Skip to main content
Select Source:




CAPITAL: Kuala Lumpur

FLAG: The national flag consists of 14 alternating horizontal stripes, of which 7 are red and 7 white; a gold 14-pointed star and crescent appear on a blue field in the upper left corner.

ANTHEM: Negara Ku (My Country).

MONETARY UNIT: The Malaysian ringgit (m$), or dollar, is divided into 100 sen, or cents. There are coins of 1, 5, 10, 20, and 50 sens and 1 ringgit, and notes of 1, 5, 10, 20, 100, 500, and 1,000 ringgits. m$1 = us$0.26455 (or us$1 = m$3.78) as of 2005.

WEIGHTS AND MEASURES: The metric system became the legal standard in 1982, but some British weights and measures and local units also are in use.

HOLIDAYS: National Day, 31 August; Christmas, 25 December. Movable holidays include Vesak Day, Birthday of His Majesty the Yang di-Pertuan Agong, Hari Raya Puasa, Hari Raya Haji, the 1st of Muharram (Muslim New Year), Milad an-Nabi, Dewali, Thaipusam, and the Chinese New Year. Individual states celebrate the birthdays of their rulers and other holidays observed by native ethnic groups.

TIME: 7 pm = noon GMT.


Situated in Southeast Asia, Malaysia, with an area of 329,750 sq km (127,317 sq mi), consists of two noncontiguous areas: peninsular Malaysia (formerly West Malaysia), on the Asian mainland, and the states of Sarawak and Sabah, known together as East Malaysia, on the island of Borneo. Comparatively, the area occupied by Malaysia is slightly larger than the state of New Mexico. Peninsular Malaysia, protruding southward from the mainland of Asia, comprises an area of 131,587 sq km (50,806 sq mi), extending 748 km (465 mi) sse-nnw and 322 km (200 mi) ene-wsw. It is bordered on the n by Thailand, on the e by the South China Sea, on the s by the Strait of Johore, and on the w by the Strait of Malacca and the Andaman Sea, with a total boundary length of 2,068 km (1,285 mi).

Sarawak, covering an area of 124,449 sq km (48,050 sq mi), on the northwest coast of Borneo, extends 679 km (422 mi) nne-ssw and 254 km (158 mi) ese-wnw. It is bounded by Brunei on the n, Sabah on the ne, Indonesia on the e and S, and the South China Sea on the w. Sarawak's total boundary length is 2,621 km (1,629 mi). Situated at the northern end of Borneo, Sabah has an area of 74,398 sq km (28,725 sq mi), with a length of 412 km (256 mi) ew and a width of 328 km (204 mi) ns. To the n is the Balabac Strait, to the ne the Sulu Sea, to the se the Celebes Sea, to the s Indonesia, to the sw Sarawak, and to the w the South China Sea, with a total boundary length of 2,008 km (1,248 mi). the total boundary length of Malaysia is 7,344 km (4,563 mi), of which 4,675 km (2,905 mi) is coastline.

Malaysia claims several atolls of the Spratly Island group in the South China Sea. The claim, in a region where oil is suspected, is disputed by China, the Philippines, Taiwan, and Vietnam. Malaysia's capital city, Kuala Lumpur, is located in the western part of peninsular Malaysia.


Four-fifths of peninsular Malaysia is covered by rain forest and swamp. The northern regions are divided by a series of mountain ranges that rise abruptly from the wide, flat coastal plains. The highest peaks, Gunong Tahan (Mt. Tahan2,187 m/7,174 ft) and Gunong Korbu (2,183 m/7,162 ft), are in the north central region. The main watershed follows a mountain range about 80 km (50 mi) inland, roughly parallel to the west coast. the rivers flowing to the east, south, and west of this range are swift and have cut some deep gorges, but on reaching the coastal plains they become sluggish. The western coastal plain contains most of the country's population and the main seaports, George Town (on the offshore Pulau Pinang) and Kelang (formerly Port Swettenham). The eastern coastal plain is mostly jungle and lightly settled. It is subject to heavy storms from the South China Sea and lacks natural harbors.

Sarawak consists of an alluvial and swampy coastal plain, an area of rolling country interspersed with mountain ranges, and a mountainous interior. Rain forests cover the greater part of Sarawak. Many of the rivers are navigable. Sabah is split in two by the Crocker Mountains, which extend north and south some 48 km (30 mi) inland from the west coast, rising to over 4,101 m (13,455 ft) at Mt. Kinabalu, the highest point in Malaysia. Most of the interior is covered with tropical forest, while the western coastal area consists of alluvial flats making up the main rubber and rice land.


The climate of peninsular Malaysia is equatorial, characterized by fairly high but uniform temperatures (2331°c/7388°f) throughout the year, high humidity, and copious rainfall averaging about 250 cm/100 in annually. There are seasonal variations in rainfall, with the heaviest rains from October to December or January; except for a few mountain areas, the most abundant rainfall is in the eastern coastal region, where it averages over 300 cm (120 in) per year. Elsewhere the annual average is 200300 cm (80120 in), the northwestern and southwestern regions having the least rainfall. The nights are usually cool because of the nearby seas. the climate of East Malaysia is relatively cool for an area so near the equator.


About 59% of Malaysia consists of tropical rain forest. In peninsular Malaysia, camphor, ebony, sandalwood, teak, and many varieties of palm trees abound. Rain forest fauna includes seladang (Malayan bison), deer, wild pigs, tree shrews, honey bears, forest cats, civets, monkeys, crocodiles, lizards, and snakes. the seladang weighs about a ton and is the largest wild ox in the world. An immense variety of insects, particularly butterflies, and some over 250 species of birds are found.

On Sabah and Sarawak, lowland forests contain some 400 species of tall dipterocarps (hardwoods) and semihardwoods; fig trees abound, attracting small mammals and birds; and groves are formed by the extensive aerial roots of warangen (a sacred tree to indigenous peoples). As altitude increases, herbaceous plantsbuttercups, violets, and valerianbecome more numerous, until moss-covered evergreen forests are reached at elevations of 1,5201,830 m (5,0006,000 ft). Butterflies, brilliantly colored birds of paradise, and a great wealth of other insect and bird species inhabit the two states.

As of 2002, there were at least 300 species of mammals and over 15,500 species of plants throughout the country.


The Environmental Quality Act of 1974 and other environmental laws are administered by the Division of Environment of the Ministry of Science, Technology, and Environment. Discharge of untreated sewage has contaminated the nation's water; the most heavily polluted areas are along the west coast. Malaysia's water pollution problem also extends to its rivers, of which 40% are polluted. The nation has about 580 cu km of water with 76% of annual withdrawals used for farming and 13% used for industrial activity. Discharge of oil by vessels in Malaysian waters is prohibited. Malaysia's cities have produced an average of 1.5 million tons of solid waste per year.

Clean-air legislation limiting industrial and automobile emissions was adopted in 1978. However, air pollution from both of these sources is still a problem. In the mid-1990s, Malaysia ranked among 50 nations with the world's highest industrial carbon dioxide emissions, which totaled 70.5 million metric tons per year, a per capita level of 3.74 metric tons per year. In 2000, total carbon dioxide emissions were 144 million metric tons.

Of Malaysia's total land area, 59% is tropical rain forest. Malaysia has the world's fifth-most-extensive mangrove area, which total over a half a million hectares (over 1.2 million acres). the country's forests are threatened by commercial interests. In 2003, about 5.7% of the total land area was protected, including two natural UNESCO World Heritage Sites and five Ramsar wetland sites.

According to a 2006 report issued by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN), threatened species included 50 types of mammals, 40 species of birds, 21 types of reptiles, 45 species of amphibians, 34 species of fish, 17 types of mollusks, 2 species of other invertebrates, and 683 species of plants. Threatened species in Malaysia include the orangutan, tiger, Asian elephant, Malayan tapir, Sumatran rhinoceros, Singapore roundleaf horseshoe bat, four species of turtle (green sea, hawksbill, olive ridley, and leatherback), and two species of crocodile (false gavial and Siamese). At least three species have become extinct, including the double-banded argus.


The population of Malaysia in 2005 was estimated by the United Nations (UN) at 26,121,000, which placed it at number 44 in population among the 193 nations of the world. In 2005, approximately 5% of the population was over 65 years of age, with another 33% of the population under 15 years of age. There were 103 males for every 100 females in the country. According to the UN, the annual population rate of change for 200510 was expected to be 2.1%, a rate the government viewed as satisfactory. The projected population for the year 2025 was 36,058,000. The population density was 79 per sq km (205 per sq mi).

The UN estimated that 62% of the population lived in urban areas in 2005, and that urban areas were growing at an annual rate of 2.60%. The capital city, Kuala Lumpur, had a population of 1,352,000 in that year.


Not until British economic enterprise first attracted foreign labor after 1800 did large-scale Chinese, Indian, and Malaysian migration (nonnative Indonesians and Borneans) take place. the early migrants were transients: in 1921, only 20.3% of the Chinese and 11.9% of the Indians were Malayan-born. However, migration data for subsequent years show a general tendency toward permanent settlement by these nonindigenous portions of the population. The percentages of the total Chinese population reporting Malaysia as their birthplace were 29.1%, 62.5%, and 74.4% for the years 1931, 1947, and 1957, respectively; the percentages of Indians reporting their birthplace as Malaysia were 21.1%, 51.4%, and 64.6% for the same respective years. By 1953, the Malays were a minority in their own territory. The government enacted legislation restricting further immigration, and by 1968 the Malays formed slightly more than 50% of the population. Regulations that took effect in 1968 concerning passports and border crossings between Malaysia and Indonesia and between Malaysia and the Philippines were also intended to restrict immigration. Between 1975 and 1996, Malaysia hosted more than 250,000 Indo-Chinese refugees and permitted the local integration of some 45,000 Filipino refugees in Sabah. Between 1975 and 1989, more than 250,000 Vietnamese refugees found asylum in Malaysia; the vast majority subsequently migrated to other countries.

In 2000 there were 1,392,000 migrants living in Malaysia, including 50,500 refugees. In 2004 persons of concern to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) numbered 97,538. Refugees from Indonesia and Myanmar numbered 24,905, and asylum seekers, also from Indonesia and Myanmar, numbered 10,322. Others of concern numbered 63,311, including 57,197 Filipino Muslims, most residing in Sabah and Kuala Lumper.

According to Migration News, in 2005 there were about 1.5 million legal foreign workers in Malaysia, most from Indonesia, Bangladesh, India, and the Philippines, and another million unauthorized foreigners. Foreigners were about one-fourth of the total labor force of 10.5 million. Under government amnesty programs for unauthorized foreigners some 500,000 and 220,000 undocumented workers left in mid-2002 and in December 2004. In addition, between October 2004 and February 2005 another 380,000 unauthorized foreigner left or were expelled. Employers then claimed a shortage of workers on plantations and in construction. The government resumed the practice of permitting entrants on tourist visas to work if they found a job. In July 2005 the government declared that the 60,000 refugees in the country would be allowed to work.

The net migration rate in 200004 was an estimated zero migrants per 1,000. This rate does not reflect the unknown number of illegal immigrants, including large numbers from Indonesia and smaller numbers from the Philippines, Bangladesh, Myanmar (Burma), China, and India. The government views the immigration level as too high, but the emigration level as satisfactory.


The population of Malaysia consists of three main ethnic groupsMalays, Chinese, and peoples of the South Asian subcontinent. Collectively, indigenous groups are known as Bumiputras ("sons of the soil"). Estimates for 2004 reported the following distribution: Malays, 50.4%; Chinese, 23.7%; Bumiputras, 11%; Indians, 7.1%; and other groups, 7.8%. Malays predominate in the rural areas, while the Chinese are concentrated in urban and mining areas, where they control much of the nation's wealth; enmity between Malays and Chinese has occasionally erupted into violence. The non-Malay indigenous groups on the peninsula, collectively called the Orang Asli (aborigines), number about 147,000; they represent the poorest group of people in the country.

Non-Malay indigenous tribes constitute about half of Sarawak's residents; the largest indigenous group consists of the Sea Dayaks, or Ibans, followed by the Land Dayaks, or Bidayuh. the majority of Sabah's population consists of indigenous peoples, principally Kadazans, Bajaus, and Muruts. The balance is dominated by Chinese.


Bahasa Malaysia, or Malay, is the national language and the lingua franca of all Malaysia. The traditional Bahasa Malaysia script is Jawi, which derives from Arabic script, but Rumi, based on the Roman alphabet, is officially used in government, education, and business. English is widely employed in government and commerce and is a compulsory subject in all schools. Chinese (notably the Mandarin, Cantonese, Hokkien, Hakka, Hainan, and Foochow dialects), Tamil, Telugu, Malalalam, Punjabi, and Thai are spoken. In addition, in East Malaysia several indigenous languages are spoken, the largest of which are Iban and Kadazan. Most Malaysians are bilingual or multilingual.


In Malaysia, religious lines generally follow ethnic lines. Almost all Malays are Muslims; most Indians are Hindus, with a substantial minority of Muslims, Sikhs, and Parsees; and most Chinese are Confucian Buddhists, with a minority Muslim representation. Christianity has won some adherents among the Chinese and Indians. The indigenous peoples of Sabah and Sarawak are still largely animist, although many have become Christian. Shamanism is also practiced on East Malaysia.

According to a 2000 government census, about 60% of the population were Muslim, 19% Buddhist, 9% Christian, and 6% Hindu. About 3% practiced Confucianism, Taoism, or other traditional Chinese religions. Other faiths include animism, Sikhism, and Baha'ism.

Islam is the official religion and the head of state, the yang dipertuan agong, is also the national leader of the Islamic faith. While the constitution guarantees freedom to profess, practice, and propagate other religions, in practice religious practices of groups other than other than Sunni Muslims are restricted. Proselytizing of Muslims to non-Muslim religions is prohibited. the Malaysian Consultative Council of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, and Sikhism is an interfaith organization promoting mutual understanding and peace between religions. the Malaysian Council of Churches and the Christian Federation of Malaysia serve a similar purpose. The National Human Rights Commission has also worked to promote dialogue between faiths. Certain Christian, Muslim, and Hindu holidays are recognized as national holidays.


In 2002, the highway system of Malaysia consisted of 64,672 km (40,187 mi) of roads, of which 40,707 km (25,295 mi) were paved, including 1,192 km (741 mi) of expressways. The major highways on peninsular Malaysia run northsouth along the east and west coasts. Eastwest links connect George Town and Kota Baharu in the north and Kuala Lumpur and Kuantan farther south. As of 1991, (according to the Malaysian Highway Authority) the EastWest Highway (Federal Route 2) crossing peninsular Malaysia, as well as the Klang Valley Expressway connecting Kuala Lumpur to Port Klang were completed. The 924-km (574-mi) NorthSouth Highway along the west coast of peninsular Malaysia connects Thailand and Singapore. In 2003, registered vehicles included 5,590,000 automobiles and 1,142,000 commercial vehicles.

Malaysia's railway system as of 2004 consisted of 1,890 km (1,176 mi) of standard and narrow gauge railroads, of which 207 km (129 mi) was electrified. Of that total, narrow gauge lines accounted for 1,833 km (1,140 mi), of which 150 km (93 mi) were electrified. Rail lines on peninsular Malaysia are operated by the country's Malayan Railway Administration. These lines provide links to Thailand, Singapore, and the eastern parts of the peninsula. On the island of Borneo, the Sabah State Railways provides diesel service along the west coast and in the interior for 136 km (85 mi). There are no railroads in Sarawak.

There are 7,296 km (4,533 mi) of waterways in all of Malaysia: 3,209 km (1,994 mi) in peninsular Malaysia; 1,569 km (975 mi) in Sabah; and, 2,518 km (1,565 mi) in Sarawak.

The three leading ports, all located on the busy Strait of Malacca, are Kelang (the port for Kuala Lumpur), Johor Baharu, and George Town. Kuching is the main port for Sarawak, and Kota Kinabalu the main port for Sabah. The Malaysian merchant fleet in 2005 consisted of 346 ships of 1,000 GRT or more, totaling 5,389,397 GRT.

Also in 2004, there were an estimated 117 airports. As of 2005, a total of 37 had paved runways, and there was one heliport. Most international flights enter or leave Malaysia through Kuala Lumpur International Airport. Other principal airports include Kota Kinabalu, Kuching, and Penang. The Malaysian Airline System (MAS) provides domestic service to most major cities of the peninsula and to Sarawak and Sabah. In 2003, about 15.214 million passengers were carried on scheduled domestic and international flights.


The ancestors of the Malays came down from South China and settled in the Malay Peninsula about 2000 bc. Sri Vijaya, a strong Indo-Malay empire with headquarters at Palembang in southern Sumatra, rose about ad 600 and came to dominate both sides of the Strait of Malacca, levying tribute and tolls on the ships faring between China and India. In the 14th century, however, Sri Vijaya fell, and Malaysia became part of the Majapahit Empire centered in Java. About 1400, a fugitive ruler from Temasik (now Singapore) founded a principality at Malacca and embraced Islam. It was at Malacca that the West obtained its first foothold on the peninsula. At the height of glory and power, the Malacca principality fell to Portugal in 1511. In their turn, the Portuguese were driven out by the Dutch in 1641. The British East India Company laid the groundwork for British control of Malaya in 1786 by leasing from the sultan of Kedah the island of Pinang, off the west coast of Malaya, about 800 km (500 mi) north of Singapore. Fourteen years later, it obtained from him a small area on the mainland opposite Pinang. In 1819, Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles obtained permission to establish a settlement at Singapore; in 1824, by agreement and financial settlement, the island was ceded to the British East India Company. In the following year, the Dutch settlement at Malacca was ceded to Great Britain. Pinang, Singapore, and Malacca were combined under British rule in 1829 to form the Straits Settlements. The states of Perak and Selangor in 1874 secured treaties of protection from the British. Similar treaties were subsequently made with the sultans of Negri Sembilan (187489) and Pahang (1888). In 1895, these four states became a federation (the Federated Malay States), with a British resident-general and a system of centralized government. In 1909, under the Bangkok Treaty, Siam (now Thailand) ceded to British control the four northern states of Kelantan, Trengganu, Perlis, and Kedah. These four, together with Johor, which in 1914 was made a British protectorate, became known as the Unfederated Malay States. Separate British control was extended to Sabah, then known as North Borneo, in 1882. Six years later, North Borneo and Sarawak each became separate British protectorates. Tin mining and rubber cultivation grew rapidly under British rule, and large numbers of Chinese and Indian laborers were imported for these industries.

