Some time back, the ruling Pakatan Harapan coalition announced plans to limit the tenure of the Prime Minister, Menteri Besar, and Chief Minister to two terms, in contrast to the current system that allows the post to be held by the same person for an unlimited number of terms.
However, this is easier said than done, since the post of Prime Minister is created and defined by the Federal Constitution; appointed by the Yang di-Pertuan Agong (YDPA) as per the rule in Article 43(2). So in order to change this, they’ll need to change the Federal Constitution.
But changing the Federal Constitution isn’t as simple as changing any other law. It’s the supreme law of the country - the backbone that all our laws are based on. It provides for all sorts of rules for how the country works, covering basic rights like making slavery illegal, freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and even how citizenship is earned.
So in order to change it….
You need a two-thirds majority in Parliament to agree
To make a direct change to the Federal Constitution, Parliament needs to pass a Bill stating the amendments they want to make, as they would usually do with any other law. But, this isn’t like changing any other law, the big condition they require is at least two-thirds of MPs’ support towards that change. If you paid attention in History or Malaysian Studies classes, you may already know this, but here’s the actual Article for reference.
Some amendments are exempted from this requirement, like any changes that are merely incidental when Parliament changes another law (for example, if one day we can tell Artificial Intelligence (AI) to say things, and Parliament drafts a new law to regulate AI, the meaning of “freedom of speech” might be modified to include that scenario), but this is the general requirement that must be met. That’s why it’s such a big deal for a political party to command a two-third majority in Parliament - it becomes a lot easier to push Constitutional amendments through.
There’s an exception if the amendments affect Sabah and Sarawak
Sabah and Sarawak get a lot of special treatment in our constitution (more on that another time) due to the agreements struck to form Malaysia. One of these special positions they have is that any amendments to the Constitution that affect the status of Sabah or Sarawak must be agreed to by the Yang di-Pertua Negeri of Sabah and/or Sarawak (not to be confused with the YDPA).
These matters include:
The citizenship of people born before Malaysia Day and right to equal treatment
The powers of the High Court of Sabah and Sarawak and how they operate
The power of Sabah or Sarawak to make its state laws and authority to enforce them.
Financial arrangements between Malaysia as a whole and Sabah/Sarawak
Religion in the State, and the use of any language in the State or in Parliament
The special treatment of Natives
To clarify, the original question of limiting the PM’s term in office probably won’t apply to these exceptions. But returning to that issue…
Parliament will probably amend Article 43 to limit the PM’s term
Currently, the only clear situation where the Prime Minister would lose their position is when he no longer commands the confidence of a majority of Members of Parliament (MPs). In that situation, the PM must either request for the Yang di-Pertuan Agong to dissolve Parliament, or tender the Cabinet’s resignation (the government’s collection of ministers, which includes himself). This generally happens if the Dewan Rakyat passes a motion of no confidence, or if the government’s budget cannot be passed.
The government is currently studying the Constitution to know for sure what amendments need to be changed. Until then...we wait to see what develops.