and civil liberties. In the Annual Worldwide Press Freedom Index 2009, Reporters without Borders ranked Malaysia as 131 out of 175, and Singapore as 133 out of 175.
Freedom of Speech and Press
Freedom of speech is the freedom to speak one’s thought or opinion, while freedom of press is the freedom to publish information through various published materials and electronic media.
Government in Malaysia provides freedom of speech and press. However, there are some legal limitations. The government restricted freedom of expression and journalists practiced self-censorship in order to protect national security, order of public and to maintain friendly relations with other countries.
As for example, Internal Security Act (ISA) allow the detention orders to permit the continuously detainment of people and the order is renewed in term of two years. The ruling government can take away the individuals’ rights from judicial review by using this act.
Besides that, comments on sensitive issues such as racial and religious matters are prohibited by the Sedition Act. Political parties would be charged under the Sedition Act if they had raised sensitive issues and threatened national stability.
Furthermore, press freedom is limited by the Printing Presses and Publication Act (PPPA). Under this act, the publication of “malicious news" is made as a punishable offense. A permit must be applied annually to the Government for domestic and foreign publications. This act was aimed to prevent “distorted news" from disseminated to the public.
Similar to Malaysia, Singapore also restricted freedom of speech and press. The practice of self-censorship among journalists is resulted from the Government intimidation and pressure.
Malaysia and Singapore have a common act which is ISA. Under the ISA, restrictions are placed on publications that provoke violence, arouse tensions in the diverse population, and threaten national security or public order.
Citizens do not need approval from police to speak at indoor public gatherings. However, police approval is needed if the topic impinged on religion or race. Furthermore, every indoor gathering must be held in enclosed spaces. Prior to this restriction, a permit under the Public Entertainment and Meetings Act (PEMA) was required for any public speech or entertainment.
The print and broadcast media in Singapore are strongly influenced by the Government. All general circulation newspapers in the 4 official languages (English, Chinese, Tamil and Malay) are owned by Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. (SPH) and Media Corp. that are closely tied to the ruling party. For broadcast media, only one of the radio stations, the British Broadcasting Corporation World Service was not influenced by the Government.
All political research institutions and public institutions of higher education are closely linked to the Singapore Government. Academics can speak and publish widely, and they are engage in debate on social or political issues. They are aware that they could be subjected to sanctions for public comments that ventured into prohibited areas.
Freedom of Assembly and Association
Freedom of assembly is the freedom to associate with, or organize any groups, gatherings, clubs, or organizations that one wishes.
The Malaysia government limits the freedom of assembly in the interest of security and public order. According to the Police Act, police permits are require for every public assemblies. The grant of a permit is usually decided by the district police chief. However, it can also be influenced by senior police officials and leaders in politic.
On the other hand, the freedom of association is limited by the Societies Act. Under this act, only approved, registered organizations consisting of 7 or more members may function as societies. The Government has the authority to cancel the registration of a society for violations of the act.
In addition, under the University Colleges Act, student associations and faculty members in University are prohibited from engaging in political activity.
In Singapore, police permission is required for public assemblies or political meetings of 5 or more participants. Political gatherings are closely monitored by the Government regardless of the number of participants. A public entertainment license is needed for any person who wants to speak at a public function.
There is also a Society Act restricting the freedom of association in Singapore. Under this act, associations, societies and other organizations with 10 or more members are required to register with the Government. Registration to societies that is believed to be formed for unlawful purposes would be denied by the Government. Besides that, strict financial regulations which included a ban on receiving foreign donation are subjected to all parties and organizations.
Freedom of Religion
Freedom of Religion is the freedom of an individual to follow a religion.
Islam is the official religion in Malaysia and more than half of the citizens in the country are Muslims. However, non-Muslims including Buddhist, Christian and Hindu are free to practice their religious beliefs with certain restrictions. Malaysia government provides financial support to Islamic establishment as well as funds to non-Islamic religious communities.
Muslims are not allowed to convert to another religion. Also, the Government strictly prohibits proselytizing of Muslims by follower of other religions. Deviationist groups that carry out “deviationist" teaching would be arrested and detained. Those groups are then sent to be rehabilitated and returned to the “true path of Islam". In addition, Muslims are subject to Shariah Law in family and religious matter.
Singapore is a multi-religious country where religious tolerance is promoted by the government. The majority of its citizen is following Buddhism.
All religious groups must be registered to the government under the Societies Act. There is another act called the Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act (MRHA) which provides power to the government to restrain members of any religious groups from having political activities, exciting disaffection against the government or performing subversive activities.
The government’s role in religious affairs is active but limited. Speech or actions that adversely affect racial and religious harmony will not be tolerated. The Presidential Council for Minority Rights ensures pending legislation is not disadvantageous to any groups, reports matters that affect religious community to the government as well as investigates complaints.
In conclusion, both Malaysia and Singapore apply Parliamentary Democracy in their government systems. However, there are significant differences between both countries. Malaysia exercises Constitutional Monarchy Democracy System, while Singapore exercises Constitutional Republic Democracy System.
Democracy Status of Both Countries
The tables below show the status of Malaysia and Singapore in:
Freedom House Report 2009
Political Rights Score
Civil Liberties Score
*The score is ranked on a scale of 1-7, with 1 representing highest level of freedom.
Asia Democracy Index Report 2005
Rank under 16 selected countries in Asia
*The score is ranked on a scale of 0-100, with 0 representing lowest level of democracy.
Based on the tables above, we concluded that Malaysia and Singapore are still partly free country even though they are practising democracy system. There are few areas in the system that needed to be improved.
Suggestion for Improving Democracy
Separation of power
Judicial appointments process should be as transparent as possible. Prime minister should recommend someone that is no relationship with the ruling party as chief justice to YDPA to ensure its independence.
Next, The Anti-Corruption Agency should be separate from Prime Minister’s Department so that it can supervise the government’s corruption activities efficiently.
The transparency of appointment process on election commission should be improved.
Moreover, Election Commission should report to the parliament instead of Prime Minister to allow the opposition parties have a chance discuss the issues regarding election.
All the acts (e.g. Internal Security Act) that allow the government to arrest and detain individuals without trial should be reviewed, amended or abolished. This is to ensure that individuals have the human right to go through trial process.
Printing Presses and Publication Act (PPPA) should be abolished to allow greater scrutiny from the media to the government.
Separation of Power
Since the appointment process of chief judge in Singapore is same with Malaysia. Thus, same with Malaysia, Singapore should appoint an independence chief judge and the appointment process should be as transparent as possible.
The opposition parties in Singapore are unable to challenge seriously the ruling party (PAP) in Singapore. This is not a healthy condition as oppose powers are an important element in a democratic country. PAP should not try to use its power to influence the press and judicial branch, and limited opposition political activities.
Same as Malaysia, Singapore should review, amend or abolish all the acts (Internal Security Act (ISA), Criminal Law Act (CLA) and the Misuse of Drugs Act) that confer on the executive branch the right to arrest and detain individuals without judicial review.
Next, Singapore government should ensure that the media has the editorial independence. The government should not try to influence the major media outlet which are controlled or owned by them such as Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. (SPH) and Media Corp.
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