Japanese forces invaded Malaya and the Borneo territories in December 1941 and occupied them throughout World War II. Within a year after the Japanese surrender in September 1945, the British formed the Malayan Union, consisting of the nine peninsular states, together with Pinang and Malacca; also in 1946, Singapore and the two Borneo protectorates became separate British crown colonies. The Malayan Union was succeeded by the Federation of Malaya on 1 February 1948. Over the next decade, the British weathered a Communist insurgency as Malaya progressed toward self-government. On 31 August 1957, the Federation of Malaya became an independent member of the Commonwealth of Nations. On 1 August 1962, Great Britain and Malaya agreed in principle on the formation of the new state of Malaysiaa political merger of Singapore and the British Borneo territories (Sarawak, Brunei, and North Borneo) with the Federation. On 1 September 1962, by a 70% plurality, Singapore voted in a referendum for incorporation in the proposed Malaysia, but an abortive revolt staged by Brunei's ultranationalist Brunei People's Party in December 1962 eliminated the sultanate from the proposed merger. On 16 September 1963, the Federation of Malaya, the State of Singapore, and the newly independent British colonies of Sarawak and Sabah merged to form the Federation of Malaysia ("Federation" was subsequently dropped from the official name). On 7 August 1965, Singapore seceded from the Federation and established an independent republic. From the outset, Indonesia's President Sukarno attempted by economic and military means to take over the young nation and incorporate in into Indonesia; cordial relations between the two countries were not established until after Sukarno's ouster in 1966. Internal disorders stemming from hostilities between Chinese and Malay communities in Kuala Lumpur disrupted the 1969 national elections and prompted the declaration of a state of emergency lasting from mid-1969 to February 1971. Successive governments managed to sustain political stability until 1987, when racial tensions between Chinese and Malay increased over a government plan to assign non-Mandarin-speaking administrators to Chinese-language schools.

Between 1978 and 1989 Malaysia provided asylum to about 230,000 Vietnamese refugees as they awaited resettlement in the West. In March 1989 Malaysia responded to the continuing influx of refugees and the Western nations' slow efforts to place them with a plan to screen refugees in order to separate economic migrants from political refugees. This policy was confirmed by the United Nations (UN).

In October 1987 the Malaysian government, under provisions of the Internal Security Act (ISA), which allows detention without trial on grounds of national security, arrested 79 political and civil leaders and closed four newspapers in an effort to stifle dissent. The government called its actions necessary to prevent racial violence, but many prominent Malaysians, including Tunku Abdul Rahman, the country's first prime minister, condemned the actions. At the same time the government clamped down on all news sources disseminating what the government considered false news, and new legislation denied licensing to news sources not conforming to Malaysian values. In 1981 Dato' Hussein bin Onn was succeeded as prime minister by Sato' Sei Dr. Mahathir Mohamad, whose leadership came under criticism from within the United Malays National Organization (UMNO) and other political parties as racial tensions increased. Part of the challenge to Mahathir's party leadership came in the form of a legal suit claiming that some of the delegates to the UMNO elections of 1987 had not been legally registered, and therefore the election should be declared null and void. The High Court ruled that, due to the irregularities, UMNO was an unlawful society and that in effect the election was invalid. Mahathir held that the ruling did not affect the legal status of the government; he was supported by the ruling head of state, Tunku Mahmood Iskandar. In 1988 Mahathir formed a new UMNO, Umno Baru, and declared that party members would have to reregister to join. (Umno Baru was thereafter referred to as UMNO.) Under provisions of the ISA four people linked to the Parti Bersatu Sabah (PBS) were detained over alleged involvement in a secessionist plot in Sabah in June 1990. In July 1990 elections, the PBS won 36 of 48 seats in the Sabah State Legislative Assembly. Prior to the general election of 1990 the PBS aligned itself with the opposition, which had formed an informal electoral alliance, People's Might (Gagasan Rakyat). the National Front (BN) won 127 of the 180 seats, thus maintaining control of the House of Representatives with the two-thirds majority necessary to amend the constitution. The opposition increased its seats from 37 to 53. In 1992 the People's Might registered as a political organization and Tengku Razaleigh was elected chairman.

In 1990 the restructuring of the portfolio of the Ministry of Trade and Industry was rationalized into two new ministriesthe Ministry of International Trade and Industry (MITI) and the Ministry of Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs (MDTCA). In an action that was widely regarded as politically motivated, Datuk Seri Joseph Pairin Kitingan, chief minister of Sabah and president of the PBS, was arrested in January 1991 and charged with corruption, then released on bail. After subsequent meetings with Mahathir it was announced that the PBS state government had proposed power sharing with United Sabah National Organization (USNO). The head of USNO, Tun Mustapha Harun, resigned from USNO and joined UMNO. This switch necessitated a byelection and in May 1991 UMNO took its first seat in Sabah. the rise of Dayak nationalism in Sarawak was considered as less of a threat after the 1991 state elections. The Sarawak Native People's Party (Parti Bansa Dayak SarawakPBDS) retained only 7 of the 15 seats it had won in the 1987 election. A High Court ruling in 1991 upheld a ruling by the Ministry of Home Affairs banning the public sale of party newspapers. Speculation was that by targeting limited media outlets the government was muzzling the opposition press.

In 1991 UMNO raised the issue of the alleged abuse of privilege by Malaysia's nine hereditary rulers. A resolution tabled in 1990 had demanded the rulers be restrained from interfering in politics. In November 1992 the issue of the constitutional status of the sultans again arose when it was proposed that the rulers' immunity from prosecution be removed. The cases inpiring the proposed changes to the constitution were an assault on a hockey coach by the sultan of Johore, and a 1981 incident in which the sultan of Johore (before he became sultan) was convicted of homicide but pardoned by his father, who was sultan at the time. In January 1993 these proposed amendments to the constitution were passed. Immediately after passage of the bill, royal privileges other than those sanctioned and allocations not expressly provided in the constitution were withdrawn. The nine hereditary rulers first rejected the constitutional changes; however, they eventually agreed to a compromise formula on the bill that effectively removed the blanket legal immunity granted to them. The compromise upheld the constitutional stipulation of royal assent for laws affecting the monarchy. Criticism arose over Mahathir's handling of this situation, as it emphasized the antipathy between his authoritarian style and the "Malay way." These constitutional changes also highlighted Mahathir's moves to strengthen executive power at cost of the judiciary, to consolidate UMNO's control of the legislature, and to control the press. On 17 January 1994 Sabah's chief minister, Datuk Joseph Pairin Kitingan, was found guilty of corruption. the fine imposed on him fell short of the minimum required to disqualify him from office. Although the PBS won the Sabah polls in February 1994, Pairin resigned as the PBS's leading members joined the National Front, and the Sabah wing of UMNO (with 18 of 48 seats) was about to be installed. In August 1994 the government moved to ban the radical Islamic sect, Al-Arqam.

In the general election held 25 April 1995, the ruling National Front captured 162 parliamentary seats out of a possible 192, its biggest victory ever. The coalition won 64% of the popular vote and easily retained its two-thirds parliamentary majority.

The Asian economic crisis of 1997 affected both the economy and the political landscape in Malaysia. By early 1998, the Malaysian economy had undergone its first downturn in 13 years, and tensions over the handling of the crisis erupted between Prime Minister Mahathir, an economic isolationist, and his deputy, Anwar Ibrahim, who favored open-market policies. In September 1998, Mahathir removed Anwar from his cabinet and party posts and imposed currency controls. When Anwar publicly protested these moves and attempted to rally opposition to his former mentor's policies, he was arrested and later tried for corruption and sexual misconduct (sodomy). In 1999 Anwar was sentenced to six years in prison, and his wife launched a new political party, Keadilan (Justice), to contest the upcoming national elections.

The economy began to recover by the end of 1998 and in August 1999 the government officially announced that the recession was over. Responding to an April 2000 deadline for national elections, Mahathir called a snap election in November 1999. Although the arrest of Anwar and his treatment while in custody ignited widespread criticism of Mahathir and his government, the UMNO-led coalition maintained its two-thirds majority in parliament and Mahathir remained in power. However, electoral gains by the Islamic Party of Malaysia (Parti Se-Islam MalaysiaPAS) suggested a significant challenge to the popularity of the government and made PAS the country's largest opposition party.

On 9 March 2001, a wave of intercommunal violence between Malays and ethnic Indians began on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur, the worst in more than 30 years. Six people, including five of Indian origin, were killed and over 50 were injured. Most of the wounded were ethnic Indians. When opposition leaders claimed the casualty figures were higher, the government threatened to charge them with sedition, although charges were never brought.

In early April 2001, days before public protests were scheduled for the second anniversary of the sentencing of Anwar, 10 opposition leaders were detained under Malaysia's Internal Security Act (ISA). The ISA allows the detention of suspects for up to two years without trial. Most of the detainees were members of the opposition party Keadilan founded by Anwar's wife, Wan Aziziah. the government used a variety of laws to restrict freedom of expression, and peaceful rallies were broken up by the police. An AntiISA Movement (AIM) was formed to work for the repeal of the ISA, which as of 2006 was still in effect.

In September 2001, Malaysia and Singapore came to a series of agreements over issues that had strained relations between them for years. Largely prodded by concern over the growing influence of Islam in Malaysian politics, Singapore agreed to a Malaysian proposal that the causeway linking the two countries be demolished and replaced by a bridge and undersea tunnel after 2007. Malaysia agreed to supply water to Singapore after two water agreements expire in 2011 and 2061. Also discussed were disputes over the use of Malaysian-owned railway land in Singapore, and requests by Singapore to use Malaysian air space.

With the rise in popularity of the Islamic PAS party, Malaysia's image as a moderate Islamic state began to be questioned. In the aftermath of the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, countries in Southeast Asia were asked by the United States to increase their security plans and efforts to combat terrorism. However, many nations have been cautious of a broad sweeping link between Islam and terrorist activities. In May 2002, members of Association of Southeast Asian Neighbors (ASEAN) met in Kuala Lumpur to form a united antiterror front (including strengthening laws to govern the arrest, investigation, prosecution, and extradition of suspects), and pledged to set up a strong regional security framework. Alleged militants with suspected ties to Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda organization have been arrested in Malaysia. ISA detention was used as an antiterrorism measure, as were tightened laws against money laundering and harsher criminal penalties passed in 2003. The government continued to keep "extremist" Muslim organizations under surveillance.

In June 2002, Mahathir shocked the country with the news that he would resign in October 2003. It was to be the first transfer of the prime ministerial office in over 20 years. His successor was Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, one of three UMNO vice presidents. Badawi pledged to continue Mahathir's policies, but has a far more low-key political style. After just four months as an appointed prime minister, Badawi won an overwhelming mandate in the March 2004 national election, in which his UMNO took over 90% of the parliamentary seats, soundly defeating a challenge from the PAS opposition. During the election campaign, Badawi pledged more transparency in government. He also promoted a policy of Islam Hadhari (Civilized Islam) as a moderate, open, and tolerant alternative to fundamentalist or militant Islam.

Malaysia's Federal Court overturned the sodomy conviction of Anwar Ibrahim in September 2004, and he was freed after nearly six years of imprisonment. This was seen as the real end of the Mahathir era's authoritarianism, although Anwar's eventual role in Malaysian politics remained unclear through 2006. With Badawi's UMNO landslide in the 2004 elections, the status of the opposition as personified by Anwar was much diminished.

A devastating tsunami in December 2004 caused far less damage in Malaysia than in neighboring Thailand and Indonesia; there were fewer than 100 deaths in Malaysia and the Malaysian government did not seek international tsunami relief. A health emergency was declared in August 2005 when smoke from Indonesian forest fires enveloped Kuala Lumpur. Indonesia announced plans to indict 10 companies for burning forest land for plantations; 8 of the companies were Malaysian.

The Badawi government's policies regarding illegal immigrants, mostly from strife-prone areas of Indonesia and Myanmar, seemed inconsistent, when an amnesty was followed by a crackdown in March 2005. Immigrant workers were detained, imprisoned, and deported. With a need for workers, particularly in the construction sector, Malaysia continued to attract immigrants in 2005, and government policy appeared unclear regarding the political refugees and asylum seekers among those foreign workers.


Malaysia is a constitutional monarchy consisting of 13 states, 9 of which were formerly sultanates under British protection and 4 of which (Melaka, Pulau Pinang, Sarawak, and Sabah) were former British settlements ruled by appointed governors.

The constitution, promulgated on 31 August 1957 and subsequently amended, derives from the former Federation of Malaya, with provisions for the special interests of Sabah and Sarawak. It provides for the election of a head of state, the yang di-pertuan agong (paramount ruler), for a single term of five years by the Conference of Rulers. The constitution also provides for a deputy head of state, chosen in the same manner and for the same term.

The Conference of Rulers consists of the nine hereditary sultans. Its consent must be obtained for any law that alters state boundaries; affects the rulers' privileges, honors, or dignities; or extends any religious acts, observances, or ceremonies to the country as a whole. The conference must also be consulted on proposed changes of administrative policy affecting the special position of the Malays or the vital interests of other communities.

The yang di-pertuan agong, who must be one of the hereditary sultans, is commander in chief of the armed forces and has the power to designate judges for the Federal Court and the High Courts on the advice of the prime minister, whom he appoints. Until January 1984, the paramount ruler had the right to veto legislation by withholding his assent; this right was lost in a constitutional compromise that gave the paramount ruler the right to delay new laws for up to 60 days but also stipulated that, if passed by a two-thirds majority, a bill may become law after six months without his signature.

The yang di-pertuan agong from 1979 to 1984 was Ahmad Shah al-Musta'in Billah Ibni al-Marhum, the sultan of Pahang. the leading candidate to succeed him was Idris al-Mutawakil Allahi Shah Ibni al-Marhum, the sultan of Perak, but when Idris died of a heart attack on 31 January 1984, the Conference of Rulers selected Mahmud Iskandar Ibni al-Marhum Sultan Ismail. As crown prince of Johor he had been convicted of homicide in a shooting incident in 1977 but had been pardoned by his father and became sultan in 1981. In 1989 the sultan of Perak, Azlan Muhibuddin Shah, became the yang di-pertuan agong. He was succeeded in 1994 by Tuanku Ja'afar ibni Al-Marhum Tuanku Abdul Rahman, who was in turn succeeded in 1999 by Salehuddin Abdul Aziz Shah ibni Al-Marhum Hismuddin Alam Shah. Salehuddin died in office on 21 November 2001 and was succeeded in 2002 by Tuanku Syed Sirajuddin ibni Almarhum Tuanku Syed Putra Jamalullail, the sultan of Perlis.

Executive power rests with the cabinet, chosen by the prime minister, who is the leader of the majority party or coalition of the house of representatives (Dewan Rakyat), the lower house of parliament. The 193 members of the house of representatives must be at least 21 years old; they are elected by universal adult suffrage (at age 21). Their term is five years unless the house is dissolved earlier. The 69-member senate (Dewan Negara) consists of 26 elected members (2 from each state); 2 members appointed by the paramount ruler to represent the federal territory of Kuala Lumpur, and 1 to represent the island of Labaun; and 40 members appointed by the paramount ruler on the basis of distinguished public service or their eligibility to represent the ethnic minorities. Senators must be at least 30 years old; they hold office for six year terms.


Before World War II, there was limited political activity in Malaya, but the Japanese occupation and its aftermath brought a new political awareness. Postwar political parties sought independence, and although the Malays feared domination by the populous minorities, particularly the economically stronger Chinese, the United Malays National Organization (UMNO), the leading Malay party, and the Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA) formed the Alliance Party in 1952. This party was later joined by the Malaysian Indian Congress (MIC) and became the nation's dominant political party. The Malayan Communist Party, a powerful and well-organized group after the war, penetrated and dominated the trade unions. In 1948, after the Communists had resorted to arms, they were outlawed.

In the elections of April 1964, the Alliance Party won a majority of 89 of the 154 House seats. The third general election since independence was held in peninsular Malaysia on 10 May 1969; in the balloting, the Alliance Party suffered a setback, winning only 66 seats. The election was followed by communal rioting, mainly between Malays and Chinese, resulting in much loss of life and damage to property. The government suspended parliament and declared a state of emergency; elections in Sarawak and Sabah were postponed until July 1970. By the time parliament was reconvened on 22 February 1971, the Alliance had achieved a two-thirds majority (required for the passage of constitutional amendments) with the addition of 10 unopposed seats from Sabah and through a coalition with the Sarawak United People's Party, which controlled 12 seats.

The elections for state assemblies resulted in a setback for the Alliance Party, which before the elections had controlled 10 of the 13 state assemblies, but after the elections only 7. In September 1970, Tunku Abdul Rahman retired as prime minister and was replaced by the deputy prime minister, Tun Abdul Razak. In 1973, the Alliance Party formed a broader coalition consisting of the UMNO, MCA, MIC, and eight minority parties. Known as the National Front and led by the UMNO, the ruling coalition was returned to power in the 1974, 1978, 1982, and 1986 elections with overwhelming majorities (148 of 177 seats in 1986). In April 1987, Mahathir narrowly overcame a challenge to his leadership of the UMNO. The principal opposition parties (which win few seats owing to a legislative apportionment scheme that heavily favors Malay voters) are the Chinese-based Democratic Action Party (DAP), founded in 1966, and the Parti sa Islam Malaysia (PAS), dedicated to establishing an Islamic state. The post-Mahathir 2004 elections made UMNO more dominant than ever, with an over 90% mandate.

As of 2003 there were more than 20 registered parties. the governing coalition is the Barisan Nasional (National Front), led by the United Malays National Organization (UMNO) and comprising 13 other parties, most ethnically based. Major opposition groups are the Muslim Unity Movement (APU), dominated by the Parti sa Islam Malaysia (PAS); the Democratic Action Party (DAP), which is predominantly Chinese and socialist; the Parti Bersatu Sabah (PBS); and Keadilan, formed by Wan Aziziah Wan Ismail, the wife of government official Anwar Ibrahim, who was jailed from 19992004.

In the election held 28 and 29 November 1999, the 193 seats of the lower house were distributed as follows: National Front (148 seats), DAP (10), PBS (3), PAS (27), and Keadilan (5). In the election, PAS won control of the state governments of Kelantan and Terengganu, giving it 2 of Malaysia's 13 states.

In the March 2004 general election, the UMNO-dominated Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition took 198 of 219 seats in parliament's lower house, and won control of 11 of 12 state governments contested. The opposition Parti Islam sa Malaysia (PAS) won only six seats, losing even in conservative Muslim states. the Democratic Action Party (DAP) won 12 seats, making DAP's Lim Kit Siang the opposition leader in the Malaysian parliament. the PAS and the DAP were at odds over religious policy issues and the opposition was in a particularly weakened position. The next national election was scheduled to take place by 2009.


