The Federation of Malaysia is a country in Southeast Asia. It consists of two geographical regions divided by the South China Sea:
- East Malaysia, the northern part of the island of Borneo/Kalimantan is bordered to the south by Indonesia and borders the Sultanate of Brunei on the east, south, and west. Tanjung Piai, located in the southern state of Johor is the southernmost tip of continental Asia.
(Singapore also claims this title, but it is debatable whether the man-made causeway connecting it to Johor makes it an extension of the continent.)
Main article: History of Malaysia
The Malay Peninsula developed as a major Southeast Asian commercial centre, as trade between China and India and beyond flourished through the busy Straits of Malacca since ancient time. Ptolemy showed it on his early map with the label ‘Golden Chersonese’ with the Straits of Malacca as Sinus Sabaricus.
The earliest recorded Malay kingdoms grew from coastal city-ports established in the 10th Century AD. These include Langkasuka and Lembah Bujang in Kedah, as well as Beruas and Gangga Negara in Perak and Pan Pan in Kelantan. It is thought that originally these were Hindu or Buddhist nations. Islam arrived in the 14th century in Terengganu.
In the early part of the 15th Century, the Sultanate of Malacca was established under a dynasty which was started by a prince from Palembang. With Malacca as its capital, the sultanate controlled the area which are now Peninsula Malaysia, southern Thailand (Patani), and the eastern coast of Sumatra. It existed for more than a century, and within that time period spread Islam to most of the Malay archipelago. Malacca was an important trading port situated strategically almost mid point on the trade route between China and India.
Portugal made Malacca a colony in 1511 by military conquest, thus ending the Sultanate of Malacca. However, the last Sultan fled to Kampar in Sumatra and died there. One of his sons went to northern peninsula Malaysia and established the Sultanate of Perak, and another son went to the south of the peninsula and made his capital there. This new kingdom was the continuation of the old Malacca sultanate but now known as the Sultanate of Johor, which still exists now. After the fall of Malacca, three nations struggle for the control of the Malacca Strait: the Portuguese (in Malacca), the Sultanate of Johor, and the Sultanate of Aceh, and the attacks only stopped in 1641, when the Dutch (allied to the Sultanate of Johor) gained control of Malacca. The British took control of Malacca in 1824, when a treaty was signed with the Dutch.
The British crown colony of the Straits Settlements was established in 1826 and Britain gradually increased its control over the rest of the peninsula. The Straits Settlements consisted of the three ports of Singapore, Penang and Malacca. Penang was established in 1786 by Captain Francis Light as a commercial outpost granted by the Sultan of Kedah. Malacca came into British hands after the Anglo-Dutch Treaty of 1824 and two years later, the Straits Settlements were formed. These settlements were collectively ruled from the British East India Company seat of government in Calcutta until 1867 when their administration was transferred to the Colonial Office in London.
It was also about this time that many Malay states decided to obtain British help in settling internal conflicts. Less than ten years after the transfer movement was completed, several west coast Malay States came under British influence. The role of the merchants of the Straits Settlements saw British government intervention in the affairs of the tin producing states in the Malay Peninsula. Coupled with Chinese Secret Society disturbances and civil war, British gunboat diplomacy was employed to bring about a peaceful resolution that favoured the merchants of the Straits Settlements. Finally, the Pangkor Treaty of 1874 paved the way for British expansion and by the turn of the 20th century, the states of Pahang, Selangor, Perak and Negeri Sembilan, known together as the Federated Malay States (not to be confused with the Federation of Malaya), were under the rule of British residents appointed to advise the rulers/Sultans.
The other Peninsular states were known as the Unfederated Malay States and, while not directly under rule from London, had British advisors in the Sultans' courts. The four northern states of Perlis, Kedah, Kelantan and Terengganu were previously under Thai control. British North Borneo (currently the state of Sabah) was a British Crown Colony formerly under the rule of the Sultanate of Sulu, whilst the huge jungle territory of Sarawak was the personal fiefdom of the Brooke family.
