1955 - New chapter for Malaya
A three-party coalition called the Alliance - comprising the
United Malay National Organisation (Umno), the Malayan Chinese
Association (MCA) and the Malayan Indian Congress (MIC) - swept 51
of 52 parliamentary seats in the country's first elections.
This elections cemented the coalition, who agreed for Umno
president Tunku Abdul Rahman to be appointed Chief Minister of
Malaya. Tunku would lead the Alliance to victory in the next three
The 1955 elections marked the move towards Independence. The
British relinquished their power and, in 1957, the Federation of
Malaya gained complete independence from Britain.
The elections saw the rejection of opposition parties such as
Party Negara led by former Umno president Datuk Onn Jaafar, the
socialist-based Labour Party, People's Progressive Party and other
1959 – Birth of an elected nation
This general election was the first to be held under the
supervision of the Election Commission formed in 1958.
Tunku Abdul Rahman wanted to concentrate on the federal and
state elections and so relinquished his post as Prime Minister. Tun
Abdul Razak Hussein was sworn in to replace him.
Tunku resumed as premier with Razak returning to his deputy's
post after the Alliance won 74 out of the 104 parliamentary seats
contested by a total of 259 candidates, including 29
1964 - Nation reborn as Malaysia
The polls saw MCA playing a vital role in placating the Chinese
with regard to Malay special rights and fear of a merger with
Indonesia, resulting in the party being viewed as the voice of the
nation's Chinese community.
The previous year, Tunku had convinced Singapore, Sabah, and
Sarawak to join Malaya in the federal union known as Malaysia.
Singapore would leave the federation in 1965.
This period also saw the creation of two political parties - the
Democratic Action Party (DAP) on March 18, 1966, and Gerakan on
March 24, 1968.
It was during this elections that Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad was
elected as Member of Parliament for Kubang Pasu.
1969 - Tension and friction
This election remains the single most marred election in
Malaysia's history. It saw the darkest hour of the nation, when
riots broke out after the Alliance was pronounced the victor
without a two-thirds majority. The Government declared a state of
emergency, suspending the Constitution and Parliament until
February 1971. The National Operations Council (NOC) and a
caretaker Cabinet then governed the nation.
The polls saw Dr Mahathir losing his parliamentary seat and
expelled from the party for having attacked Prime Minister Tunku
Abdul Rahman in an open letter for allegedly neglecting the
indigenous Malay community.
Penang fell to then-opposition party Gerakan, which won 16 out
of the 24 state assembly seats. Later on, the Alliance and Gerakan
formed a coalition government in Penang.
After the May 13 riots, the political leaders tried to build
They amended the Constitution to forbid discussion, even in
Parliament, of certain "sensitive issues", including the special
position of the Malays, Borneo's ethnic groups, and the powers of
the Malay Sultans.
Determined to improve the economic condition of the Malays, the
leaders also launched a 20-year plan called the New Economic
Policy. It was meant to achieve better wealth balance among the
In September 1970, Tunku Abdul Rahman stepped down and Tun Abdul
Razak succeeded him.
1974 - Time of youthful change
Under Prime Minister Tun Abdul Razak, national-level experiments
on social and economic re-engineering were carried out to address
To minimise racial politics, the Government created a
multi-party alliance called Barisan Nasional using a weighing scale
symbol instead of the Alliance's sailboat.
BN was then made up of Umno, MCA, MIC, PAS, PPP, Gerakan,
Sarawak United People's Party (SUPP), Parti Pesaka Bumiputera, and
the Sabah Alliance Party.
Only DAP and Parti Sosialis Rakyat Malaysia (PSRM) refused to
join the coalition.
After a landslide victory, Razak announced the first Barisan
cabinet of 21 members.
Dr Mahathir, who had been in the political wilderness after
expulsion from Umno, was invited back into the party, re-elected to
Parliament and appointed Education Minister.
In 1976, 22-year-old Najib Tun Razak became the youngest
candidate to win the Pekan, Pahang, parliamentary seat. He was
uncontested in the by-election held following his father's
Tun Hussein Onn became the nation's third prime minister.
1978 – The Hussein Onn era
BN won once again. However, PAS was wiped out in Kelantan during
the elections and later expelled from Barisan. BN would rule
Kelantan until 1990.
On July 15, 1981, Hussein chaired his last cabinet meeting. The
next day Dr Mahathir was sworn in as Malaysia's fourth prime
minister. He announced his new cabinet two days later, naming Tun
Musa Hitam as his deputy.
1982 – Dr Mahathir in the saddle
When Dr Mahathir Mohamad took over as Prime Minister, he
advocated the Look East Policy for Malaysia to beef up work ethics
and achieve economic success.
The elections was held before the nation faced the brunt of the
global economic downturn that affected Malaysia.
Dr Mahathir also sought to stamp his mark by replacing veterans
with a younger set of Umno leaders.
Among those brought in was Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim who joined
Umno prior to the elections and won the Permatang Pauh
parliamentary seat under Barisan Nasional.
Dr Mahathir who defeated PAS' Yusof Rawa Abdullah for the Kubang
Pasu parliamentary seat led Barisan to a resounding victory in the
During this parliamentary term, he also pushed for Malaysia's
first car, Proton, and pursued the policy of privatising government
1986 – Dr M tightens grip
Despite the resignation of Musa Hitam as deputy prime minister
and Home Minister, Dr Mahathir Mohamad steered BN to a resounding
Dr Mahathir replaced Musa with Tun Ghafar Baba as deputy while
Musa was persuaded to stay on as Umno deputy president.