Of the 11 peninsular Malaysian states, 9 are headed by sultans, who act as titular rulers and as leaders of the Islamic faith in their respective states. The other two peninsular states, Pinang and Melaka, are headed by federally appointed governors. State governments are parliamentary in form and share legislative powers with the federal parliament. Effective executive authority in each state is vested in a chief minister, selected by the majority party in the state legislature. The legislative assembly, composed of elected members, legislates in conformity with Malaysian and state constitutions, subject to the sultan's assent. In peninsular Malaysia the states are divided into districts, each of which consists of 5 to 10 subdistricts, called mukims (derah in Kelantan). Each mukim is responsible for varying numbers of kampongs (villages or compounds). The mukim may include villages or consist of large, sparsely populated tracts of land. Each one is headed by a penghulu (penggawa in Kelantan), a part-time official locally elected for five years, who serves as the principal liaison between the district and the village. The village elects a ketua (chief).

Upon incorporation into the Federation of Malaysia in 1963, both Sabah and Sarawak adopted separate constitutions for their local self-government; each is headed by a chief minister, appointed by the majority party of the elective legislature. In Sarawak, divisions and districts are the main subdivisions; in Sabah their counterparts are residencies and districts. The district officer is the most important link between the governing and the governed. His responsibilities are administrative, fiscal, and judicial. Kuala Lumpur, the national capital and former capital of Selangor State, was constituted as a separate federal territory, under the national government, on 1 February 1974. The mayor is appointed by the paramount ruler on the advice of the prime minister.


Malaysia has a unified judicial system, and all courts take cognizance of both federal and state laws. The legal system is founded on British common law. Most cases come before magistrates and sessions courts. Religious courts decide questions of Islamic law and custom. The use of religious law by states, and selective, inconsistent enforcement by religious officers, has become controversial. The use of the Internal Security Act (ISA) against dissidents and restrictions of the press and freedom of expression remain concerns of civil libertarians and international human rights organizations.

The Federal Court, the highest court in Malaysia, reviews decisions referred from the High Court of Peninsular Malaysia, the High Court of Sabah and Sarawak, and subordinate courts. the Federal Court, of which the yang di-pertuan agong is lord president, has original jurisdiction in disputes among states or between a state and the federal government. The Federal Court consists of the chief justice, the two chief judges from the High Courts, and seven other judges. Administrative detention is permitted in security cases, in which certain other guarantees of due process are reportedly suspended.

The judiciary has traditionally functioned with a high degree of independence. Most civil and criminal cases are fair and open. The accused must be brought before a judge within 24 hours of arrest. Defendants have the right to counsel and to bail. Strict rules of evidence apply in court and appeal is available to higher courts. Criminal defendants may also appeal for clemency to the paramount ruler or to the local state ruler. Severe penalties, including the death penalty, are imposed for drug-related offenses.

High courts have jurisdiction over all serious criminal cases and most civil cases. The sessions courts hear the cases involving landlord-tenant disputes and car accidents. Magistrates' courts hear criminal cases in which the maximum sentence does not exceed 12 months. The Court of Appeals has jurisdiction over high court and sessions court decisions.


In 2005, Malaysia had 110,000 active personnel in its armed forces, with 51,600 reservists. The total strength of the Army was 80,000, including infantry and armored battalions, artillery regiments, and supporting air defense, signal, engineer, special forces, and administrative units. Equipment included 26 Scorpion light tanks, 418 reconnaissance vehicles, 1,020 armored personnel carriers, and 414 artillery pieces. The Navy had 15,000 active personnel including a 160-person naval aviation arm and a unit of naval commandos. Major naval units included 4 frigates, 6 corvettes, 35 patrol/coastal vessels, and 4 mine warfare ships. The naval aviation arm operated six antisubmarine warfare helicopters. the Air Force had 15,000 personnel and 63 combat capable aircraft that included 28 fighters and 16 fighter ground attack aircraft. Paramilitary forces numbered an estimated 20,100, and included aviation and marine police units. There was also the People's Volunteer Corps, which had 240,000 reservist personnel, of which around 17,500 were armed. In 2005, Malaysia provided support to 10 UN peacekeeping missions. Australia provides a small training mission. The defense budget for 2005 totaled $2.47 billion.


Malaysia became a member of the United Nations on 17 September 1957, and participates in ESCAP and several nonregional specialized agencies, such as the FAO, UNESCO, UNIDO, IFC, IAEA, the World Bank, and the WHO. It also belongs to the WTO, the Asian Development Bank, ASEAN, the Commonwealth of Nations, APEC, the Arab Bank for Economic Development in Africa, the Colombo Plan, the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), and G-77.

Before the 1970s, Malaysia pursued a pro-Western policy, but it later promoted the neutralization of Southeast Asia while establishing ties with China, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, and Cuba, and strengthening relations with the USSR and other East European states. Links with its traditional allies, including the United States, remained strong in the course of this transition. Relations with the United Kingdom were strained in the early 1980s, after the British imposed surcharges on foreign students attending universities in the United Kingdom and issued new regulations reducing opportunities for foreign takeovers of British-owned companies. Malaysia agreed to drop its "buy British last" campaign in 1983 after the United Kingdom expanded scholarship opportunities for Malaysian students.

In 1986 there was some friction with Singapore because of its improved relations with Israel. Malaysia shares the anti-Zionist ideology of the Arab League countries. The nation has offered support to UN missions and operations in Kosovo (est. 1999), Western Sahara (est. 1991), Ethiopia and Eritrea (est. 2000), Liberia (est. 2003), Sierra Leone (est. 1999), East Timor (est. 2002), and Burundi (est. 2004), among others. The country is part of the Nonaligned Movement.

In the 1990s and early 2000s Malaysia has been building better relations with its neighbors. Malaysia has cooperated with the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), a 23-member Asian security network, helping to reduce tensions over the disputed Spratley Islands in the South China Sea. Malaysia also seeks increased economic integration in Southeast Asia. In 1990, Prime Minister Mahathir proposed the creation of an East Asian Economic Caucus, an idea that was initially regarded with skepticism, but was subsequently taken up by the ASEAN+3 group (the ten ASEAN members plus China, Japan, and South Korea) as a way of strengthening financial and trade ties between those states.

In environmental cooperation, Malaysia is part of the Basel Convention, the Convention on Biological Diversity, Ramsar, CITES, International Tropical Timber Agreements, the Kyoto Protocol, the Montréal Protocol, MARPOL, the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, and the UN Conventions on the Law of the Sea, Climate Change, and Desertification.


Malaysia was one of the most prosperous nations in Southeast Asia before 1998, albeit with the mood swings inherent in an export-oriented economy. Until the 1970s, Malaysia's economy was based chiefly on its plantation and mining activities, with rubber and tin the principal exports. Since then, however, Malaysia has added palm oil, tropical hardwoods, petroleum, natural gas, and manufactured items, especially electronics and semiconductors, to its export list. This diversification greatly reduced the nation's dependence on overseas commodity markets. By 1980, rubber accounted for about 7.5% of the value of all exports, down from 30% in the 1970s, and tin for about 4.3%, down from about 20% in the 1970s. The worldwide recession in 198182 hurt the Malaysian economy. Prices of Malaysia's traditional commodity exports were depressed, growth slowed, and investment fell. Government efforts to stimulate the economy through spending on heavy industry and infrastructure projects financed by borrowing pushed foreign debt from $4 billion in 1980 to $15 billion in 1984.

In 1985, the GDP in current prices was estimated at $31 billion, up from $25 billion in 1981. Real growth rates rose to 6.9% in 1981, and 7.6% in 1984, but declined 1.0% in 1985. In 198586 Malaysia's period of high growth was halted abruptly as both oil and palm oil prices were halved. Recovery began in late 1986 and 1987, spurred by foreign demand for exports. Growth rates reached an average 89% from 198792, and for most of the 1990s, the economy grew annually by just under 9%.

The Asian financial crisis put an end to 13 years of uninterrupted growth with a decline in GDP of -7.4% in 1998. the government's response was to embark on a massive economic recovery program, aimed at stabilizing the currency, restoring market confidence, maintaining market stability, strengthening economic fundamentals, furthering socioeconomic goals, and reviving badly affected sectors. The program featured two fiscal stimulus packages amounting to 2.25% of GDP and the establishment of three special purpose agencies: the Danahartaalso known as the National Asset Management acquire and dispose of nonperforming loans (NPLs); the Danamodal, charged with implementing government policy on recapitalizing financial institutions; and the Corporate Debt Restructuring Committee (CDRC), to facilitate voluntary debt restructuring between creditors and viable corporate debtors. More controversially, the government proceeded in 2000 with merger plans to consolidate Malaysia's banks into 10 "anchor" banks and to consolidate Malaysian domestic brokerage houses into 15 "universal brokers." The rationale behind the consolidations was that larger entities would be better able to compete with international counterparts. Gross domestic product growth recovered to 6.3% in 1999 and increased to 7.9% in 2000, but was reduced to 0.7% in 2001 as the global economic slowdown and the aftermath of the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States helped produce a 10.6% reduction in exports.

In 2002, the economy continued to recover, reaching an annual growth rate of about 3.5%. Since late 2001, Malaysia has taken a leading role, with Bahrain, in seeking to institutionalize Islamic banking. In November 2001 Malaysia signed an agreement with Bahrain, Indonesia, Sudan and the Saudi-based Islamic Development Bank (IDB) to establish the International Islamic Financial Market (IIFM). This is an extension of its domestic efforts to foster Islamic banking going back to the Islamic Banking Act of 1983, under which it was the first Islamic economy to issue bonds on an Islamic basis. In June 2002 Malaysia took the lead in offering the world's first Islamic global bond issue. The Islamic bond is a problem because Islam forbids paying or receiving interest. the 144a offering (not subject to SEC disclosure regulations) in the name of the Malaysia Global Sukuk (MGS) involves MGS buying from the Malaysian government the Ministry of Finance building, two hospitals, and a civil service accommodation, and leasing them back to the government for a period of five years, during which time the government issues trust certificates to the investors with payments exactly equal to lease rental payments being made by the government to MGS. At the end of five years, in 2007, the government will buy back the properties at the face value of the bond. These arrangements were judged compliant with Islamic law. the Trust Certificates had their primary listing on the Luxembourg Stock Exchange in August 2002, and their secondary listing on Malaysia's Labuan International Financial Exchange (LFX) in September 2002. The LFX is part of Malaysia's Labuan International Offshore Financial Centre (IOFC), established in October 1990 by the government to provide a full array of financial services for multinational corporations and investors. the MSG certificates are part of an effort to provide Sharia-compliant instruments for a growing Islamic financial market, estimated in 2002 at $200 billion. The Labuan Offshore Financial Services Authority (OFSA) took credit for initiating the idea for the establishment of the IIFM in November 2001. A Malaysian heads the IIFM and the Islamic Financial Service Organization (IFSO) is headquartered in Malaysia. As host country for the IFSO, Malaysia will lead in formulating and developing standards for the regulation of Islamic financial institutions.

In 1990, Malaysia was the world's largest producer of natural rubber, accounting for one-quarter of world production. By 1993, however, production was overtaken by both Thailand and Indonesia. During the late 1990s, production of synthetic rubbers undercut the natural rubber industry. In 1990 Malaysia was the world's largest exporter of tropical hardwood, the world's fourth-largest producer of cocoa, and the source of 60% of the world's palm oil. By 2001, Malaysia exported over half of the world's fixed vegetable oils, accounting for approximately 6.7% of Malaysia's exports. In 2002, electronics accounted for two-thirds of total exports. Malaysia remains a major producer of commodities including rubber, tin, palm oil, tropical hardwoods, cocoa, and pepper. It also produces and exports oil, petroleum products, and liquefied natural gas, amounting to 5% of total exports in 1998.

Government or government-owned entities dominate a number of sectors (plantations, telecommunications, and banking). Since 1986 the government has moved toward the eventual privatization of telecommunications, ports, highways, and electricity production and distribution. In the 1990s, the government embarked on a privatization program aimed at creating a Malaysian business elite as part of its bumiputera (literally, "sons of the soil") policy. However, virtually all the major privatized companies failed in the Asian financial crisis, 199798 (including the carmaker Proton, Malaysian Airlines, the engineering group Renong, and the media group, Malaysian Resources) and were renationalized in the aftermath. the official unemployment rate at 2.6% in 1996 hovered around 3.6% in 200105. the inflation rate as measured by consumer prices, at 5.1% for 1998, fell sharply in the succeeding years to 1.6% in 2000, 1.4% in 2001, 1.8% in 2002, but had risen to 2.9% by 2005. Sarawak's basic economy is subsistence agriculture, supplemented by petroleum production and refining, the collection of forest produce, fishing, and the cultivation of cash crops, primarily rubber, timber and pepper. Sabah's economy rests primarily on logging and petroleum production.

On 1 September 1998, the government pegged the ringgit at m$3.8 = us$1. The government maintained this fixed exchange rate until 21 July 2005, when the peg was replaced by a managed floating exchange rate based on a basket of trade-weighted currencies. Real GDP was forecast to grow by an average 5.1% in 200607, supported by household and investment spending, which will bolster growth in the services sector. Although the trade and current-account surpluses were expected to narrow over the 200607 period, their nominal values were forecast to still be large compared with levels seen in the 1990s. By 2002, Malaysia was the world's dominant world producer of palm oil. Malaysia, like most countries in Southeast Asia, is dependent upon exports for its growth. In 2004, a double-digit surge in exports lifted the region's growth to 6.3%. But in remaining export-driven, the region is vulnerable to the vagaries of the world economy. Reviving domestic consumption is seen as a key to the region's successful economic future.


The US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) reports that in 2005 Malaysia's gross domestic product (GDP) was estimated at $248.0 billion. The CIA defines GDP as the value of all final goods and services produced within a nation in a given year and computed on the basis of purchasing power parity (PPP) rather than value as measured on the basis of the rate of exchange based on current dollars. The per capita GDP was estimated at $10,400. the annual growth rate of GDP was estimated at 5.1%. the average inflation rate in 2005 was 2.9%. It was estimated that agriculture accounted for 7.2% of GDP, industry 33.3%, and services 59.5%.

According to the World Bank, in 2003 remittances from citizens working abroad totaled $987 million or about $40 per capita and accounted for approximately 1.0% of GDP. Foreign aid receipts amounted to $109 million or about $4 per capita and accounted for approximately 0.1% of the gross national income (GNI).

The World Bank reports that in 2003 household consumption in Malaysia totaled $45.36 billion or about $1,829 per capita based on a GDP of $103.7 billion, measured in current dollars rather than PPP. Household consumption includes expenditures of individuals, households, and nongovernmental organizations on goods and services, excluding purchases of dwellings. It was estimated that for the period 1990 to 2003 household consumption grew at an average annual rate of 4.9%. It was estimated that in 1998 about 8% of the population had incomes below the poverty line.


In 2005, Malaysia's total labor force was estimated at 10.67 million. As of 2004, agriculture accounted for 14.8% of the workforce, 30.1% by industry, and 55.1% by the services sector. Unemployment in 2005 was estimated at 3.6%.

Workers have the right to engage in union activity, but only about 9% of the workforce were unionized in 2005 and were covered by 617 trade unions. Negotiations between unions and employers are voluntary and strikes are permitted but limited due to many restrictions. In addition, unions must be registered with the director general of trade unions, the latter of which can refuse or revoke a union's registration, thus making the union an unlawful association. If a labor dispute has been referred to an industrial court for settlement, the employees are prohibited from engaging in a strike.

As of 2005, the employment of children under the age of 14 is prohibited by law, although some exceptionswhich include public entertainment, family businesses, as an approved apprentice, and work in school or a training facility for the governmentare permitted. However, child labor persists in some areas of the country and protective labor legislation in Malaysia is more extensive than in most Asian countries. The workweek is set at a maximum of 48-hours, 6 days per week, 8 hours per day Actual weekly hours tend to be closer to 44 hours. There is a legal requirement of one rest day per week. There is no national minimum wage that governs all workers, the government preferring to leave wage rates to market forces. Prevailing market wages provide a decent standard of living for a worker and family, although this was not the case with all migrant workers. Occupational safety and health provisions are set by law but are erratically enforced. The provisions are more rigorously enforced in the formal economic sector and are least enforced on plantations and construction sites where immigrant workers are employed. These foreign workers have no legal protections and are prohibited from forming unions.


Agriculture contributed 10% of GDP in 2003 (down from 38% in 1960), occupied about 16% of the employed work force, and accounted for 8.6% of export earnings in 2004. Diversificationincluding development of such newer crops as oil palm, cocoa, and pineappleswas promoted by the government. Much of Sabah and Sarawak is covered with dense jungle and is not conducive to farming. Peninsular Malaysia, however, is predominantly an agricultural region. Cultivation is carried out on the coastal plains, river valleys, and foothills.

Domestic rice cultivation furnishes peninsular Malaysia with about 80% of its requirements; most of the rice supply for Sabah and Sarawak, however, must be imported. Milled rice production for 2004 totaled 2,183,000 tons, of which about 70% came from peninsular Malaysia. Rubber production totaled 1,190,000 tons in 2004. The government, through the Rubber Research Institute of Malaysia, has concentrated on improving production, but many estates have switched to production of the more profitable oil palm. Although Malaysia produced 12% of the world's rubber in 2004 and typically accounts for over one-third of the world's rubber exports, rubber is no longer the country's primary source of export income. Competition from Thailand and Indonesia has diminished the Malaysian market share for rubber.

Production of palm oil and palm kernel oil totaled 13,976,200 and 3,622,000 tons respectively in 2004, more than any other country in the world. More than 90% of all rubber and palm oil is produced in peninsular Malaysia. Black and white peppers are grown on Sarawak; pepper exports amounted to $31.6 million in 2004. Output of lesser agricultural products in 2004 included coconuts, 710,000 tons; cocoa, 33,000 tons; and pineapples, 320,000 tons.


Peninsular Malaysia is free of most of the infectious and contagious diseases that plague livestock in the tropical zone, but the livestock industry is of minor importance. The livestock population in 2005 included 2,150,000 hogs, 755,000 head of cattle, 225,000 goats, 119,000 sheep, and 130,000 buffalo. the swamp buffalo and indigenous breeds of cattle are used mainly as draft animals. Production of meat in 2005 included (in tons): poultry, 965,000; pork, 205,500; and beef (cattle), 21,200. Malaysia is self-sufficient in pork and poultry production and also exports to other countries in the region, particularly Singapore and Japan. Sarawak's poultry sector was growing by 7% annually in response to increased demand from neighboring Kalimantan, Indonesia, where during certain festive months there is a poultry shortage. Malaysia has been monitoring outbreaks of bird flu, with the third case reported in September 2004, believed to have been caused by poultry smuggled along the Malaysia-Thailand border. the government prohibits the importation of chicken and chicken parts in order to protect domestic producers. Hog-raising and export are handled mainly by non-Muslim Chinese. Milk production was 45,125 tons in 2005.


