On 9 May 2018, Malaysia’s Barisan Nasional (BN) government lost the country’s 14th general election (GE14). Replacing it was the Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition, made up of four parties, three of which had had experience cooperating with each other for a decade, namely Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR), the Democratic Action Party (DAP) and Parti Amanah Negara (Amanah). The fourth was the new Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (PPBM) led by Dr Mahathir Mohamad.
The election also saw equally significant changes at the state government level. PH now controlled seven states in total, up from two, while BN went from controlling ten states to retaining but two. PAS regained Terengganu and with its control over Kelantan now held the two East Coast states. The Sabah state government, held by Parti Warisan Sabah (Warisan) aligned itself with PH, while the Sarawak state government chose to stick with BN.
As many as ten of the sixty promises listed in the PH 2018 election manifesto related to federalism and Sabah and Sarawak, an indication of the growing importance of these two states (and of state issues more generally).
The PH administration’s two significant set-ups were the Special Select Committee on States and Federal Relations and the Special Cabinet Committee on the Malaysia Agreement 1963 (MA63). Serious attempts were made to address concerns by both committees, with achievements being more visible in the Special Cabinet Committee on MA63, possibly due to the greater attention given on Sabah and Sarawak. Issues brought up within the Parliamentary Special Select Committee were not substantively addressed.
PH’s time in power saw how states aligned to it maintained a smooth working relationship with the federal government. What was more interesting to note was that even non-PH aligned states such as Kelantan, Terengganu and Perlis also received favourable attention from the federal government.
Federal-state relations were much more aggressively tackled under the PH government than under any other preceding administration.