Following the Japanese occupation during World War II popular support for independence grew, coupled with a communist insurgency. Post-war British plans to form a 'Malayan Union' were scuppered by strong Malay opposition who wanted a more pro-Malay system, and demanding only single citizenship as opposed to the dual-citizenship option which would have allowed the significant immigrant communities to have claimed citizenship in both Malaya and their country of origin. Independence was achieved for the peninsula in August 31, 1957 under the name of the Federation of Malaya. Singapore's request to be part of this independant state was rejected by London at the time.
A new federation under the name of Malaysia was formed on September 16, 1963 through a merging of the Federation of Malaya and the British crown colonies of Singapore, North Borneo (renamed Sabah) and Sarawak, the latter two colonies being on the island of Borneo. The Sultanate of Brunei, though initially expressing interest in joining the Federation pulled out due to opposition from certain segments of the population as well as wrangling over the payment of oil royalties.
The early years of independence were marred by Indonesian efforts to control Malaysia, Singapore's eventual secession in 1965 and racial strife in 1969. The Philippines also made an active claim on Sabah on that period based upon the Sultanate of Brunei's cession of its north-east territories to the Sultanate of Sulu in 1704. The Philippine claim is still on-going.
After the racial riots of 1969, the controversial New Economic Policy - intended to increase the share of the economic pie owned by locals as opposed to other ethnic groups - was launched by Prime Minister Tun Abdul Razak. Malaysia has since maintained a delicate ethno-political balance, and developed a unique rule combining economic growth and a political rule that favours bumiputras (a group including ethnic Malayans) and moderate Islam.
Between the 1980s and the early 1990s, Malaysia experienced significant economic growth under Dr. Mahathir bin Mohamad, the 4th prime minister of Malaysia. The period saw a shift from an agricultural based economy to one based on manufacturing and industry in areas such as computers and consumer electronics.
In the late 1990s, Malaysia was shaken by the Asian financial crisis. Opposition to certain aspects of the existing system was put down by the government. The opposition runs the gamut from socialist and reformists to the party advocating the creation of an Islamic state.
In 2003, Dr. Mahathir, Malaysia's longest serving prime minister, retired in favour of his deputy, Abdullah Badawi. The new government advocated a moderate view of an Islamic state defined by the term Islam Hadhari.
Main article: Politics of Malaysia
The federation of Malaysia is a constitutional elective monarchy. It is nominally headed by the Paramount Ruler or Yang di-Pertuan Agong, commonly referred to as the king. Kings are selected for five-year terms from among the nine sultans of the Malay states, the other four states have titular Governors.
The system of government is closely modelled on that of Westminster, due to Malaysia's being a former British Colony. In practice however, more power is vested in the executive branch of government than the in the legislative. The general election must be held at least once every five years.
Executive power is vested in the cabinet led by the prime minister; the Malaysian constitution stipulates that the prime minister must be a member of the lower house of parliament who, in the opinion of the Yang di-Pertuan Agong, commands a majority in parliament. The cabinet is chosen from among members of both houses of parliament and is responsible to that body.
The bicameral parliament consists of the upper house (Dewan Negara, literally "National Hall") and the lower house (Dewan Rakyat, literally "People's Hall"). All 69 Senators sit for 6-year terms; 26 are elected by the 13 state assemblies, and 43 are appointed by the king. The 219 members of the House of Representatives are elected from single-member districts by universal adult suffrage, for a maximum term of 5 years. Legislative power is divided between federal and state legislatures.
The state goverments are led by chief ministers (Menteri Besar) selected by the state assemblies advising their respective sultans or governors.
See also: Courts of Malaysia
Main article: States of Malaysia
Malaysia is divided into fourteen political divisions: thirteen states (negeri) and three federal territories (wilayah persekutuan) that collectively has the status of a state.
Eleven states and two federal territories are in Peninsular Malaysia. Two states and one federal territory are in East Malaysia.
The states are: Johor, Kedah, Kelantan, Malacca, Negeri Sembilan, Pahang, Perak, Perlis, Penang, Sabah, Sarawak, Selangor, and Terengganu.