Fishing was being developed both as a means of reducing unemployment and as a primary source of protein in the country's diet. The total catch in 2003 was 1,477,195 tons, as compared with 296,300 tons in 1966; the increase has been largely the result of expanded and improved marketing facilities. Exports of fisheries products were valued at $435.1 million in 2003, with imports of $365.8 million that year. A government training program in navigation and engine care was accelerating the use of powerboats. Freshwater fishing, which accounted for 2% of the total catch, occurred in paddy fields or irrigation ditches and was integrated with rice farming and hog production.


Malaysia produced an estimated 21.8 million cu m (770 million cu ft) of roundwood from a forest area of 17.7 million hectares (43.7 million acres) in 2004. About 33% of the forest area is located in peninsular Malaysia, 22% in Sabah, and 45% in Sarawak.

After 40 years of large scale conversion of lowland forest areas into agricultural plantations, the pace of new land development declined in the mid-1990s. Reduced land availability and a growing need to preserve remaining forests resulted in a 60% reduction from the government's 199195 plan in the total acreage of land scheduled for development. Of the total natural forest area, 14.2 million hectares (35 million acres) of forested land is designated as Permanent Forest Estate, of which 78% is available for sustainable production.

Exports of timber products in 2004 amounted to $5.2 billion, or 4.1% of total exports. Exports of tropical hardwoods in 2004 included (in thousands of cubic meters) logs, 5,118; lumber, 2,761; veneer, 394; and plywood, 4,348. In keeping with the National Forestry Policy of 1978, exports of sawn logs are being progressively reduced (in fact, many states ban the export of logs) in favor of domestic development of veneer, plywood, furniture, and other wood-using industries. Only Sarawak exports tropical hardwood logs, but its state government has placed further restrictions on exporting logs in order to encourage expansion of value-added activities. As of 2004, eight states and 40 timber companies have been given permits for compliance with the government's timber certification program to provide assurance of sustainable and legal sources of forest products to buyers of Malaysian timber.


Malaysia is a producer of bauxite, coal, ilmenite, iron ore, kaolin, monazite, sand and gravel, struverite, tin, zircon, and natural gas and oil. Although the country's mining sector in 2004 accounted for 7% gross domestic product (GDP), gas and oil accounted for 95% of that sector. In addition, Malaysia's tin mining sector has been declining because of depleted high-grade reserves and lower tin resources. In 2004, Malaysia mined 2,745 metric tons of tin, down from 3,359 metric tons in 2003, and down from 6,307 metric tons in 2000. To revitalize the tin-mining industry, the Malaysian Chamber of Mines recommended that the government of Perak, one of the two main tin-mining states (Selangor being the other), change the royalty rate to a flat rate. In 2004, total exports were valued at $126.5 billion, of which mining products accounted for 11.5% of that total. However, the bulk of that figure was from oil and liquefied natural gas ($6 billion and $7.1 billion, respectively) with major mineral exports valued at only $424 million, of which tin accounted for $289 million

Subsoil resources were public property of the states, which granted prospecting licenses and mining leases. Royalties on coal and gold accrued to the states. Export duties were levied on other minerals by the government, which returned a portion to the states.

Iron ore production (by gross weight) in 2004 totaled 663,732 metric tons, up from 596,612 metric tons in 2003. Bauxite production has fallen as a result of depleted resources since 2000. In that year, bauxite output (by gross weight) totaled 123,270 metric tons, but in 2004 totaled only 2,040 metric tons. Malaysia ceased copper production in 1999. As a result, silver production, most of which was a by-product of copper mining, dropped from 9,647 kg in 1997 to 364 kg in 2004. Other metal minerals extracted included gold, columbite, and titanium dioxide (from Terangganu). Malaysia was a net exporter of all its coal, ilmenite, rare earths, and zircon concentrate, and most of its smelted tin. Industrial minerals produced in 2004 included hydraulic cement, clays and earth metals, feldspar, mica, nitrogen, silica sand, and stone. Silica sand came mainly from natural sand deposits in Sarawak (56.6 million tons of estimated reserves) and Johor and from tin-mine-tailings sand in Perak and Selangor; 85% was exported and 63% of exports went to Singapore.


Malaysia's large reserves of natural gas and its exports of oil make the country a key player in the world's energy markets. the country is also a modest producer of coal.

Crude oil is now the chief mineral produced by Malaysia. As of 1 January 2005, Malaysia had proven oil reserves estimated at 3 billion barrels, down from 4.3 billion barrels in 1996. In 2004, oil production averaged an estimated 855,000 barrels per day, of which crude oil accounted for 750,000 barrels per day. Domestic demand that year was estimated at 534,000 barrels per day. Malaysia's oil is produced offshore, primarily in the peninsular region. However, of new and increasing importance are large offshore natural gas deposits, with reserves estimated at 75 trillion cu ft as of 1 January 2005. Production in 2002 totaled an estimated 1.7 trillion cu ft, with domestic consumption at an estimated 1 trillion cu ft for that same year.

Malaysia is also a major exporter of liquefied natural gas (LNG). In 2003, LNG exports totaled 0.8 trillion cu m, about 14% of the world's total. Production of oil and natural gas is controlled by the National Petroleum Co. (PETRONAS).

In 2002, Malaysia produced an estimated 900,000 short tons of coal, while demand that year was estimated at 6.9 million short tons. As a result, Malaysia imported 6 million short tons.

Malaysia's net installed electrical generating capacity, as of 1 January 2002, stood at 14 GW, of which 86% was dedicated to conventional thermal fuels and 14% was hydroelectric. Electrical energy production in 2002 was estimated at 67 billion kWh. In 2002, demand for electric power was placed at 65.038 billion kWh. the National Electricity Board, a state-owned corporation, supplied the greater part of the nation's power.


Early industrialization efforts centered on the establishment of import-substitution industries (ISI) and resulted in construction of sugar refineries and motor vehicle assembly plants. Industrialization accelerated after the mid-1960s under the provisions of the Investment Incentives Act and the formation of the Malaysian Industrial Development Authority (MIDA). Special incentives were offered for industries that were labor-intensive, export-oriented, or that utilized domestic rubber, wood, and other raw materials. In the mid-1980s the Malaysian economy changed from a commodity-based to a manufacturing-based economy. In 1986, the leading manufacturing industries included rubber processing, the manufacture of tires and other rubber products, palm oil processing, tin smelting, and the manufacture of chemicals, plywood, furniture, and steel. Other industries were textiles, food processing, and the manufacture of electronic and electrical components. Most early industries were controlled by ethnic Chinese and foreigners, but government policies in the 1990s and early 2000s called for greater participation by ethnic Malays.

In 2005 industry accounted for 33.3% of GDP. Of total exports in 2004, electronics and electrical products accounted for 67.6%; chemicals and chemical products 7.3%; petroleum and liquefied natural gas (LNG) 7.3%; palm oil 5.3%; and textiles, clothing, and footwear 2.7%. In 2001, Malaysia produced about 15% of the world's DVD players, compared with China's 54.1% and Japan's 7.7%. In peninsular Malaysia, the leading industries by value of annual output are rubber and palm oil processing and manufacturing, light manufacturing, electronics, tin mining and smelting, and logging and processing timber. In Sabah, the leading industries are logging and petroleum production, while in Sarawak, they are agricultural processing, petroleum production and refining, and logging.

Malaysia has six oil refineries, with a total capacity of 544,832 barrels per day (BPD) in 2005. Oil production from 1996 to 2002 varied between 650,000 bpd and 730,000 bpd. In 2004, crude oil production amounted to 750,000 barrels per day. Proven reserves have dropped from 4.3 billion in 1996 to 3 billion in 2005, and Malaysia's national oil and gas company, PETRONAS, has invested in oil exploration projects in Syria, Turkmenistan, Iran, Pakistan, China, Vietnam, Burma, Algeria, Libya, Tunisia, the Sudan, and Angola. Overseas operations made up one-third of PETRONAS's operations in 2002. Japan, Thailand, South Korea, and Singapore continue to be the major customers for Malaysian crude oil. Malaysia's domestic oil fields are split between the South China Sea off Borneo and those off peninsular Malaysia. All exploration is conducted under production-sharing contracts (PSCs) between PETRONAS, the national oil company, and foreign companies. In 1999, foreign oil companies involved in the production of oil and gas in Malaysia included Exxon, Shell, Sonoco, Statoil, Union Carbide, Amerada, and Lundin. Gas reserves were being developed to fuel power stations and to supply industries in peninsular Malaysia and Singapore. In 2003, Malaysia accounted for 14% of the world's exports of LNG, down from 18% in 1998.

A top industrial priority in Malaysia economic plans is the development of the "multimedia super corridor" (MSC), an ambitious project underway to transform a 15-by-40 km (9.3-by-25 mi) area south of Kuala Lumpur into Asia's version of California's Silicon Valley. It is composed of a number of projects: the tallest twin towers in the world, the 450-m (1,483-ft) Petronas Twin Towers; two of the world's first Smart CitiesPutrajaya, the $8-billion new seat of government and administrative capital of Malaysia, where the concept of electronic government will be implemented, and Cyberjaya, an intelligent city with multimedia industries, research and development centers, a multimedia university, and operational headquarters for MSC; the construction of a $3.6 billion international airport; and the installation of a fiber-optic telecommunications system linking them all.

In 1998, as part of its policy to encourage manufacturing industries, the government relaxed restrictions on foreign ownership of new manufacturing projects. Any new manufacturing project for which the Malaysian Industrial Authority (MIDA) approves a license may have up to 100% foreign ownership, regardless of its involvement in exporting.


Training in science, technology, and related subjects was promoted at all levels during the 1970s and 1980s. Enrollment at technical and vocational secondary schools rose from 4,510 in 1970 to 20,720 in 1985. The National University of Malaysia at Selangor, the University of Malaya at Kuala Lumpur, the University of Agriculture

Country Exports Imports Balance
World 104,969.3 82,740.6 22,228.7
United States 20,539.7 12,850.7 7,689.0
Singapore 16,522.8 9,811.1 6,711.7
Japan 11,221.8 14,282.4 -3,060.6
China 6,810.1 7,299.7 -489.6
China, Hong Kong SAR 6,783.8 2,257.8 4,526.0
Thailand 4,615.3 3,828.8 786.5
Other Asia nes 3,776.7 4,131.2 -354.5
Netherlands 3,430.6 565.6 2,865.0
Korea, Republic of 3,039.4 4,554.7 -1,515.3
Australia 2,613.8 1,264.0 1,349.8
() data not available or not significant.

at Selangor Darul Ehsan, the University of Science at Penang, the Technological University at Johor Bahru, Kolej, Damansaura Utama College at Selangor, Politeknik Kuching at Surawak, and Tunku Abdul Rahman College at Kuala Lumpur offer degrees in basic and applied sciences. In 198797, science and engineering students accounted for 54% of college and university enrollments. National science policy is administered by the Ministry of Science, Technology, and Environment. The Ministry of Agriculture undertakes all aspects of research for improvement of crops. the Institute of Medical Research is a branch of the Ministry of Health.

The Forest Research Institute Malaysia (FIRM), the Freshwater Fish Research Center, the Malaysian Agricultural Research and Development Institute (MARDI), the Malaysian Institute of Microelectronic Systems (MIMOS), and the Rubber Research Institute of Malaysia are all located in Kuala Lumpur.

In 2002, total expenditures on research and development (R&D) amounted to $1.5 billion or 0.69% of GDP. Of that amount, business accounted for 51.5% of R&D spending, followed by the government at 32.1%, foreign investors at 11.5%, and higher education at 4.9%. In that same year, Malaysia had 294 scientists and engineers and 57 technicians per million people, who were actively engaged in R&D. In 2002, high-tech exports were valued at $40.912 billion and accounted for 58% of manufactured exports.


Imported goods are channeled into the Malaysian market through local branches of large European mercantile firms; by local importers with buying agents abroad; through branch offices and representatives of foreign manufacturers; by local Chinese, Indian, and Arab merchants who import directly; and by commission agents. Chinese merchants occupy an important place in the marketing structure and control a large share of the direct import trade. For warehousing of imported goods, the facilities of the port of Singapore are used, while rubber for export is warehoused mainly on plantations.

The usual business hours are from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm, MondayFriday including an hour-long lunch break, with most businesses operating for a half-day on Saturday. All public service departments and some banks close on the first and third Saturday of the month. In Kelantan, Terengganu, Johor, Perlis, and Kedah states, businesses close for a half-day on Thursday (in keeping with Islamic practice) and Friday is the day of rest. English is widely used in commerce and industry.

Newspaper and motion picture advertising is directed toward the higher-income consumer, while radio advertising, outdoor displays, and screen slides are used for the lower-income consumer who is less likely to be literate. A code of practice and ethics governing advertising is in force, with restrictions on advertising of some products, such as alcohol and tobacco. Trade fairs are supervised by the Ministry of Trade and Industry.


During the 1970s, petroleum and manufactures displaced rubber and tin as Malaysia's leading exports. Malaysia now exports over one-third of the world's fixed vegetable oil and a considerable portion of the world's radio broadcast receivers, but its largest export revenues come from sales of office machines.

The primary exports in 2004 were: electronics and electrical machinery (67.6% of all exports); petroleum and liquefied natural gas (7.3%); chemicals and chemical products (7.3%); palm oil (5.3%); and textiles, clothing, and footwear (2.7%). the primary imports were: intermediate goods (75.6% of total imports); capital goods (14.6%); consumption goods (6.1%); reexports (4.5%); and dual-use goods (2.5%).

Malaysia's leading markets in 2004 were: the United States (18.8% of all exports); Singapore (15%); Japan (10.1%); China (6.7%); and Hong Kong (6%). Leading suppliers in 2004 were: Japan (15.9% of all imports); the United States (14.5%); Singapore (11.1%); China (9.8%); and Thailand (5.5%).


Malaysia sustained a favorable trade balance throughout the 1960s and 1970s, recording its first trade deficits in 1981 and 1982, as world prices for tin, crude oil, rubber, and palm oil, the major exports, weakened simultaneously. Malaysia's balance of payments, like that of many other producers of primary products, was adversely affected in 198182 by the prolonged recession in the world's industrial nations. From 1983 to 1986, however, Malaysia registered trade surpluses. In the 1990s, a significant growth in exports and a decrease in imports led to trade surpluses, along with a fairly large services deficit. In the early 2000s, however, exports declined, but so did imports of intermediate components used in the manufacture of the country's electronics exports; this contributed to continuing strong trade surpluses.

The current-account recorded a surplus of $14.8 billion in 2004, lifted by a large merchandise trade surplus. The services and income balances remained in deficit. In 2005, the current-account surplus amounted to $15.35 billion. Exports totaled an estimated $147.1 billion in 2005, and imports were estimated at $118.7 billion. Although the trade and current-account surpluses were expected to narrow over the 200607 period, their nominal values

Current Account 13,381.0
     Balance on goods 25,711.0
         Imports -79,289.0
         Exports 104,999.0
     Balance on services -3,955.0
     Balance on income -5,928.0
     Current transfers -2,447.0
Capital Account
Financial Account -3,196.0
     Direct investment abroad -1,369.0
     Direct investment in Malaysia 2,473.0
     Portfolio investment assets -196.0
     Portfolio investment liabilities 1,174.0
     Financial derivatives 119.0
     Other investment assets -4,502.0
     Other investment liabilities -895.0
Net Errors and Omissions -4.0
Reserves and Related Items -10,181.0
() data not available or not significant.

were projected to be large compared with levels seen in the 1990s. In 2002, Malaysia's total exports of goods and services were equivalent to 114% of nominal GDP, a high figure by international standards.


In 1958, the Bank Negara Tanah Melayu (renamed the Bank Negara Malaysia in 1963) was created as the central banking institution. Bank Negara requires banks to maintain a minimum risk-weighted capital ration (RWCR) of 8%. At the end of 2002, Malaysia had 31 licensed commercial banks, 19 finance companies, 12 merchant banks, 2 Islamic banks, and 7 discount houses. A total of 36 foreign banks have offices in Malaysia, but their banking privileges are restricted. Specialized credit institutions include the Federal Land Development Authority (FELDA), the Agricultural Bank of Malaysia (Bank Pertanian Malaysia), and Bank Rakyat, serving rural credit cooperative societies. International trade is financed mainly by the commercial banks. Total banking system assets were $179.1 billion in 2000. There were 51 offshore banks operating on the island of Lauban in 1997.

Malaysia offers Islamic banking, which is based on the concept of profit sharing as opposed to the use of interest in the conventional banking system. One such Islamic bank is Bank Islam Malaysia Berhad. The central bank has embarked on a plan to develop Malaysia as a regional Islamic financial center. Toward this end, the central bank formed a consultative committee on Islamic banking in January 1996 to serve as a think-tank group to develop strategies and proposals to map out the future direction of Islamic banking. Although Islamic operations were only a small proportion of total business, Malaysia has achieved more than most other Islamic countries in this respect and its developments are regarded as models by them.

The International Monetary Fund reported that in 2001, currency and demand depositsan aggregate commonly known as M1were equal to $22.1 billion. In that same year, M2an aggregate equal to M1 plus savings deposits, small time deposits, and money market mutual fundswas $93.9 billion. the money market rate, the rate at which financial institutions lend to one another in the short term, was 2.79%.

The principal market for securities is the Kuala Lumpur Stock Exchange (KLSE), which separated from the joint Stock Exchange of Malaysia and Singapore in 1973. A second, smaller exchange has operated since 1970 to serve indigenous Malay interests. In October 1991 the KLSE completely severed its links with the Singapore Stock Exchange. As of 2001, the KLSE was capitalized at approximately $120 billion. Foreign investors are permitted to buy and sell on the stock market, subject only to compliance with regulatory requirements. In June 1995, a wide range of measures liberalizing the Malaysian capital market were introduced. these included the lowering of commission rates on the KLSE, the easing of controls on loans secured against shares, and less stringent conditions for overseas fund managers. Overseas funds can now set up 100% subsidiaries for conducting non-Malaysian business and rules on work permits for expatriate staff have been relaxed. By the end of 1997, the Kuala Lumpur Stock Exchange Composite Index (KLCI) capitalization had declined 53% from its high that year of 1271.57. The KLCI hit a low of 262.70 in September 1998, but had climbed back up to 696.1 by the end of 2001. In 2004, the KLCI rose14.3% from the previous year to 907.4. As of 2004, a total of 962 companies were listed on the Bursa Malaysia and had a market capitalization of $190.011 billion.


