Newly independent Malaya is a constitutional monarchy based on the British parliamentary system. The king is chosen from a rotation of the nine traditional sultans every five years. Real power lies with the prime minister. Each of the nine states has its own parliament and executive subject to the central government. The constitution favors ethnic Malays and makes Malay the official language.
Singapore's ouster from the Federation of Malaysia in 1965 increases Malay-Chinese tension. Race riots during the 1969 elections cause the suspension of parliamentary government for 21 months. The National Operations Council (NOC), a combination of civilian and military leaders, assumes dictatorial power over Malaysia during the state of emergency.
The state of emergency is lifted in 1971. An accord with the North Borneo United People's Party of Sarawak ensures the ruling Alliance a veto-proof two-thirds majority in parliament. Constitutional amendments and the Sedition Act of 1971 give the government sweeping powers to control public debate. The New Economic Program (NEP) mandates pro-Malay quotas in all sectors of society and the economy.
The government bans public political rallies in 1978 when the Malaysian Communist Party (MCP) announces plans to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the communist insurgency. All public meetings are banned in 1982. "Ceremah," invitation-only indoor meetings, are made subject to police permission.
A United Malay National Organization (UMNO) internal crisis leads to a government crackdown on press freedom and the opposition. The Internal Security Act (ISA) allows the government to imprison dissidents without trial. The judiciary is made subservient to the executive branch, and the prime minister holds the greatest power. Parliamentary procedure amendments cut the legislature's power.
By international accounts, the parliamentary elections of 1995 are fair and free. The financial crisis of 1997 sees stricter government control over civil society. Malaysians leaving the country face currency restrictions. Foreign workers are detained and deported.
Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim is arrested, tried, and imprisoned in 1998 under the ISA. Foreign human rights groups criticize his treatment and trial. Mahathir clamps down on protest. Amnesty International criticizes the detention without trial of Islamic activists in 2001. Mahathir maintains a firm hand: In 2002 he forces illegal immigrants out on penalty of imprisonment and whipping.
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