The federal territories are: Kuala Lumpur, Labuan, and Putrajaya.
Main article: Geography of Malaysia
Map of Peninsular and East Malaysia
The two distinct parts of Malaysia, separated from each other by the South China Sea, share a largely similar landscape in that both West- and East Malaysia feature coastal plains rising to often densely forested hills and mountains, the highest of which is Mount Kinabalu at 4,101 m on the island of Borneo/Kalimantan. The local climate is equatorial and characterised by the annual southwest (April to October) and northeast (October to February) monsoons.
Putrajaya is the newly created administrative capital for the federal government of Malaysia, aimed in part to ease growing congestion within Malaysia's capital city, Kuala Lumpur. The prime minister's office moved in 1999 and the move is expected to be completed in 2005. Kuala Lumpur remains the seat of parliament, as well as the commercial and financial capital of the country. Other major cities include George Town, Ipoh and Johor Bahru. See also List of cities in Malaysia.
Main article: Economy of Malaysia
Malaysia, a middle income country, transformed itself from 1971 through the late 1990s from a producer of raw materials into an emerging multi-sector economy via the controversial New Economic Policy (NEP). Growth is almost exclusively driven by exports - particularly of electronics - and, as a result, Malaysia was hard hit by the global economic downturn and the slump in the information technology (IT) sector in 2001. GDP in 2001 grew only 0.3% due to an estimated 11% contraction in exports, but a substantial fiscal stimulus package has mitigated the worst of the recession. In 2002, the economy recovered from the downturn in the previous years, by expanding 4.1%. In 2003 it further accelerated with a growth of 5.3% and in 2004 Malaysia's economy is expected to grow at 7.5%. Exports will increase by 21% to 127.0 Mio. US-$, Imports by 27% to 106.2 Mio. US-$.
Kuala Lumpur's stable macroeconomic environment, in which both inflation and unemployment stand at 3% or less, coupled with its healthy foreign exchange reserves and relatively small external debt make it unlikely that Malaysia will experience a crisis similar to the Asian financial crisis of 1997, but its long-term prospects are somewhat clouded by the lack of reforms in the corporate sector, particularly those dealing with competitiveness and high corporate debt.
The major stock exchanges are Bursa Malaysia.
In December 2004, Energy, Water and Communications Minister Datuk Seri Dr Lim Keng Yaik reported that only 0.85 per cent or 218,004 people in Malaysia used broadband services. This represented an increase from 0.45% in three quarters. He also stated that the government targeted usage of 5% by 2006 and doubling to 10% by 2008.
Oil & Gas
In 2004, Minister in the Prime Minister's Department, Datuk Mustapa Mohamed, revealed that Malaysia's oil reserves stood at 4.84 billion barrels while natural gas reserves increased to 89 trillion cubic feet (2,500 km³). This was an increase of 7.2 percent.
The government predicts that at current production rates Malaysia will produce oil for 18 years and gas for 35 years.
In 2004 Malaysia is ranked 24th in terms of world oil reserves and 13th for gas.
56% of the oil reserves exist in the Peninsula while 19% exist in East Malaysia.
The government collects oil royalties of which 5% are passed to the states and the rest retained by the federal government.
Main article: Demographics of Malaysia
Malaysia's population is comprised of many ethnic groups, with the politically dominant Malays making up the majority. By constitutional definition, all Malays are Muslim. About a quarter of the population are Chinese, who have historically played an important role in trade and business. Malaysians of Indian descent comprise about 7% of the population and include Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Christians, and Buddhists. About 85% of the Indian community is Tamil, but various other groups are represented, including Malayalis, Punjabis, and Chettiars.