In Malaysia, third-party automobile liability, workers' compensation, and social security are compulsory insurances. The law requires insurance firms to maintain a minimum of 80% of their assets in authorized Malaysian holdings, including (by an amendment passed in 1978) 24% in government securities. Foreign insurance companies may operate by obtaining a license. the government's insurance branch, the Malaysian National Reinsurance Berhad, covers 25% of all fire and personal accident, 10% of aviation and automobile, and 20% of all other classes of insurance. In 2003, the value of all direct insurance premiums written totaled $5.609 billion, of which life insurance premiums accounted for $3.455 billion. Malaysia's top nonlife insurer in 2003 was Kurnia, which had gross written nonlife premiums of $252.4 million. In 2002, the country's leading life insurer was Great Eastern, which had gross written life insurance premiums of $802.8 million.


Malaysia's economy, heavily industrial and heavily dependent on export revenues, experienced a bump in the road when the US economy began to slow down at the end of 2000. The United States is a key trading partner for Malaysia, so as exports to the United States fell, so did Malaysia's economy. The government introduced two fiscal stimulus packages in 2001, but neither did the job; at the time, analysts suspected that GDP would grow less than 1% on the year.

The US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) estimated that in 2005 Malaysia's central government took in revenues of approximately $30.5 billion and had expenditures of $34.6 billion. Revenues minus expenditures totaled approximately -$4 billion. Public debt in 2005 amounted to 48.3% of GDP. Total external debt was $56.72 billion.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) reported that in 2003, the most recent year for which it had data, central government revenues were m$93,610 million and expenditures were m$110,571 million. The value of revenues was us$24,634 million, based on an official exchange rate for 2003 of us$1 = m$3.8 as reported by the IMF.


Income tax is levied on all individual and corporate income accrued in Malaysia during the previous year. As of 2005, income of resident individuals was progressively taxed, with a top rate of 28%. Nonresidents are taxed at a flat rate of 28%. Resident and nonresident companies are charged a flat rate of 28%. A 38% income tax is levied on petroleum corporations. Royalties and technical fees are subject to a 10% withholding tax, while the withholding rate for interest is 15%. Dividends are treated as income and are not subject to a withholding tax, if the appropriate amount of tax has already been paid on the company's income. Otherwise, the dividends are subject to a flat 28% rate.

Incentives are available for pioneer industries and for certain capital investments. Capital gains taxes are levied on the sale of real estate. Indirect taxes include a general 10% sales tax (5% for essential items, 20% for liquor and 25% for cigarettes) and a 5% services tax.


Import tariffs on textiles and other items already produced in Malaysia are applied in order to protect domestic industries. Rates vary from 0300% and imports are also subject to a 10% sales tax and excise taxes. However, the average duty rate is less than 8.1%. In 2000, the government reduced duties on 136 categories of food products from 520% to 212%. Imported luxury goods have the highest rates. Items imported for industrial development, including machinery and raw materials imported for processing and reexport, are usually duty-free. Exports are generally free of control, except that licenses and export duties apply to exports of petroleum (25%), rubber, tin, palm oil, timber, and pepper.

As a member of the ASEAN free trade area, Malaysia is a part of the Common Effective Preferential Tariff Scheme (CEPT), which aims to liberalize trade in the region. As of 2003, all tariffs on manufactured goods were reduced to 05% between member countries, including Singapore, Brunei, Thailand, Philippines, and Indonesia. Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar, and Cambodia were scheduled to join the CEPT by 2008. Malaysia has bilateral trade agreements with 59 countries as well. There are several free zones and a free port at Port Klang.


The government encourages foreign investors with a tax holiday of up to 10 years for investments in new industries and assurance of convertibility and repatriation of capital and profits. In 1975, the Industrial Coordination Act established new equity participation guidelines that required a substantial majority of Malaysian ownership of new import-substitution industries catering to the domestic market and using local technology; 70% Malaysian ownership was stipulated for export industries. Export industries using imported raw materials could be 100% foreign owned. Some of

Revenue and Grants 93,610 100.0%
     Tax revenue 69,470 74.2%
     Social contributions
     Other revenue 24,140 25.8%
Expenditures 110,571 100.0%
     General public services
     Public order and safety
     Economic affairs
     Environmental protection
     Housing and community amenities
     Recreational, culture, and religion
     Social protection
() data not available or not significant.

these restrictions were eased under the fifth Malaysia plan (198690). The Promotion of Investment Act of 1986 allowed 100% foreign ownership if a company exported at least 50% of its product and did not compete with local industry, or if it exported at least 80% of its product regardless of competition. In 1998, 100% foreign ownership was granted to projects exporting at least 80% of output, 79% foreign ownership for exports of at least 51% of output, up to 50% foreign ownership for exporting at least 20% of output, and a maximum foreign ownership of 30% for projects exporting less than 20%, regardless of the origin of raw materials. Also, for new manufacturing projects, 100% foreign ownership is permitted in any project approved by the Malaysian Industrial Development Authority (MIDA). The MIDA screened all proposals for manufacturing projects to determine if they are compatible with the Second Industrial Master Plan (19962005), and government strategic and social policies.

In October 1990 the government established on the Federal Territory of Labuan as an International Offshore Financial Center (IOFC) to provide offshore banking and insurance, trust fund management, offshore investment holding and licensing companies, and other financial services for multinational companies. In the period following the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, Malaysia took the lead in seeking to institutionalize Islamic banking and attract Islamic investment. In November 2001 Malaysia was a founding member of the International Islamic Financial Market (IIFM), along with Bahrain, Indonesia, Sudan, and the Islamic Development Bank (IDB) based in Saudi Arabia. In June 2002 the Malaysian government took the lead in putting together the world's first global Islamic bond issue. the Labuan Offshore Financial Services Authority (OFSA) takes credit for initiating the idea of the establishment of the IIFM, and the Islamic Financial Service Organization (IFSO), which is taking the lead in formulating and developing standards for the regulation of Islamic financial institutions, is headquartered in Malaysia. More conventionally, as of 2006 14 free-trade zones (FTZs) were established in Malaysia. (FTZs are specially designated geographic areas with regulations, including minimum customs controls and formalities when importing raw materials, parts, machinery, and equipment, specifically designed to serve export-oriented industries.) there are specially designated FTZs for businesses engaged in commercial activities including trading, breaking bulk, grading, repacking, relabeling, and transit. Within an FTZ, goods are allowed to be imported without being subject to customs procedures, provided the goods are ultimately exported after processing.

Assets attracting foreign investors to Malaysia are location, cultural ties with Singapore and Taiwan, economic and political stability, an increasingly competent labor force, and good infrastructure. The main barriers have been restrictions put on foreign investment and ownership as a part of the government's bumiputera policy, which sought particularly to insure Malay dominance of domestic markets. Nevertheless, before the sharp reduction in 2001, Malaysia was regularly listed among the top 25 best destinations for foreign investments.

Annual average foreign direct investment (FDI) in Malaysia 19851995 was close to $3 billion, amounting to an average 14.5% of the country's annual gross fixed capital formation. In 1996, annual FDI rose above $7 billion. A strong first half in 1997 brought the year's total to $6.3 billion before falling over 57% to $2.7 billion in 1998, reflecting the rapid disinvestments that precipitated the Asian financial crisis. Recovery was sharp, if incomplete, however; FDI reached $3.89 billion in 1999, 22.2% of the gross fixed capital formation (GFCF), and $3.8 billion (16.5% of GFCF) in 2000. However, in 2001, in the context of a worldwide contraction in foreign investment of almost 50%, FDI to Malaysia fell a precipitous 85.4% to $554 million. Total stocks of FDI in Malaysia grew 83.6% in period 1995 to 2000, from $28.7 billion to $52.7 billion, and from 32.3% to 58.8% as a percent of GDP. In 2001, the total FDI stock increased only 1% as the total reached $53.3 billion. The largest investment sources were the United States, Japan, Germany, Taiwan, Singapore, and Korea.

By 2006, cumulative US foreign direct investment in Malaysia had reached an estimated $30 billion. In 2004, FDI inflows amounted to some $3.5 billion, led by Germany with $1.243 billion invested. Singapore ($399 million), the United States ($279 million), and Japan ($266 million) followed. The majority of FDI went to the electronics sector ($1.796 billion), followed by the paper and print sector ($358 million); and petroleum sector ($214 million). In 2004, Malaysia invested $7.448 billion abroad, with $666 million going to Singapore, $296 million to Hong Kong, $252 million to Chad, $203 million to the United States, and $181 million to Thailand.

In 1996 the government announced a list of 31 major infrastructure projects to be built between 1995 and 2020 at a cost of m$163 billion. The Second Industrial Master Plan (19962005) outlined investment opportunities. These have drawn a huge influx of foreign investment. They include the Bukun hydroelectric dam in Sarawak (Southeast Asia's largest), and the projects involved in the development of the Multimedia Super Corridor (MSC): the Petronas Twin Towers, the world's tallest twin towers; one of the region's most modern airports; and Putrajaya, the new capital city and administrative center for electronic government, and Cyberjaya, Malaysia's center for computer technology.

Most foreign investment is concentrated in the production of electronic components, consumer electronics, and electrical goods (dominated by US and Japanese firms), petroleum production and distribution, textiles, vehicle assembly, steel, cement, rubber products, and electrical machinery.

Malaysian outward investments 198595 amounted to less than a quarter of inward investments, with an annual average of $677 million. However, in 200102, this ratio had more than doubled to about 50%. A significant source of outward investments is Petroliam Nasional Berhad (PETRONAS), the state oil company incorporated in 1974. In 2002, domestic petroleum reserves had fallen to about 3 billion barrels of oil and 2.34 trillion cu m (82.5 trillion cu ft) of gas. Overseas investments in the upstream sectors (exploration, development and production) of the petroleum industries in 20 countries had, as of 2002, yielded an additional 3.25 billion barrels of oil equivalent. In international investments involving downstream operations (refining, distribution, marketing), PETRONAS's acquisition of the entire share holding of Engen Ltd., a South African oil company, increased its net refining capacity by almost 40%, to 361,500 barrels per day. The state company's other downstream activities include liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) terminalizing, bottling, and distribution in China, Vietnam, and the Philippines, and refining and retailing in Cambodia and Thailand.


Malaysia's economy has been transformed from a protected low-income supplier of raw materials to a middle-income emerging multisector market economy driven by manufactured exports, particularly electronics and semiconductors, which constitute about 90% of exports. Since 1970 and the institution of the New Economic Policy (NEP) following deadly riots in 1969 against economically dominant ethnic Chinese, the government's commitment to the free market has been hedged by its bumiputera (literally, "sons of the soil") policies aimed at providing "constructive protection" for Islamic Malays against economic competition from other ethnic groups and foreign investors, particularly in the domestic market. In the Asian financial crisis of 1997, most of the major companies that the government had privatized and reserved for bumiputera leadership (including Proton, the national car company, Malaysian Airlines, the Renong engineering group, and the Malaysian Resources media group) had to be renationalized to prevent their collapse. A vigorous recovery program mounted by the government that was showing positive results in 1999 and 2000 ran abruptly into the wall of the 2001 global economic slowdown. Worldwide, foreign direct investment dropped almost 50%, and in Malaysia the decline was an even more precipitous 85%. Gross domestic product growth dropped to 0.7% for 2001, from its usual 79%.

Business in Malaysia remains dominated by non-Malays. In 1970, a government holding company, Perbadanan Nasional (PERNAS), was created to encourage Malay-controlled businesses; in 1975, the government attempted, through PERNAS, to strengthen Malaysian interests in the tin-mining sector. Also in 1974, the government established the National Oil Co. (PETRONAS), with the overall aim of acquiring majority control of the country's petroleum operations. The Industrial Coordination Act of 1975 attempted to accelerate indigenous Malay participation in the economy by setting limits on foreign participation in the processing, domestic distribution, and export of local raw materials. In 1971, the New Economic Policy (NEP) was adopted, with the aim of channeling a greater share of future economic growth into Malay hands. It specifically called for raising the level of corporate ownership by Malays to 30% by 1990, reducing corporate ownership by other Malaysians (i.e., Chinese and Indians) to 40%, and restricting foreigners to ownership of no more than 30%. Short-term investment strategies are set forth in a series of economic plans. The fourth Malaysia plan (198185) proposed a level of development spending of m$42.8 billion and called for acceleration of the NEP goals for bumiputera economic participation. Major industrial and infrastructural development projects included a m$900-million bridge between Pulau Pinang and the mainland and a m$600-million automobile-manufacturing plant, both of which opened in 1985. Economic planning stressed a "look East" policy, with Malaysia attempting to emulate the economic successes of Japan and the Republic of Korea by importing technology from those countries. In response to deteriorating prices for oil and other exports, the fifth Malaysia plan (198690) moved away from the goals of the NEP, aiming instead at promoting foreign investment, particularly in export industries.

The year 1990 marked the culmination of several economic development plans: the fifth Malaysia plan (FMP), 198690; the conclusion of the first outline perspective plan (OPP1) 19711990; and the completion of the new economic policy (NEP) 19711990. The FMP emphasized industrialization. Specific targets were formulated to ensure that the distribution of ownership and participation in the commercial and industrial sector would be characterized by ethnic group participation, 30% bumiputera (Malays and other indigenous peoples), 40% other Malaysians (Chinese and Indian descent), and 30% foreign. The government provided funds to purchase foreign-owned shareholding on behalf of the bumiputera population, increasing their equity to 20% by 1990. These policies are part of the new national development policy, although specific targets and timetables have been dropped.

A post-1990 NEP defined Malaysian economic strategy for full development by 2020. Three ten-year outline perspective plans, which included a new development plan and six five-year plans, made up the NEP. A second outline perspective plan (OPP2) 19912000 aimed to sustain growth momentum and to achieve a more balanced development of the economy. The sixth Malaysia plan called for an average annual growth rate of 7.5%, and expenditures on infrastructure were included to ensure prospects for further development. Development trends are toward privatization, encouraging the spread of industry throughout the country, increasing manufacturing in the free trade zones, and providing financing for industry through the establishment of specialized financing institutions.

A five-year development plan announced in 1996 forecasted average growth of 8% per year for 19962000. In 199798, low productivity, a skills shortage, and a gaping current-account deficit along with a global financial crisis based in Asia, combined to cause an economic downturn. Massive capital and infrastructure projects have attracted foreign investment and international respect.

The Ninth Malaysia Plan was announced in 2006 to focus on improving supply-side issues, such as the promotion of new sources of value-added economic growth, the liberalization of the financial sector, and further measures to strengthen small- and medium-sized firms. Reducing the deficit was a policy priority, as fiscal stimulus had increased the budget deficit in the early 2000s. The governmentas with those in other Southeast Asian countrieswas committed to finding ways to revive domestic consumption instead of relying primarily upon exports for economic growth, which would help insulate Malaysia from the vagaries of the global economy.


A provident fund provides lump-sum benefits for old age, disability, and death. Pensions are funded by 11% contributions of earnings by workers, and 12% of payroll by employers. Domestic servants, foreign workers, and the self-employed are not covered by the system. The retirement age is 55. Work injury insurance and disability pensions to low-income workers are available, with a special system for public employees.

The government has taken active measures to improve the rights and standing of women. The Islamic Family Law was revised to strengthen the inheritance rights of Muslim women and to increase their access to divorce. The government passed a domestic violence bill that allows the courts to protect victims of spousal abuse. However, this law falls short of making domestic violence a criminal act, and women's groups called for amendments in 2004. Most Muslim women play subordinate roles in public and private life in spite of their growing legal rights. Although women make up more than half of university students, they represent only 15% of key posts in public sector jobs. Custom favors men in matters of inheritance.

Human rights abuses, include arbitrary arrest and detention, torture, and other types of prisoner abuse, exist. Caning is still used for some crimes. The government restricts the freedom of press, religion, association, and assembly.


Malaysia enjoys a comparatively high standard of health, the result of long-established health and medical services. there are three main hospitals in Malaysia, all located in the capital, Kuala Lumpur: Subang Jaya Hospital, General Hospital, and Penang Adventist Hospital. Approximately 80% of the population had access to health care. As of 2004, there were an estimated 70 physicians, 135 nurses, 9 dentists, and 33 midwives per 100,000 people. In the same year, total health care expenditure was estimated at 2.5 % of GDP. As of 2002, the crude birth rate and overall mortality rate were estimated at, respectively, 24.22 and 5.2 per 1,000 people. Approximately 51% of married women (ages 1549) used contraception. Life expectancy was 72.24 years in 2005. It is estimated that 90% of the population had access to safe water, and 94% had adequate sanitation.

Under the tuberculosis-control campaign begun in 1961, the number of annual deaths from tuberculosis declined to 971 in 1970, to 672 in 1983; in 1999, there were 111 reported cases per 100,000 population.

As a result of the yaws-elimination campaign, begun in 1954, the disease was virtually eliminated in the late 1960s. A malaria-eradication program, begun in 1967, resulted in a drop in the number of hospital admissions for malaria from 25,400 in 1970 to 8,274 in 1984, although malaria remains a common disease in Malaysia.

It was estimated that 23% of children under five years of age were considered malnourished. Immunization rates for children up to one year old were quite high: tuberculosis, 99%; diphtheria, pertussis, and tetanus, 93%; polio, 90%; and measles, 88%.

Among the main ethnic groups in Malaysia, those of Indian origins have the highest mortality rates compared to the Chinese and Malay. Similar trends exist for diabetes mortality. the HIV/AIDS prevalence was 0.40 per 100 adults in 2003. As of 2004, there were approximately 52,000 people living with HIV/AIDS in the country. There were an estimated 2,000 deaths from AIDS in 2003. the total fertility rate has dropped from 4.2 in 1980 to 3 in 2000. Infant mortality in 2005 was 8 per 1,000 live births. the maternal mortality rate was 39 per 100,000 live births.


With about 61% of the population living in urban areas, the need for urban housing is acute. It has been estimated that over 20% of Kuala Lumpur's population consists of squatters living in overcrowded shantytowns with few urban amenities. the government has planned to build rental units in urban areas to assist low-income residents unable to purchase their own homes. In 2000, the housing stock was reported at about 5.7 million units. A total of 744,000 new housing units were built during 197080, and an estimated 923,300 units43% public and 57% privatewere part of the 198185 development plan.


