A general election was held on Sunday, 21 March 2004 for members of the 11th Parliament of Malaysia. Voting took place in all 219 parliamentary constituencies of Malaysia, each electing one Member of Parliament to the Dewan Rakyat, the dominant house of Parliament. State elections also took place in 505 state constituencies in 12 out of 13 states of Malaysia (except Sarawak) on the same day.
The National Front gained a popular vote of 63.9%, but would have gained a higher vote had all seats been contested. Reports in the Malaysian media on show of March 23rd the Front winning 198 parliamentary seats to the combined opposition parties' 20 seats, with one independent. This is the largest majority that National Front has won since the 1978 elections.
The third opposition party, the Democratic Action Party, which was routed in the 1999 elections, improved its performance with the re-election of party chairman Lim Kit Siang and his deputy, Karpal Singh. The DAP won 12 seats and regained the official leadership of the opposition in the national parliament from PAS.
Most candidates who campaigned on platforms of Islamic issues lost their seats. This is a significant turnaround since the last election where, generally, the more "Islamic" candidates had a greater chance of winning in the Malay heartland.
Elections for the assemblies of all the Malaysian states except Sarawak were also held on 21 March. The National Front and its allies won majorities in all states except Kelantan where, despite earlier reports to the contrary, PAS retained control with a narrow majority of 24 seats to BN's 21 seats. The National Front regained control of the state of Terengganu, which it lost to PAS in 1999. The PAS opposition leader, Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang, who lost his parliamentary seat as mentioned earlier, managed to retain his state seat.
The election was held nine months earlier than required by the constitution. The constitution allows that parliament has a mandate of 5 years. Elections are required to be called three months after parliament is dissolved. The government had until the end of November 2004 to call elections.
Candidates nominated on 13 March, with the National Front winning 15 seats uncontested, and another two seats after the opposing candidates withdrew. The right to withdraw was only introduced as a new rule at these elections. Under this rule candidates are allowed a three-day period to withdraw following nomination day. Of the 17 parliamentary seats won uncontested, nine were in the state of Sabah, six in Sarawak and two in Johor.
PAS won a state assembly seat in Johor for the first time, after the National Front candidate was disqualified because she was seconded by someone who was not a registered voter in the constituency which she wanted to contest. The requirement that the seconder be registered in the same constituency was only introduced in 2004.
The elections were marred by discrepancies, which were admitted by the electoral authorities. The head of the Election Commission (Tan Sri Abdul Rashid Abdul Rahman) made the statement "I have been in this line for so long... it should not have happened at all. There must be reasons why this happened." He has served in the election commission for the last five elections, and has stated that he intends to resign if a report on the discrepancies implicates him in the foul-ups.
Among the discrepancies were wrongly printed ballots, registered voters being unable to vote and wide discrepancies in votes in various seats upon re-counting the ballots.
In the seat of Sungai Lembing (Pahang), the Keadilan symbol was printed wrongly on the ballot paper for PAS candidate Idris Ahmad. Illiterate voters tend to rely on familiar party symbols for voting purposes as they are unable to read the candidate's names on the ballot. Voting was suspended for 5 hours before resuming. Polling was re-held for the seat on 28 March.
Lim, Hong-Hai; Ong, Kiang-Min (2006). The 2004 General Election and the Electoral Process in Malaysia. Between Consolidation and Crisis: Elections and Democracy in Five Nations in Southeast Asia. Berlin: Lit. pp. 147–214.