Non-Malay indigenous groups make up more than half of the state of Sarawak's population, constitute about 66% of Sabah's population, and also exist in much smaller numbers on the Peninsula, where they are collectively called Orang Asli. The non-Malay indigenous population is divided into dozens of ethnic groups, but they share some general cultural similarities. Until the 20th century, most practiced traditional beliefs, but many have converted to Islam or Christianity. Other Malaysians also include those of, inter alia, European, Middle Eastern, Cambodian, and Vietnamese descent. Europeans and Eurasians include British who colonized and settled Malaysia and some Portuguese, and most Middle Easterners are mostly Arabs who first brought Islam to Malaysia. A small number of Kampucheans and Vietnamese settled in Malaysia as Vietnam War refugees. Population distribution is uneven, with some 20 million residents concentrated on the Malay Peninsula.
May 13, 1969 saw an incident of civil unrest which was then thought to be largely due to the socio-economic imbalance of the country along racial lines. This incident led to the adoption of the New Economic Policy as a two-pronged approach to address racial and economic inequality and to eradicate poverty in the country.
Main article: Culture of Malaysia
Malaysia is a multicultural society, with Malays, Chinese and Indians living side by side. The Malays are the largest community, numbering 60% of the population. They are Muslims, speak Malay (Bahasa Melayu) and are largely responsible for the political fortunes of the country. The Chinese comprise of about a quarter of the population. They are mostly Buddhists (of Mahayana sect), Taoists or Christian, and speak the Hokkien, Cantonese, Hakka and Teochew dialects, and have been historically dominant in the business community. The Indians account for about 10% of the population. They are mainly Hindu Tamils from southern India, speaking Tamil, Malayalam, and some Hindi, and live mainly in the larger towns on the west coast of the peninsula. There is also a sizeable Sikh community. Eurasians, Kampucheans, Vietnamese, and indigenous tribes make up the remaining population. Most Eurasians are Christians. Eurasians, of mixed Portuguese and Malay descent, speak a Portuguese creole, called Papia Kristang. Other Eurasians of mixed Malay and Spanish descent, descendants of immigrants from the Philippines, mostly in Sabah, speak the only Asian-Spanish creole, Chavacano. Cambodians and Vietnamese are mostly Buddhists (Cambodians of Theravada sect and Vietnamese, Mahayana sect). Malay is the official language of the country but English is widely spoken.
The largest indigenous tribe in terms of numbers is the Iban of Sarawak, who number over 600,000. The Iban who still live in traditional jungle villages live in longhouse along the Rajang and Lupar rivers and their tributaries. The Bidayuh (170,000) are concentrated in the south-western part of Sarawak. The largest indigenous tribe in Sabah is the Kadazan. They are largely Christian subsistence farmers. The Orang Asli (140,000), or aboriginal peoples, comprise a number of different ethnic communities live in Peninsular Malaysia. Traditionally nomadic hunter-gatherers and agriculturists, many have been sedentarised and partially absorbed into modern Malaysia. However, they remain the poorest group in the country. Malaysian traditional music is heavily influenced by Chinese and Islamic forms. The music is based largely around the gendang (drum), but includes percussion instruments (some made of shells); the rebab, a bowed string instrument; the serunai, a double-reed oboe-like instrument; flutes; and trumpets. The country has a strong tradition of dance and dance dramas, some of Thai, Indian and Portuguese origin. Other artistic forms include wayang kulit (shadow-puppets), silat (a stylised martial art) and crafts such as batik, weaving and silver and brasswork.
- myGovernment Portal (http://www.gov.my/) - Malaysian Government Portal
- Department of Statistics Malaysia (http://www.statistics.gov.my)
- Malaysia Guide (http://www.asinah.org/travel-guides/malaysia.html) - Tourism site
- Virtual Malaysia (http://www.virtualmalaysia.com) - Tourism site
- CIA World Factbook entry on Malaysia (http://www.cia.gov/cia/publications/factbook/geos/my.html)
- The Star Newspaper (http://www.thestar.com.my)
- Bursa Malaysia (http://www.bursamalaysia.com) - Malaysian Stock Exchange
- Malaysian Accounting Standard Board (http://www.masb.org.my)
- Bank Negara Malaysia (http://www.bnm.gov.my) - Central Bank
- Securities Commission (http://www.sc.com.my)