Six years of free primary education are followed by three years of general lower secondary education. Two further years of education at the upper secondary level, in either a vocational or an academic program, are offered. Technical schools also offer secondary program, but students must have a strong math and science background in order to attend. A selective one-year pre-university course prepares students for admission to the universities. Malay is the medium of instruction in primary and secondary schools, with english as a compulsory second language. Muslim religious instruction is compulsory for all Muslim children while private Christian schools offer religious training to their students. the academic year runs from July to March.

In 2001, about 88% of all five-year-olds were enrolled in some type of preschool program. Primary school enrollment in 2003 was estimated at about 93% of age-eligible students. the same year, secondary school enrollment was about 70% of age-eligible students (66% for boys and 74% for girls). It was estimated that about 92% of all students complete their primary education. the student-to-teacher ratio for primary school was at about 19:1 in 2003; the ratio for secondary school was about 18:1.

The primary institutions of higher education include the Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (the National University of Malaysia), the University of Malaya, and the Technological University of Malaysia, all in or near Kuala Lumpur, and the University of Science Malaysia (formerly the University of Pinang). the MARA Institute of Technology is the largest postsecondary institute in the country. In 2003, about 29% of the tertiary age population were enrolled in some type of higher education program; 26% for men and 33% for women. The adult literacy rate for 2004 was estimated at about 88.7%, with 92% for men and 85.4% for women.

As of 2003, public expenditure on education was estimated at 8.1% of GDP, or 20.3% of total government expenditures.


The National Library of Malaysia, with more than 1.3 million volumes, was established in 1971 and has been charged with wide responsibilities under the National Library Act. Both the National Library and the National Archives are in Kuala Lumpur. the National University of Malaysia (Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia) in Bargi has 945,000 volumes. Other important libraries are those at the universities; the Sabah (380,000) and Sarawak (500,000) state libraries; Tun Abdul Razak Library at the MARA University of Technology (569,000); and the library of the Malaysian Rubber Board (120,000). The largest public libraries are in Denang, Malacca, and Selangor.

The National Museum of Malaysia in Kuala Lumpur, constructed on the site of the former Selangor Museum (destroyed in World War II), houses extensive collections of Malayan archaeology, ethnography, and zoology. The Perak Museum in Taiping, founded in 1883, has a varied collection exhibiting antiquities, ethnographic, and zoological materials. Also in Kuala Lumpur are the Museum of Asian Art (1974), the Postal Museum, the Air Force Museum, and the National Art Gallery (1958). Sabah and Sarawak maintain anthropological and archaeological collections pertinent to East Malaysia. There is an Aboriginal Affairs Museum in Gombak.


The government owns and operates a well-developed and well equipped telecommunications system. Automatic dialing for the majority of exchanges is provided by a VHF radio circuit. In 2003, there were an estimated 182 mainline telephones for every 1,000 people; about 49,000 people were on a waiting list for telephone service installation. Also in 2003, there were approximately 442 mobile phones in use for every 1,000 people. Telegraph and radiotelephone connections link peninsular Malaysia with most foreign countries.

Radio-Television Malaysia (RTM) operates radio and television stations in Kuala Lumpur, Sabah, and Kuching, and there is a commercial station, Sistem TV-3 Berhad, in Kuala Lumpur as well. Broadcasts are in English, Malay, five Chinese dialects, Tamil, and numerous local languages and dialects. As of 2001 Malaysia had 35 AM and 391 FM radio stations and 1 television station. In 2000, there were 420 radios and 168 televisions sets for every 1,000 people. In 2001, there were 4.1 million Internet subscribers served by 7 service providers.

There are about 80 English, Malay, Chinese, and Tamil daily and weekly newspapers. The Malay-language press is the largest segment, followed by English, Chinese, Tamil, Punjabi, and Kadazan. In Kuala Lumpur, there are two major dailies published in Chinese, China Press, with a 2002 circulation of 210,000, and Nanyang Siang Pau, with a 2002 circulation of 183,800. there are also two major dailies published in Malay, Berita Harian (circulation 350,000 in 2002) and Utusan Malaysia (240,000). the New Straits Times is an English-language paper that had a daily circulation of 190,000 in 2002. Malaysian Nanban is a Tamil-language daily.

In Petaling Jaya leading newspapers include two Chinese publications, New Life Post (every other week, circulation 231,000 in 2002) and Sin Chew Jit Poh (daily, 227,070). the Star is published in English and had a 2002 circulation of 220,490 daily.

Though the constitution provides for freedom of speech and a free press, in practice the government is said to restrict the flow of information deemed "sensitive," including issues regarding citizenship of non-Malays and the special position of Malays in society. Under the Printing Presses and Publications Act, every publisher must obtain a license, to be renewed annually by the government. The government has the right to restrict or ban such publications if their content is considered to contain malicious or distorted views of the government. As such, the media generally practices self-censorship, providing laudatory, noncritical coverage of government activities.


The Malaysian government promotes thrift, credit, processing, marketing, farming, consumer, and housing cooperatives. the cooperative movement was introduced in Malaya in 1922. the Chinese are organized along clan, common dialect, or occupational lines into rural credit associations. These local associations set up and maintain schools, build temples, and provide burial, relief, and employment services. In the larger cities, chambers of commerce, organized along ethnic lines, promote the economic welfare of the group represented. Specialized trade and industry associations include the Pepper Marketing Board, Malaysian Pineapple Industry Board, and the Malaysia Cocoa Board. The National Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Malaysia is in Kuala Lumpur. Professional associations are available for a wide variety of occupations.

Cultural organizations include the multinational Royal Asiatic Society and the International Institute of Islamic Thought and Civilization. Educational and research organizations include the Malaysian Medical Association and the Malaysian Scientific Association. There are several other associations dedicated to research and education for specific fields of medicine and particular diseases and conditions, such as the National Heart Association of Malaysia.

Youth organizations include the Federation of Malay Student Unions, Girl Guides Association of Malaysia, Malaysia Council of Churches Youth Division, Muslim Youth Movement of Malaysia, Junior Chamber, National Union of Malaysian Muslim Students, and the United Malaysian Youth Movement. YMCA/YWCA chapters are also active. There are several sports associations in the nation, including the regional Asean Football Federation. there are active branches of the Special Olympics.

Kiwanis and Lion's clubs have programs in the country. there are national chapters of the Red Crescent Society, Habitat for Humanity, UNICEF, and Amnesty International.


Most large hotels are in the major cities of Kuala Lumpur and George Town. The best-known hill resort areas are Cameron Highlands, Raub, and Pinang Hill. Island resorts off the coast of the peninsula are Langkawi and Pangkor. Horse racing, football (soccer), rugby, cricket, and sepak raga (a form of badminton) are popular spectator sports. Kite fighting and top spinning are traditional pastimes for children and adults, and silat (a Malay martial art) is popular in rural areas.

Passports are required of all entrants. Citizens of most countries, including the United States, Australia, and China, are required to have visas. Precautions against yellow fever, typhoid, and malaria are recommended before travel to Malaysia.

There were 10,576,915 foreign visitors who arrived in Malaysia in 2003. Tourist receipts totaled $6.7 billion. Hotel rooms numbered 144,380 with an occupancy rate of 53%.

In 2004, the US Department of State estimated the daily cost of staying in Kuala Lumpur at $129; and other areas, $121.


Among the foremost Malaysian leaders of the past was Sultan Mahmud, 16th-century ruler of Malacca. A great figure in Malay culture was 'Abdallah bin 'Abd al-Kabir (surnamed Munshi', 17961854), sometimes called the greatest innovator in Malay letters. The best-known figure in the political life of modern Malaysia is Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra bin Abdul Hamid Halimshah (19031990), first prime minister of the Federation of Malaysia. Other political leaders are Tun Abdul Razak (192276), the nation's second prime minister (197076); Datuk Seri Mahathir bin Mohamed (b.1925), prime minister 19812003, succeeding Dato Onn bin Ja'afar (18951962), a founder of the United Malays National Organization; and Sir Cheng-lock Tan (18831960), leader of the Malaysian Chinese Association. Abdullah bin Haji Ahmad Badawi (b.1939) succeeded Mahathir bin Mohamed as prime minister in 2003.


Malaysia has no territories or colonies.


Altbach, Philip G. and Toru Umakoshi (eds.). Asian Universities: Historical Perspectives and Contemporary Challenges. Baltimore, Md.: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2004.

Bunnell, Tim. Malaysia, Modernity and the Multimedia Supercorridor: A Critical Geography of Intelligent Landscapes. New York: RoutledgeCurzon, 2004.

Chio, Vanessa C. M. Malaysia and the Development Process: Globalization, Knowledge Transfers and Post-Colonial Dilemmas. New York: Routledge, 2005.

Crouch, Harold A. Government and Society in Malaysia. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1996.

Dumargay, Jacques. Cultural Sites of Malaysia, Singapore, and Indonesia. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998.

Gomez, Edmund T. Malaysia's Political Economy: Politics, Patronage, and Profits. 2nd ed. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1999.

Gunn, Geoffrey C. New World Hegemony in the Malay World. Trenton, N.J.: Red Sea Press, 2000.

Hooker, Virginia Matheson. A Short History of Malaysia: Linking East and West. Crows Nest, N.S.W., Aus.: Allen and Unwin, 2003.

Jaaffar, Johan. History of Modern Malay Literature. Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia: Desan Bahasa dan Pustaka, Ministry of Education Malaysia, 1992.

Kaur, Amarjit. Historical Dictionary of Malaysia. Lanham, Md.: Scarecrow Press, 2001.

Kaur, Amarjit and Ian Metcalfe (eds.) The Shaping of Malaysia. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1999.

Leete, Richard. Malaysia's Demographic Transition: Rapid Development, Culture, and Politics. New York: Oxford University Press, 1996.

Leibo, Steven A. East and Southeast Asia, 2005. 38thed. Harpers Ferry, W.Va.: Stryker-Post Publications, 2005.

Lucas, Robert E. B. Restructuring the Malaysian Economy Development and Human Resources. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1999.

Lye, Tuck-Po. Changing Pathways: Forest Degradation and the Batek of Pahang, Malaysia. Lanham, Md.: Lexington Books, 2004.

McNair, Sylvia. Malaysia. New York: Children's Press, 2002.

Malaysian Eclipse: Economic Crisis and Recovery. New York: Zed, 2001.

Mohamed, Ariff. The Malaysian Economy: Pacific Connections. New York: Oxford University Press, 1991.

Munro-Kua, Anne. Authoritarian Populism in Malaysia. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1996.

Peletz, Michael G. Reason and Passion: Representation of Gender in a Malay Society. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996.

Runciman, Steven. The White Rajahs: A History of Sarawak from 1841 to 1946. Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia: S. Abdul Majed and Co., 1992.

Spruit, Ruud. The Land of the Sultans: An Illustrated History of Malaysia. Amsterdam: Pepin Press, 1995.

Stewart, Ian. The Mahathir Legacy: A Nation Divided, A Region at Risk. London, Eng.: Orion, 2003.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Malaysia." Worldmark Encyclopedia of Nations. . 9 Jul. 2018 <>.

"Malaysia." Worldmark Encyclopedia of Nations. . (July 9, 2018).

"Malaysia." Worldmark Encyclopedia of Nations. . Retrieved July 09, 2018 from

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

The Chicago Manual of Style

American Psychological Association

  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.





Malaysia is situated in Southeast Asia, bordered by Thailand in the north, Indonesia in the south, and the Philippines in the east. The country has an area of 329,758 square kilometers (127,320 square miles). Comparatively, the territory of Malaysia is slightly greater than that of the state of New Mexico, the fourth-largest state in the United States. The Federation of Malaysia consists of 13 states, and is divided into 2 parts: 11 states are located in Peninsular Malaysia (also called West Malaysia) and 2 comprise East Malaysia, which is situated on the island of Borneo (see map). Peninsular and East Malaysia are separated by 640 kilometers (400 miles) of the South China Sea. Malaysia's capital city, Kuala Lumpur, is located in southeast Peninsular Malaysia, just 300 kilometers (187 miles) from Singapore. However, a new capital, Putrajaya, is being developed outside the overcrowded metropolitan area as the new administrative center. The strategic importance of Malaysia is in its location along the Strait of Malacca, which is a major sea-route connecting the Far East to Asia, Europe, and the Middle East.


The population of Malaysia was estimated at 21,793,000 in July 2000. It has almost doubled since the 1960s due to improved health, medical facilities, and longer life expectancy. In 2000, the birth rate stood at 25.3 per 1,000, while the death rate stood at 5.25 per 1,000. The estimated population growth rate is 2.01 percent and if the current trend remains unchanged, the population could reach 31 million by 2020. The population is very unevenly distributed, with almost 81 percent, or 17.5 million, living in Peninsular Malaysia, and 19 percent, or 4.2 million, living in East Malaysia. The population density is about 129 people per square kilometer (334 people per square mile) in Peninsular Malaysia and about 20 people per square kilometer (52 people per square mile) in East Malaysia.

Malaysia is a multinational and multicultural country with a very diverse population. Malays and several indigenous groups make up 58 percent of the population. Ethnic Chinese, the second-largest ethnic group, make up 26 percent of the population; Indian descendants make up 7 percent, and various other groups together account for the remaining 9 percent. The current ethnic structure was formed during the colonial era in the 19th and 20th centuries, when the British administration encouraged migration from India and especially from China. The Malaysian population is very young, with 35 percent below age 14 and just 4 percent of the population older than 65. Urbanization came to Malaysia relatively late. In 1970, just over 28.8 percent of Malaysians lived in urban areas. In 1999 over half of Malaysians57 percentwere living in urban areas. It is expected that within the next 10 to 15 years more than 70 percent of the population will live in urban areas, mainly in the Peninsular Malaysia.

Religion plays a very important role in the country. Islam is the official national religion and nearly all Malays are Muslims. Most ethnic Chinese are Buddhist. The majority of Indians (comprising the descendants of migrants from what became India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh) are Hindu, although there are many Muslims among members of this community. The largest proportion of the Chinese community has traditionally lived in the urban areas, while Malays have often lived in the country's rural regions.

In 1960, the Malaysian population was about 8 million, and the country at one time had one of the highest birth rates in Asia. The population doubled between 1960 and 1990, although population growth began to decline in the 1990s. The decline in population rates could be linked to the socio-economic changes in the economy that tightened the labor market and increased the number of women in the workforce, and the better education of women. Malaysia experienced an inflow of foreign workers employed mainly in the low-skill and low-wage construction and services sectors and in agricultural plantations. The Malaysian government would like to regulate the inflow of illegal migrants, who arrive mainly from neighboring Indonesia, as well as from Bangladesh and Burma, attracted by the geographical proximity and higher wages.


At present, Malaysia's industrial and service sectors are the 2 major pillars of the national economy. However, agriculture and mining were the 2 dominant sectors during its early history. Britain had slowly but steadily advanced into the region in the 18th and 19th centuries, establishing control over the territory of what would become present-day Malaysia. The British were attracted by the rich natural resources of this region and its convenient location along the Strait of Malacca, which was the main sea route connecting the Far East with British India and Europe. The British established large-scale plantations and introduced new commercial crops (rubber in 1876, palm oil in 1917, and cocoa in the 1950s). They also developed a large mining sector and encouraged migration of Chinese and Indian workers to these plantations and mines.

In August 1957, the Federation of Malaya was granted independence within the Commonwealth of Nations. In 1963, the Malaysian Federation was founded, comprising the Federation of Malaya, Sabah, Sarawak, and the State of Singapore. Singapore, however, left in 1965.

Since achieving independence, the Federation of Malaysia faced a need to develop and to diversify its economy, having a rapidly growing population. The country abandoned reliance on the export of primary natural resources and agricultural products and established itself as a rapidly industrializing country with a diversified export base. By the beginning of the 21st century Malaysia had become one of the fastest growing economies in Southeast Asia and third-richest state (after Brunei and Singapore) in the regional grouping known as the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN).

The Malaysian government promoted the free market with limited state intervention and export-oriented industrialization. Its exports to the international market were used to promote efficient use of the country's resources and generate hard currency , which was necessary for catching up and further developing into areas of technological and industrial innovation. In the mid-1960s, Malaysia established 5-year planning, targeting certain areas of economic growth and social changes, and allocating public resources for priority sectors of the economy and for infrastructure development. Despite these efforts, the government was reluctant to institute centralized control over the state's economy. The 5-year plans became a basis for official development strategies. For example, the recently completed "Seventh Plan" (1996-2000) targeted productivity growth and moved the country towards capital-intensive, high-technology industries. The political and inter-communal violence that had undermined the country's stability and security in the 1960s and 1970s gave way to a period of remarkable stability. This has attracted international investors and greatly contributed to the rapid economic growth of the 1980s and 1990s, especially in the manufacturing and service sectors of the Malaysian economy. Unlike the government of neighboring Indonesia, the Malaysian government has managed to keep its external debt at a relatively moderate level. In 1998, external debt stood at US$42 billion, or 59 percent of GDP with debt service payments of about US$6.0 billion. Estimates for the year 2000 estimated that Malaysian official reserves stood at US$29.6 billion. However, the repatriation of the profits by foreign investors may cause a problem for the Malaysian economy in the future.

The structure of the Malaysian economy has changed during the last 2 decades. According to the World Bank, the proportion of manufactured production grew from roughly 20 percent of GDP in the early 1980s to 31.5 percent of GDP in the late 1990s. Manufactured products accounted for around 85 percent of gross export earnings in 1999, with electronic goods becoming one of the most important products. The role of mining has steadily declined during the last few decades (Malaysia was one of the world's largest exporters of tin in the 1970s), now contributing just 7 percent of GDP. Malaysia continues, however, to export tin, gold, bauxite, ilmenite (a titanium ore), oil, and gas. Meanwhile, the role of agriculture in the country's economy has also been declining, although it provides employment to large numbers of Malaysians. Nevertheless, Malaysia remains one of the world's leading exporters of rubber and timber and produces almost half the world's palm oil. Tourism is another important and rapidly growing sector of the economy, with about 7.5 million tourists visiting the country in 1999 and contributing RM10 billion to the national economy.

Malaysia has a very diverse economy. The manufacturing sector is dominated by large multinational corporations , with a heavy Japanese presence among the largest companies. Meanwhile, the agricultural sector is dominated by medium and small firms. In East Malaysia, Sabah, and Sarawak, and in some northern states, many farmers are still engaged in subsistence agriculture. In the service sector, especially in retail trade, large international superstores such as Marks and Spencer, SOGO, and Yaohan are complemented by a number of medium and small enterprises.

