Decentralisation or Recentralisation? Trends in local government in Malaysia

Siew Nooi Phang


Local government in Malaysia occupies the third and lowest level after federal and state governments. Under the Malaysian federal constitution (paragraphs 4 and 5 of the Ninth Schedule), local government is the responsibility of the states, but the federal government also exercises considerable power and influence over local government, especially in peninsular Malaysia. The dynamic of the Malaysian federal system is such that it has shifted the balance of power to the centre.

Local government accounts for only 1% of GDP. There are 144 local authorities divided into cities (major administrative and commercial centres), municipalities (other urban areas), and districts (chiefly rural areas). Executive powers rest with the Mayor (cities) or President, supported and/or overseen by a system of committees. Currently, local councils in Malaysia are not elected: councillors are appointed by the state government for 3-year terms (with the option of re-appointment) and in most cases come from the ruling coalition.

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