Malaysia Sarawak State Elections: By August 7, 2021 and Possible Snap Parliamentary Elections

The Sarawak State Assembly building in Kuching, Malaysia. Federal elections in Malaysia are not due until 2023, but could happen earlier. Moreover, some state – including Sarawak – have elections sooner.
Photo credit: Wikimedia/CEphoto/Uwe Aranas (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Freedom House Rating

Partly Free
Government Type
Federal Parliamentary Constitutional Monarchy
32.7 million
State and Local Elections
Various times
Parliamentary Elections
By September 16, 2023 (snap elections possible)
State and Local Elections
Various times
Parliamentary Elections
May 8, 2018
Malaysia is not due to hold parliamentary elections until May 2023, but the fragile political situation means snap elections are possible, and Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin has indicated that he will in fact call early general elections once the COVID-19 pandemic is over. Meanwhile, several of Malaysia’s states are due to hold elections in the next year.

Political Context

In Malaysia’s historic 2018 parliamentary elections, the Pakatan Haratan (PH – Alliance of Hope) party won a surprise victory over the Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition and its primary member, United Malays National Organization (UMNO), which had been in power since Malaysia’s 1957 independence. PH forged an unlikely alliance between Mahathir Mohamad, born 1925, who had served as prime minister from 1981 to 2003 and was widely considered to be an autocrat, and Anwar Ibrahim, a former official under Mahathir who fell out with him and became a democracy activist.
Another major player in the coalition was Muhyiddin Yassin, a former UMNO politician. However, in March 2020, Muhyiddin defected from PH along with 30 MPs, and joined forces with UMNO to oust the government. He subsequently became prime minister. However, his coalition is fragile and has only a tiny majority, and therefore risks collapsing.
State Elections in Malaysia
Malaysia has 13 states (Johor, Kedah, Kelantan, Melaka, Negeri Sembilan, Pahang, Perak, Perlis, Pulau Pinang, Sabah, Sarawak, Selangor, and Terengganu) and one federal territory with three components (Kuala Lumpur, Labuan, and Putrajaya).
Sarawak is due to hold state elections by August 7, 2021.

Curated News and Analysis

IPS Journal, Friedrich Ebert Stiftung (February 26, 2021): The abrupt end to Malaysia’s democratic awakening

AFP (February 24, 2021): Malaysian king says parliament can sit, in blow for embattled PM

Melissa Goh, Channel News Asia (February 24, 2021): Elections can be held in Malaysia when half of population is vaccinated against COVID-19: Khairy

P Prem Kumar, Nikkei Asia (February 14, 2021): Malaysia’s UMNO bets on itself before election clash with Muhyiddin

Bloomberg (January 12, 2021): Malaysia’s emergency declaration means prime minister can dodge election until pandemic ends

Umair Jamal, ASEAN Today (November 29, 2020): The potential impacts of Malaysia postponing by-elections as COVID-19 cases rise

The Straits Times (November 28, 2020): Malaysia’s PM Muhyiddin says he will call for general election once Covid-19 pandemic is over

AP (October 30, 2020): Malaysian PM’s key ally demands early polls in new snag

Sophie Lemière, Brookings Institution (October 30, 2020): The never-ending political game of Malaysia’s Mahathir Mohamad

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Updated February 28, 2021

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