Rapid economic growth and stability brought economic prosperity to a large proportion of the population, especially in urban areas. It also helped to keep unemployment at a very low 3 percent (for comparison, unemployment in the United States was 4.2 percent in 1999). In some sectors, Malaysia has begun to experience a shortage of labor. In the late 1990s, there was an inflow of large numbers of foreign workers through legal and illegal channels from neighboring Indonesia, with whom Malaysia shares some linguistic and cultural similarities, and from Bangladesh, the Philippines, and Burma (Myanmar). This inflow is sometimes blamed for existing criminal activities and black market operations.

Drugs are another important issue; Malaysia is situated very close to the so-called "Golden Triangle" (an area between Burma, Laos, and Thailand) that is the world's largest producer of illicit drugs such as opium. Malaysia is among the few countries in the world to have adopted the death penalty for possession and sale of drugs. However, neither organized crime nor the black market have had a significant impact on the national economy.

Due to the tremendous economic growth and its ability to preserve stability and promote its multicultural environment, Malaysia has become an increasingly popular destination for tourists from Europe, Japan, and North America. Malaysian tropical forests and beaches, colorful festivals in major cities, and luxurious hotels provide a vibrant environment for the development of hospitality businesses.


Malaysia is a federal constitutional monarchy with a parliamentary democracy largely influenced by the British parliamentary system. The country consists of 13 states and 2 federal territories. The heads of 9 of the states are hereditary rulers, and the heads of the remaining 4 states are governors appointed by the sovereign, on the advice of the federal parliament. One of the unique features of the political system in Malaysia is that the sovereign (Paramount Ruler or Yang di-Pertuan Agang in Malay) is elected every 5 years by and from the 9 hereditary rulers of 9 states of Peninsular Malaysia. The sovereign is the supreme head of Malaysia and supreme commander of the armed forces, but his power significantly diminished in the 1990s due to the constitutional changes initiated by the parliament; at present he plays a visible but mostly ceremonial role in the political process in the country. The prime minister, who has considerable executive power, must be a member of the 192-seat House of Representatives, and he chooses the cabinet with approval from the sovereign.

There are a number of political organizations in Malaysia. Most prominent of them are the Barisan Nasional (National Front); the governing coalition of 14 parties that forms the United Malays National Organization (UMNO); the Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA); and the Malaysian Indian Congress (MIC). Of the opposition parties, the most influential is the Barisan Alter-natif (Alternative Front), which brings together the Parti Islam sa-Malaysia (Islamic Party of Malaysia), the Democratic Action Party, and some others. The governing coalition of the UMNO, MCA, and MIC was formed on the eve of independence, on a platform of achieving independence by peaceful means. It was transformed into the National Front after bloody inter-communal riots between Malays and Chinese in 1969. The Malayan Communist Party (MCP), which had gained much of its influence through its leading role in the resistance to Japanese occupation during World War II, ran a militant campaign for independence that did not get mass support and led to the Malayan Emergency (1948-1960), a period of social and political unrest. The MCP was banned and has never played an active political role in independent Malaysia.

Since Malaysia achieved independence, preservation of the balance between the main ethnic groups, political stability, and equal access to the national wealth were the major issues that shaped political debate and fueled conflict in the state. The coalition between the 3 main political parties and later the National Front, which represent the biggest ethnic communities in Malaysia, came to power on a platform of national consolidation and state paternalism (where the state makes decisions in social and economic affairs that in other countries would have been left to individuals and the market). This coalition was able to overcome deep divisions in Malaysian society and implement a successful policy of economic reforms, and it has remained in power ever since. In economic areas, the government has taken a very active role in the development and industrialization of the national economy. This has included significant investment in the state sector, a close alliance between government and private businesses, and the gradual privatization of state enterprises under a major privatization program launched in 1986.

In response to growing discontent between ethnic communities and the resultant rising social polarization, in 1970 the Malaysian government introduced a 20-year program called the New Economic Policy (NEP). The program was intended to encourage rapid economic growth in all sectors of the national economy, promote private entrepreneurshipespecially among representatives of poor communitiesand support small and medium-sized businesses. It was also intended to attract foreign investments, especially in modern technologies, by offering cheap and well-trained labor. At the same time, however, the government made major efforts to redistribute wealth. The NEP recognized the need for radical social changes and aimed to improve living conditions, economic power, and access to education and social benefits for Malays and indigenous people. These groups, who were called Bumiputera (sons of the soil), received privileged access to public services, were granted land rights and preferences in education and training, and benefited from job quotas in the public sector . This program was successful, and Malaysia achieved impressive economic growth, especially during the late 1970s, and throughout the 1980s. Between 1979 and 1989, the average annual GDP growth rate was around 5.2 percent, with manufacturing growing at an annual average of 8.2 percent and exports of goods and services at an annual average of 9.3 percent. In 1990, the NEP was replaced by the National Development Policy (NDP), which continued to promote economic growth, but relaxed some of the social requirements and privileges institutionalized under the NEP. Between 1989 and 1999, the average annual growth of GDP was around 7.6 percent, with manufacturing growing at an even more impressive 10.2 percent.

However, in 1997 Malaysia was affected heavily by the Asian financial crisis that started with the currency collapse in neighboring Thailand. Unlike Indonesia and Thailand, Malaysia became the only country in Southeast Asia to reject the International Monetary Fund's package of conditions and financial assistance, blaming international speculators for creating the crisis. The government, led by Prime Minister Dr. Mahathir bin Muhammad, opted for direct state intervention, imposing temporary restrictions on the currency exchange market and introducing various other measures, while his deputy called for further liberalization and economic restructuring . Against the recommendations of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the Malaysian government temporarily established tough capital-control measures to contain capital outflow . The Malaysian currency, the Malaysian ringgit, was pegged to the U.S. dollar at a fixed rate of RM3.8 per U.S. dollar (according to the IMF, out of 16 larger emerging market economies, only China and Malaysia have fixed pegs). Although the IMF initially criticized the Malaysian government's imposition of capital control and other restrictive measures, it later recognized their effectiveness.

Allegedly, disagreement over the handling of the crisis led to the dismissal of Anwar Ibrahim, finance minister and deputy prime minister, who was also expelled from the UMNO, effectively ending his career. In 1998, Anwar was arrested on charges of corruption and homosexual activity and allegedly beaten while in custody. The trial consolidated Anwar's supporters and sparked protests across Malaysia in 1998 and 1999. Nevertheless, he was convicted on controversial charges of obstruction of justice. This trial undermined Mahathir's popularity at home and his standing internationally. The irregularities during the trial and police actions against demonstrations were condemned by human rights activists around the world.

The major proportion of government revenue comes from taxes, totaling 76 percent of revenue in 1999 (46 percent from direct taxes and 30 percent from indirect taxes ). In 1999, the income tax rate was 28 percent for both resident and non-resident companies; however, companies resident in Malaysia have tax exemption on income brought in from abroad. The Malaysian government has introduced a number of initiatives for manufacturing activities, tourism, the agricultural sector, transportation, and communication.


From the colonial era, Malaysia inherited relatively well-developed but unevenly distributed infrastructure and transportation networks. After achieving independence, the Malaysian government made considerable efforts and large investments in expanding its highways, railroads, seaports, and airports. More recently, the government played an active role in encouraging development of modern modes of communications such as satellite telecommunications and the Internet. In the late 1990s, the government launched a privatization program in the transportation and communication sector, which brought private investments, allowed more flexibility, and provided initiatives for managers to increase profitability and production efficiency.

Malaysia is served by a network of 94,500 kilometers (58,721 miles) of primary and secondary roads, 70,970 kilometers (44,100 miles) of which are paved. This includes 580 kilometers (360 miles) of superior quality expressways, which connect Kuala Lumpur with Singapore and with major seaports and other destinations. However, the road transportation system is still underdeveloped in East Malaysia (Sabah and Sarawak), with most of the roads in Peninsular Malaysia. In the 1990s, with the rapidly growing number of privately-owned cars (840,000 new registrations in 1997 alone), the roads in the capital and other major cities became highly congested. This also brought air pollution in Kuala Lumpur to a very high level, which combined with pollution from forest fires in the Indonesian part of Borneo to create hazardous smog in 1997 and 1998. In 1996, there was a total of almost 7 million motor vehicles registered in Malaysia, including 2.8 million passenger cars, 3.4 million motorcycles and mopeds, 37,000 buses and coaches, and 400,000 trucks and vans. In response to the growing number of cars on the national roads, the government invested in development of the public transport system, including modernization of the country's railways and the construction of a light rapid-transit system in Kuala Lumpur.

Malaysia has a railway system of about 1,800 kilometers (1,120 miles), part of which was planned for privatization in 1998-99. In 2000, only 148 kilometers (92 miles) of railways were electrified. The major tracks run from Singapore to Kuala Lumpur, and further to Pinang and Bangkok (Thailand). However, the railways are unevenly distributed. There is only 1 railway track of about 134 kilometers (83 miles) in East Malaysia (in Sabah). Malaysia intends to invest heavily in development of a monorail system in Kuala Lumpur and into building new railways. The biggest project is the US$632 million (RM2.4 billion) Express Rail Link (ERL), which will connect Kuala Lumpur Central (the main railway station in the Kuala Lumpur City) with Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA). In 1996-97, the 8.6-kilometer Kuala Lumpur People Rapid Transit (monorail) was built at a cost of US$300 million (RM1.14 billion). The U.S.-based Parsons Transportation Group provided design and engineering services to the local Malaysian firm building

Country Newspapers Radios TV Sets a Cable subscribers a Mobile Phones a Fax Machines a Personal Computers a Internet Hosts b Internet Users b
1996 1997 1998 1998 1998 1998 1998 1999 1999
Malaysia 158 420 166 5.2 99 6.9 58.6 23.53 1,500
United States 215 2,146 847 244.3 256 78.4 458.6 1,508.77 74,100
China N/A 333 272 40.0 19 1.6 8.9 0.50 8,900
Indonesia 24 156 136 N/A 5 0.9 8.2 0.76 900
aData are from International Telecommunication Union, World Telecommunication Development Report 1999 and are per 1,000 people.
bData are from the Internet Software Consortium ( and are per 10,000 people.
SOURCE: World Bank. World Development Indicators 2000.

Kuala Lumpur's light rail transit systems. Several other multi-multimillion dollar railway projects have been initiated, but some were put on hold due to the difficulties caused by the Asian financial crisis.

Malaysia's seaports were established during the colonial era and served as merchant ports as well as British naval bases. The major ports are Kelang, George Town, Pinang, and Kuantan on the Peninsula, and Kota Kinabalu and Kuching in East Malaysia. During the last few decades, these ports were expanded to serve rapidly-growing Malaysian exports and imports. The West Port of Port Kelang has seen RM2.2 billion worth of combined (private and government) investments, while there has been RM2.8 billion worth of investment in the Tan-jung Pelepas Port. Competition has grown between Malaysia and Singapore for servicing international ships and handling containers, although 40 percent of Malaysia's international trade was handled through Singapore until recently. In 1998 Malaysia's seaports handled 83 million metric tons of cargo. In late 2000, there was an announcement that the world's largest container line, Maersk-Sealand, intends to move its regional trans-shipment operations from Singapore to the Malaysian port in Johor.

Malaysia has also promoted development of aviation in order to serve growing tourism and business needs. The country has 32 airports with paved runways, and 83 airports with unpaved runways. The largest of them, the US$3.2 billion state-of-the-art Kuala Lumpur International Airport, was opened in 1998. It is capable of handling 25 million passengers and 1.2 million tons of cargo annually. U.S. firms, including Harris, FMC, Adtranz, and Honeywell, have been awarded contracts to supply passenger trams, jetways, and information systems for this new airport. Malaysia transformed its national partly-privatized air carrier, Malaysian Airlines, into a world-class company, operating a fleet of about 100 aircraft.

In Peninsular Malaysia, electrical power is supplied by the predominantly state-controlled Tenaga Nasional company. Due to the rapid industrial development and growing demand for electricity, considerable efforts were made to privatize the national utility company and develop private initiatives to build and operate new power generating plants. To this end, a private consortium, the Independent Power Providers (IPPs), was established. Malaysia has sufficient reserves of oil, gas, and coal to meet its energy needs. Additionally, in East Malaysia there is huge potential for building hydroelectric power plants, but their development will require considerable investments. In the mid-1990s, the Malaysian government considered building the Bakun Hydro-electric Dam, which would have been one of the world's largest dams, in Sarawak; the controversial plan was abandoned, however, due to financial difficulties. In 1998, Malaysia produced 57.45 billion kilowatt hours (kWh), 94 percent of which was produced using fossil fuel and 5.22 percent by hydroelectric power plants.

Telecommunications services in Malaysia are provided by several competing companies. The largest is Telecom Malaysia, which formerly had a state monopoly in the sector. The quality of telecommunication services is up to international standards, thanks to an inflow of private investments and the government's initiatives in developing this sector. In 1998, the country had 4.4 million telephone lines and 2.17 million mobile phones. In 1999 there were 8 major Internet service providers (including Telecom Malaysia, MIMOS Ltd., and Maxis Ltd.), with a number of new companies announcing their intention to enter the market. In 1998, the Malaysian government announced the development of the multi-billion-dollar Multimedia Super Corridor (MSC). This ambitious project, 15 kilometers wide and 50 kilometers long, and stretching from Kuala Lumpur to the new international airport, is planned to become a Malaysian "Silicon Valley." The MSC will include 2 "smart cities," employing a high-technology environment, high-capacity telecommunications, sophisticated infrastructure, and even "electronic government."


By international standards, Malaysia has a mediumsized, but rapidly growing economy. It is self-sufficient in important natural resources, including gas and oil, and has a good environment and climate for the production of various crops. Its location, on a crossroads of major sea routes that connect the Far East to South Asia, the Middle East and Europe, provides some additional advantages for the development of its international trade.

Malaysia has a diversified and rapidly expanding manufacturing sector, which between 1989 and 1999 grew at an annual average of 10 percent. Although in many areas of manufacturing, it relies on imported technologies and foreign investments, Malaysia was able to join the world's leaders in some fields. In the 1990s, it became the world's third-largest producer of integrated circuits and one of the leading producers of domestic appliances. Some of the world's largest corporations, such as Dell and Microsoft of the United States, NEC and Mitsubishi of Japan, and others, have opened branches in Malaysia.

Agriculture is still an important export earner, although it experienced stagnation with an average annual growth of only 0.2 percent between 1989 and 1999. Malaysia is the world's largest producer of palm oil, accounting for almost half of the world's production. In the past, the country also was the world's largest producer of rubber, but in the early 1990s it was overtaken by Thailand and Indonesia. Malaysia remains the world's fourth-largest producer of cocoa. Nevertheless, the share of agriculture in the GDP declined from 29 percent in 1970 to 12 percent in 1998.

The role of the mining sector, which once played a very important role in Malaysian exports, is also declining. For a long time, Malaysia was the world's largest producer of tin, but in the early 1990s was overtaken by Brazil and neighboring Indonesia. Malaysia has relatively large reserves of gas and oil. The country is ranked 13th in terms of the world's gas reserves and 22nd in oil reserves.

Malaysia also tries to promote its service sector, which has grown steadily over the last 2 decades, becoming the second-largest sector of the Malaysian economy. However, in doing so, Malaysia has to compete with neighboring Singapore. Local trade, tourism, and other services currently make important contributions to the country's GDP, providing employment for 32 percent of the Malaysian labor force .


Agriculture remains an important sector of Malaysia's economy, contributing 12 percent to the national GDP and providing employment for 16 percent of the population. The British established large-scale plantations and introduced new commercial crops (rubber in 1876, palm oil in 1917, and cocoa in the 1950s). The 3 main cropsrubber, palm oil, and cocoahave dominated agricultural exports ever since, although the Malaysian share of the world's production of these crops declined steadily during the last 2 decades. In addition to these products, Malaysian farmers produce a number of fruits and vegetables for the domestic market, including bananas, coconuts, durian, pineapples, rice, rambutan (a red, oval fruit grown on a tree of the same name in Southeast Asia), and others. The Malaysian tropical climate is very favorable for the production of various exotic fruits and vegetables, especially since Peninsular Malaysia seldom experiences hurricanes or droughts.

As rice is a staple foodstuff in the everyday diet of Malaysians and is a symbol of traditional Malay culture, the production of rice, which stood at 1.94 million metric tons in 1998, plays an important part in the country's agriculture. However, the overall production of rice does not satisfy the country's needs, and Malaysia imports rice from neighboring Thailand and Vietnam.

In 1999, Malaysia produced 10.55 million metric tons of palm oil, remaining one of the world's largest producers. Almost 85 percent or 8.8 million metric tons of this was exported to international market. Malaysia is one of the world's leading suppliers of rubber, producing 767,000 metric tons of rubber in 1999. However, in the 1990s, large plantation companies began to turn to the more profitable palm oil production. Malaysia also is the world's fourth-largest producer of cocoa, producing 84,000 metric tons in 1999.

Logging in the tropical rainforest is an important export revenue earner in East Malaysia and in the northern states of Peninsular Malaysia. In 2000, Malaysia produced 21.94 million cubic meters of sawed logs, earning RM1.7 billion (US$450 million) from exports. Malaysia sells more tropical logs and sawed tropical timber abroad than any other country, and is one of the biggest exporters of hardwood. Despite attempts at administrative control and strict requirements regarding reforestation in the early 1990s, logging companies often damage the fragile tropical environment. Sharp criticism from local and international environmentalist groups gradually led to bans on the direct export of timber from almost all states, except Sarawak and Sabah. In December 2000, the government and representatives of indigenous and environ-mentalist groups agreed that there is a need to adopt standards set by the international Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), which certifies that timber comes from well-managed forests and logging companies have to be responsible for reforestation.



Tin, oil, and gas are the major natural resources of export significance produced by the mining sector in Malaysia. The mining of tin was introduced during the colonial era and until the 1980s the country was the world's largest producer of tin, being overtaken in the early 1990s by Brazil and neighboring Indonesia. The major mines are situated in Peninsular Malaysia, making it easy to transport their products to the nearest seaports. Malaysia's exports of tin declined from 36,812 metric tons in 1994 to 22,376 metric tons in 1998, affected by fluctuations in the world market.

