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map courtesy CIA World Factbook; click for enlargement Constitution, Government & Legislation

Malaysia is a constitutional monarchy, nominally headed by the Yang di-Pertuan Agong ("paramount ruler"), customarily referred to as the king. Kings are elected for 5-year terms from among the nine sultans of the peninsular Malaysian states. The king also is the leader of the Islamic faith in Malaysia.

Executive power is vested in the cabinet led by the prime minister; the Malaysian constitution stipulates that the prime minister must be a member of the lower house of parliament who, in the opinion of the Yang di-Pertuan Agong, commands a majority in parliament. The cabinet is chosen from among members of both houses of parliament and is responsible to that body.

The bicameral parliament consists of the Senate (Dewan Negara) and the House of Representatives (Dewan Rakyat). All 69 Senate members sit for 6-year terms; 26 are elected by the 13 state assemblies, and 43 are appointed by the king. Representatives of the House are elected from single-member districts by universal adult suffrage. The 193 members of the House of Representatives are elected to maximum terms of 5 years. Legislative power is divided between federal and state legislatures.

The federal government has authority over external affairs, defense, internal security, justice (except civil law cases among Malays or other Muslims and other indigenous peoples, adjudicated under Islamic and traditional law), federal citizenship, finance, commerce, industry, communications, transportation, and other matters.

Source: U.S. Department of State

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Courts & Judgments

The Malaysian legal system is based on English common law. The Federal Court reviews decisions referred from the Court of Appeals; it has original jurisdiction in constitutional matters and in disputes between states or between the federal government and a state. Peninsular Malaysia and the East Malaysian states of Sabah and Sarawak each have a high court.

The Federal Court of Malaysia is the highest judicial authority and the final court of appeal in Malaysia. The country, although federally constituted, has a single-structured judicial system consisting of two parts - the superior courts and the subordinate courts. The subordinate courts are the Magistrate Courts and the Sessions Courts whilst the superior courts are the two High Courts of co-ordinate jurisdiction and status, one for Peninsular Malaysia and the other for the States of Sabah and Sarawak, the Court of Appeal and the Federal Court. The Federal Court, earlier known as the Supreme Court and renamed the Federal Court vide Act A885 effective from June 24, 1994, stands at the apex of this pyramid.

Before January 1, 1985, the Federal Court was the highest court in the country but its decisions were further appealable to the Privy Council in London. However on January 1, 1978, Privy Council appeals in criminal and constitutional matters were abolished and on January 1, 1985, all other appeals i.e. civil appeals except those filed before that date were abolished. The setting up of the Court of Appeal on June 24, 1994 after the Federal Constitution was amended vide Act A885 provides litigants one more opportunity to appeal. Alternatively it can be said that the right of appeal to the Privy Council is restored, albeit in the form of the Federal Court.

The Special Court was established on March 30, 1993 vide Act A848, now provided for in Article 182 of the Federal Constitution. All offences committed by the Rulers (the Rulers being the monarchical heads of the component states of the Federation of Malaysia) including His Majesty The Yang di-Pertuan Agong shall be heard by the Special Court. The Special Court shall also hear all civil cases by or against them. This Court shall be chaired by the Chief Justice of the Federal Court and he shall be assisted by four other members, namely the two Chief Judges of the respective High Courts and two other persons appointed by the Conference of Rulers who hold or have held office as a judge.

Source: U.S. Department of State; Government of Malaysia

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