The different states of the Federation of Malaysia became independent from the United Kingdom and Singapore at different times; the 11 Malay peninsular states in 1957 and the Borneo states of Sabah and Sarawak in 1963. The predominantly Chinese island-city of Singapore split off from Malaysia in 1965. Malaysia is an independent member of the Commonwealth.
The supreme head of state or king, the Yang di-Pertuan Agong, is elected every five years by the nine hereditary Malay rulers of Western Malaysia. At election time, each state ruler is asked whether or not he wishes to run for the kingship. If there is only one candidate, he becomes king if he receives at least five affirmative votes from the other rulers; otherwise, a new candidate is sought. When there is more than one candidate, the ballots are taken in the order of a rotation system. The ruler of the last of the nine states to be represented in the kingship since independence, Sultan Azlan Shah, was elected in March 1989.
As in most parliamentary systems, political power resides in the cabinet, headed by the prime minister. The king appoints the cabinet from the 177-member House of Representatives, or Dewan Rakyat , whose representatives are elected by universal adult suffrage every five years. The other half of the Malaysian bicameral legislature is the 69-member Senate, or Dewan Negara , comprising two members elected by the legislatures of each of the states, and the remaining 43 senators appointed by the king, all for six-year terms. Political parties have mainly been formed along ethnic and religious divisions. Since independence, the Malaysian government has been controlled by a multiracial coalition of political parties called the National Front, or Barisan Nasional , of which Prime Minister Mahathir's party, the United Malays National Organization (UNMO), is the largest partner.