In the Umno elections, Dr Mahathir defeated Tengku Razaleigh
Hamzah for the presidency while Ghafar Baba beat Musa to be
This led to a party crisis, with Razaleigh and Datuk Seri Rais
Yatim resigning from the Mahathir Cabinet.
In February 1988, the Kuala Lumpur High Court ruled that Umno
was illegal following a suit by 11 Umno members aligned to
Dr Mahathir then founded Umno Baru that was quickly accepted
into the Barisan fold.
A year later, Tengku Razaleigh founded a breakaway party called
Parti Melayu Semangat 46, with Rais as his deputy.
1990 – Dramatic liaisons
The seventh general election saw the Opposition coming close to
denying BN a two-thirds majority by winning 53 seats, and their
best performance since 1969.
Umno splinter group Semangat 46 presented a challenge to BN by
forming electoral alliances among opposition parties.
Semangat 46 teamed up with PAS, Barisan Jemaah Islamiah
Se-Malaysia (Berjasa) and Parti Hizbul Muslimin Malaysia to form
Angkatan Perpaduan Ummah (APU). Semangat 46 also teamed up with DAP
to form Gagasan Rakyat.
A week before the elections, Parti Bersatu Sabah pulled out of
BN and joined Gagasan Rakyat.
Dr Mahathir described it as "a stab in the back" because the
decision was made at almost the eleventh hour after
nominations, damaging BN's chances in the elections.
He ordered Umno to make an entry into Sabah, and this decision
changed the politics of Sabah, with Usno dissolved to make way for
Although PBS eventually contributed 14 parliamentary seats from
Sabah to Gagasan Rakyat, the loose coalition failed to make an
impact in the peninsula.
With a Barisan victory in hand, Dr Mahathir saw no opposition to
his position in Umno.
In 1992, Ghafar resigned as deputy prime minister and Anwar, who
had won the Umno deputy presidency, took over from Ghafar.
1995 – A record mandate and Reformasi
This general election was an excellent year for Barisan
Nasional, which won 162 of the 192 seats.
The economic boom, an average 8% growth per annum, record
investment levels and full employment boosted BN's fortunes.
Dr Mahathir announced a new goal called Vision
2020, intending to make Malaysia a fully-developed nation with
a high standard of living by 2020.
The goal suffered a setback, however, when an economic crisis
hit South-East Asia in 1997. By 1998, the growth of Malaysia's
economy had slowed but the country took measures to put its economy
back on track.
After weeks of rumours of a split between Dr Mahathir and his
deputy over the handling of the financial crisis, Anwar was sacked
on Sept 2, 1998.
Besides being detained under the Internal Security Act, Anwar
was also charged in court with sodomy and corruption.
This episode led to the formation of Parti Keadilan Nasional by
Anwar's wife, Datuk Seri Dr. Wan Azizah Wan Ismail.
1999 - Victory and end of a 22-year rule
Dr Mahathir called for the 10th general election after 15 months
of allegations, protests and courtroom dramas in the wake of the
sacking and jailing of Anwar.
Anwar's wife,Datuk Seri Dr. Wan Azizah, joined forces with DAP,
PAS and Parti Rakyat Malaysia, forming the Barisan Alternatif.
DAP secretary general Lim Kit Siang was defeated in the Bukit
Bendera parliamentary seat, thus losing his position as Opposition
Leader in Parliament.
He was replaced by PAS' Fadzil Noor. Upon the latter's death,
Terengganu Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang took over as
After a dramatic announcement in tears at the Umno assembly that
he intended to step down, Dr Mahathir ended his 22-year reign and
handed over the premiership to Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi on Oct 31,
March 21, 2004 – Abdullah's wind of change
Abdullah Badawi marched the nation to the polls barely four
months after taking over from Dr Mahathir Mohamad.
The new leadership's message of change with greater civil
liberties drew support, giving Barisan a record win and the largest
majority since 1978.
While highlighting Barisan's past record of providing stability,
Abdullah effectively appealed to voters by promising to correct
weaknesses to make its record even better.
Barisan regained Terengganu, which it lost to PAS in 1999. In
Kelantan, PAS only had a two-seat majority (which was reduced to
one after a subsequent by-election). PAS' presence in Kedah was
DAP lost Kota Melaka, its bastion in Malacca. Allegations of
infighting made the rounds. There was some consolation for the
party though as their top leaders Lim Kit Siang and Karpal Singh
managed to get back into Parliament.
Keadilan had merged with PRM prior to the elections, and formed
Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR). However, PKR was almost
decimated in the elections. Dr Wan Azizah managed to retain
Permatang Pauh in Penang for the party's sole parliamentary
2008 - BN loses its two-thirds majority
Seeking a fresh mandate 15 months before the end of his
five-year term, Abdullah took a gamble that cost him his job.
The states of Selangor, Penang, Kedah, and Perak also slipped
out of BN's hands, and it failed to wrest Kelantan from PAS.
However, Perak returned to Barisan following the defection of
several Pakatan Rakyat assembly members in 2009.
2008 saw the only elections besides the one in 1969 where
Barisan Nasional lost its two-thirds majority in Parliament.
Abdullah subsequently stepped down and handed over the
premiership to Datuk Seri Najib Abdul Razak on April 3, 2009.