During recent decades, Malaysia has increased production of crude petroleum and natural gas. In 1999, it produced 693,000 barrels of crude oil per day and 3.8 billion cubic feet of liquefied natural gas (LNG). The high-quality oil is extracted mainly from offshore platforms in the states of Terengganu, Sabah, and Sarawak, with a total of about 40 oilfields in operation (1999). There are 5 oil refineries situated in Malaysia. The production of gas increased steadily in the 1990s to meet the rising demand in the domestic and international markets, with exports mainly going to Taiwan, South Korea, and Singapore. Malaysia was ranked thirteenth in the world in terms of gas reserves and twenty-second in oil reserves in 1999. The state-controlled petroleum corporation, Petronas, has been seeking a greater role in the international market, investing in promising new projects in the Middle East and Southeast Asia.

Overall, mining plays a declining role in the national economy of the country, contributing just under 7.3 percent of GDP and providing employment for 39,000 people or under 1 percent of the labor force (1998). However, there is great potential for development of this sector, since Malaysia has various relatively under-exploited mineral resources in East Malaysia (Sabah and Sarawak), including bauxite, iron ore, copper, ilmenite, and gold. Additionally, there are large offshore reserves of high-quality oil and gas.


Malaysia has established a diverse and quickly-growing manufacturing sector that plays an increasing role in the Malaysian economy. Manufacturing contributes about 29 percent of the GDP, providing employment to 2.3 million people or 27 percent of the workforce (1999). From the late 1970s, the proportion of GDP provided by the manufacturing sector in Malaysia grew from 20.2 percent in 1979 to around 29 percent in 1999. The United States continues to be the single largest foreign investor in Malaysia's manufacturing sector, with approved new manufacturing investments totaling US$1.37 billion (RM5.2 billion) in 1999. The major investment projects were in the chemical, electronics, and electrical industries.

Malaysia built up its manufacturing sector mainly in the 1970s and 1980s, utilizing its long-established industrial centers on the island of Pinang and the Kelang Valley, its well-developed transportation infrastructure (including seaports and railways), and the entrepreneurial skills of its small and medium-sized businesses. The industrial sector initially consisted of oil refining, machinery assembly, and light industries (including foodstuff processing and textile manufacturing). However, as in neighboring Singapore, the Malaysian manufacturing sector was boosted in the 1970s and 1980s by the extensive growth of the electric assembly and electronics sectors. Malaysia became an important producer of radios, television sets, stereo equipment, and other related products. In the 1980s, the Malaysian government launched its national automobile project, the locally produced Proton car (in cooperation with Mitsubishi of Japan), and in the late 1980s, it started exporting the Proton to the international market. In the 1990s, there was further growth in the manufacturing sector, especially in export-oriented electronics production, including semiconductors, silicon wafers, and other items. Malaysia has become the world's third-largest producer, and one of the world's largest exporters, of semiconductors.

As in neighboring Singapore, the Malaysian government has played an active role in industrialization and economic development. In this regard, the Malaysian Industrial Development Agency (MIDA) has been instrumental in promoting the rapid development of targeted sectors of industries (especially knowledge-and technology-intensive sectors), since all industrial projects that involve foreign direct investments (FDIs) must be approved by the MIDA. The government also used direct investments and encouraged the inflow of FDIs, establishing special export-processing zones where investors were given access to well-developed infrastructure and enjoyed tax breaks and other privileges. Since the 1980s, the government has actively promoted the electronics, information technology, and multimedia sectors, and has encouraged the relocation of labor-intensive industries to Indonesia and Thailand.

Most of Malaysia's electrical and electronic products are produced for export to the United States, Europe, and other markets. This makes its manufacturing economy vulnerable to downturns in the regional and international market. Despite some restrictive measures and financial initiatives, Malaysia was negatively affected by the 1997 Asian financial crisis. In 1997 and 1998, its manufacturing sector experienced serious contraction; dozens of plants were closed and thousands of workers lost their jobs. In 1998 alone, the sector was reduced by about 10.9 percent across the board. However, in 1999 and 2000, Malaysia managed to reverse the recession in manufacturing, and this sector experienced an impressive growth of 12 percent per annum.

Malaysia is one of ASEAN's leading exporters of furniture, with total exports reaching about US$1.02 billion (RM3.9 billion) in 1999. Access to cheap local wood makes Malaysian furniture manufactures very competitive in the international market. In 1999, the United States was the largest single market for Malaysian wooden furniture (37 percent), followed by Japan (14 percent), Singapore (9 percent), and the United Kingdom (9 percent). If the rapid growth in this sector remains unchanged, by 2005 Malaysia could become one of the top ten furniture exporters in the world.



Tourism is becoming an increasingly important sector of Malaysia economy. Together with the retail sector, it provides employment for almost 1.57 million people, or around 17 percent of the labor force. Roughly 7.5 million tourists visited the country in 1999, contributing RM10 billion to the national economy. This makes tourism one of Malaysia's top foreign exchange earners. According to the national authorities, the country has 1,426 hotels, the total room capacity of which almost doubled during the 1990s to about 110,000 in 2000. Most visitors have been from Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia, Japan, China, the United Kingdom, and Australia.

In order to develop tourism, Malaysia has promoted its diverse cultural environment, hosting a number of cultural festivals and performances. It has also publicized its rich natural heritage, which includes tropical forests, coral reefs, unspoiled mountain ranges, rivers, and national parks. The country offers tax-free bargain shopping and excellent service, with top-class hotels such as Sheraton, Hilton, Intercontinental, and other well-established international chains opening branches. It offers a wide variety of activities, from eco-friendly and adventure tourism to scuba diving and relaxed family holidays on the numerous Malaysian islands and beaches. Additionally, Malaysia has signed visa-free regimes with most countries in Asia, the Americas, and Europe, enabling international tourists to travel to Malaysia without obtaining entry visas. In 1997, however, tourism suffered from the regional financial crisis and by the smog caused by several months of forest fires in Indonesia. The number of tourist arrivals declined significantly in 1997 and 1998; however, there was a strong recovery in arrivals in 1999 and 2000.


The financial service industry is another rapidly growing sector of Malaysia's economy. In terms of employment, it almost doubled from 230,900 people in 1988 to 447,200 people in 1998. Traditionally, this sector was built around the banking system, investments, insurance, and some other activities. For more than a decade until 1997, the financial service sector experienced rapid expansion fuelled by the inflow of Foreign Direct Investments (FDIs), reasonably cheap credits, and overall rapid economic growth in all sectors of the economy. Malaysia developed a sophisticated computerized banking payment system, encouraging development of electronic payment systems and electronic banking. The U.S.-based Motorola and Unisys have taken part in these projects as members of consortia that included local companies. Malaysia's government considered developing Kuala Lumpur into a regional financial center, competing with Singapore for this role, although it was slow to allow foreign brokers to operate at the Kuala Lumpur Stock Exchange (KLSE).

The 1997 regional financial crisis started with the collapse of the Thai currency (the Baht), which severely affected the Malaysian financial sector. Share and property prices declined significantly, provoking panic among local and international investors. Within a short time, the Malaysian ringgit had depreciated against major international currencies, especially the U.S. dollar. This inflicted considerable damage on local businesses, as a significant number of credits were in U.S. dollars and local companies faced extreme difficulties repaying those credits. The Kuala Lumpur Stock Exchange (KLSE) lost more than half its value, plunging from RM807 billion in the middle of 1996 to RM376 billion in the middle of 1997. In response to this crisis, the Malaysian government imposed currency and capital controls, locked in foreign investors' share holdings for 1 year, and initiated a share-buying scheme with the government-controlled funds. In 1999 and 2000, financial services began their recovery, and the government slowly eased various restrictions and state control in this sector.


Traditionally, in Malaysia many small and medium-sized businesses were built around the retail sector and were often associated with small shops and cafés run by Chinese merchants. The retail sector grew, in terms of its size and quality of service, due to a general rise in income among the population and an increase in tourism arrivals. In the 1990s, major international retail chains such as Yaohan and SOGO of Japan, Marks and Spencer of the United Kingdom, MAKRO of France and fast-food franchises such as McDonald's, Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC), and others opened outlets in Malaysia. However, there are still a number of small family-run traditional shops and cafés, selling both imported and locally-made products.

Tourists can also buy pirated products, including footwear, optical disks (CDs), and computer software. According to one study, piracy may have accounted for losses of US$84.2 million (RM320 million) in market value in 1999. In April 2000, the United States Trade Representative (USTR) placed Malaysia on the special Priority Watch List for its failure to reduce pirated optical disc production and export. In response to this, the Malaysian police regularly launch crackdowns on unlicensed software businesses.


Malaysia's international trade experienced tremendous growth throughout the last 3 decades. The Malaysian government welcomed export-oriented industries, created a very positive investment environment in the country, and fostered close relations between government and private businesses. The government established a few barriers on the importation of goods and services, although it often opted for selective intervention and for protecting some sectors of the national economy. Over 5 years, Malaysia more than doubled its exports from US$29.416 billion in 1990 to US$74.037 billion in 1995. After the 1997 regional financial turmoil, Malaysia experienced economic recession, although this recession was much smaller and less destructive than that in South Korea or in Indonesia. Due to tough economic measures, Malaysia's exports recovered and reached US$83.5 billion in 1999.

Historically, the United States has long been one of Malaysia's largest trading partners, its exports to the United States reaching 21.9 percent in 1999, a year in which it was the United States' 12th largest trading partner. Trade between these 2 countries consisted mainly of assembled electrical goods and manufactured electronic

Trade (expressed in billions of US$): Malaysia
Exports Imports
1975 3.843 3.566
1980 12.958 10.820
1985 15.442 12.301
1990 29.416 29.258
1995 74.037 77.751
1998 73.304 58.326
SOURCE: International Monetary Fund. International Financial Statistics Yearbook 1999.

products. Neighboring Singapore is traditionally the second-largest export market, with the proportion of goods to Singapore reaching 16.5 percent and dominated by electrical and electronic equipment, machinery, metals, and mineral fuels. Japan is in third place at 11.6 percent, and, once again, exports are dominated by electrical and electronic equipment, machinery and mineral fuels. Other export destinations are the Netherlands, Taiwan, and Hong Kong.

Japan, the United States, and Singapore are also the 3 largest sources of imports. Most Malaysian imports originate from Japan, with the Japanese share of imported products reaching 20.8 percent in 1999, and consisting mainly of electrical and electronic equipment and machinery. The second most important source of imports is the United States, totaling 17.4 percent and dominated by electrical and electronic equipment and transportation equipment. Malaysia was the United States' 17th largest export market in 1999. Malaysia's third most important source of imports is Singapore, totaling 14.0 percent.

During the last 3 decades, Malaysian exports shifted from the sale of agricultural products, raw and processed natural resources, and labor-intensive manufactured goods (including clothing, footwear, and textiles) to the sale of skill-intensive products, including electrical and electronic equipment and parts, and services. The proportion of exported electrical machinery, appliances, and partsincluding semiconductors, electronic equipment, and electrical appliancesreached almost 56 percent in 1998. The other important export products were commodities, chemicals and chemical products, manufactured metal products, and textiles, clothing, and footwear.

Malaysia has managed to maintain a positive trade balance, exporting more goods than it imports. Even during the recession of 1997 and 1998, the country had a large trade surplus of US$4.0 billion in 1997 and US$17.7 billion in 1998.

In the mid-1990s Malaysia faced growing competition from neighboring Indonesia, the Philippines, and Thailand, which could offer cheaper labor and larger and growing domestic markets. However, recent political and economic uncertainty in the region, especially military conflicts and terrorist activities in Indonesia and the Philippines has undermined the attractiveness of those markets. This has given an advantage to politically and economically stable Malaysia, although its government has often been criticized for the undemocratic measures used to maintain stability and political balance within the country.

Although Malaysia's industrialization and economic growth is highly dependent on international trade, the Malaysian government was less supportive of full economic liberalization than neighboring Singapore.

Malaysia's leadership was quite reluctant to support free trade within the Asia Pacific Economic Co-operation (APEC) region, arguing that developing countries need more time to prepare for lifting all trade barriers. Additionally, the Malaysian prime minister, Dr. Mahathir, suggested setting up a new regional body, the East Asian Economic Caucus (EAEC), in order to strengthen the negotiating power of East-Asian countries with regard to the North American Free-Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the European Union.


During the last 2 decades the value of Malaysian currency has shown remarkable stability, mainly due to the country's steady economic growth and regular state intervention into the currency exchange rate . The Malaysian dollar was floated in 1973, and in that year its exchange rate stood at around RM2.45 per US$1. At the same time, the Malaysian dollar became the sole unit of legal tender, as Singapore and Brunei currencies were excluded from free circulation in the country. The government periodically revised its exchange control regulations, introducing further liberalization of the controls. In 1985, the Malaysian ringgit was valued at RM2.48 per US$1, and this exchange rate remained practically unchanged until the 1997 Asian financial crisis.

During the period between 1973 and 1997, inflationary pressure was relatively small, with a peak inflation rate of around 17 percent in 1974. Remarkable stability was supported by a very high rate of savings. Malaysia has one of the highest savings rates in the world, at a level of around 40 percent of GDP. However, Malaysians also borrow rampantly, with a large proportion of investments directed to the booming property market and stock market. Outstanding loans were equivalent to 170 percent of GDP by the end of 1997, one of the highest such ratios in the world.

The Malaysian banking system is well established, with 38 commercial banks operating in the country in 1996, including 14 foreign banks and 12 merchant banks.

Exchange rates: Malaysia
ringgits (RM) per US$1
Jan 2001 3.8000
2000 3.8000
1999 3.8000
1998 3.9244
1997 2.8133
1996 2.5159
SOURCE: CIA World Factbook 2001 [ONLINE].

The foreign banks were represented by the biggest names, such as ABN AMRO Bank of the Netherlands, Mitsubishi and Tokyo banks of Japan, Citibank of the United States, Standard Chartered Bank of the United Kingdom, and others. However, the fundamental problem of the banking system in Malaysia, as in other emerging markets in Asia, was its exposure to bad loans , allegedly made to politically well-connected businessmen and to overheated property and share markets. This was an important factor that eventually led to a financial downturn.

The 1997 Asian financial crisis affected all regional currencies, dragging them downwards. The property and share markets also dwindled, putting additional pressure on the currencies. The Malaysian ringgit had plummeted from about RM2.55 per U.S. dollar in early 1997 to about RM3.75 in April 1998, and further to RM4.2 in August 1998 (speculations against the Malaysian ringgit on the currency exchange market largely contributed to this downturn). In response to this pressure, in September of 1998 the Malaysian government introduced a range of capital and currency-exchange control measures. A key component of this unprecedented move was pegging the Malaysian ringgit at RM3.80 per US$1. The Malaysian government also closed all legal channels for the transfer of Malaysian ringgit abroad and froze the repatriation of stock assets abroad held by non-residents in Malaysia for a period of 12 months. It even limited its own tourists headed abroad from taking more than RM500 in cash.

Such tough measures reduced the impact of the financial turmoil of 1997 and 1998, although they were sharply criticized by the IMF and other international organizations. In August 1998, Russia defaulted on its international obligations, while Malaysia was slowly achieving economic recovery. Malaysia rejected financial assistance from the IMF and kept its external debt at the relatively moderate level of US$42 billion, or 59 percent of GDP, with debt service payments of about US$6.0 billion (1998). In order to rehabilitate non-performing loans (NPLs), the Malaysian government established the Danaharta, an asset-managing company with the task of buying and rehabilitating NPLs, and the Corporate Debt Restructuring Committee, which facilitated voluntary debt restructuring between creditors and debtors. By May 2000, the Danaharta had acquired about 42 percent of NPLs, with a total value of US$9.63 billion. The government also injected US$1.9 billion into 10 banking institutions. In 1999 and 2000, Malaysia's economy was recovering, prompting the government to ease many of the restrictive measures, although it will take time for international investors to revive their confidence in the Malaysian market.

Malaysia has a single stock exchange, the Kuala Lumpur Stock Exchange (KLSE). During the period of expansion in the 1980s and 1990s, the KLSE was among the fastest growing stock exchanges in the region, with ambitions to become one of the region's leading financial centers. However, the KLSE lost ground after the stock market collapse in 1997, with some shares losing up to 80 percent of their value. With the strong economic recovery, there was a return of investors and the KLSE strengthened in late 1999 and 2000.


Malaysia experienced extraordinary economic growth during the last 3 decades, which brought prosperity and higher standards of living to the majority of the people. One of the most important achievements in Malaysia has been the elimination of extreme poverty and hunger. The urban areasespecially the capital Kuala Lumpur, and major tourist destinations and industrial cities such as George Town, Malacca, and Petaling Jaya enjoy a quality of living very similar to that in developed countries. The major cities have first-class shopping centers, condominiums with air-conditioning and swimming pools, expensive private schools, and elite clubs. The rural population, meanwhile, often lives in traditional wooden houses in kampungs (villages) with limited facilities.

The monthly gross household income nearly doubled from MR1,167 in 1990 to MR2,007 in 1995. There has emerged a fairly strong middle class. However, incomes are still distributed unevenly. For instance, the wealthiest 20 percent of Malaysians control 53.8 percent of the wealth, while the poorest 60 percent of the population controls just 21.3 percent of wealth. At the very bottom of the income range, the poorest 20 percent of the population controls only 4.5 percent of wealth. Disparities exist along both geographic and ethnic lines. In general, the Chinese population, which has traditionally lived in urban areas and been involved in small and medium-sized businesses or employed in various industries, has had higher incomes than the Malays, who often live in small towns and villages and were traditionally engaged in agriculture. Secondly, there are considerable differences in standards of living, incomes, and access to medical and other social benefits in different parts of the country. Peninsular Malaysia, where the majority of the population lives, has much higher standards of living compared to East Malaysia.

GDP per Capita (US$)
Country 1975 1980 1985 1990 1998
Malaysia 1,750 2,348 2,644 3,164 4,251
United States 19,364 21,529 23,200 25,363 29,683
China 138 168 261 349 727
Indonesia 385 504 603 778 972
SOURCE: United Nations. Human Development Report 2000; Trends in human development and per capita income.
Distribution of Income or Consumption by Percentage Share: Malaysia
Lowest 10% 1.8
Lowest 20% 4.5
Second 20% 8.3
Third 20% 13.0
Fourth 20% 20.4
Highest 20% 53.8
Highest 10% 37.9
Survey year: 1995
Note: This information refers to income shares by percentiles of the population and is ranked by per capita income.
SOURCE: 2000 World Development Indicators [CD-ROM].

Since 1970, the Malaysian government has actively implemented social policies aimed at the elimination of poverty and social inequality, and the development of a social welfare system . The communal unrest of 1969 prompted the Malaysian government to introduce the New Economic Policy (NEP). This 20-year program established state support of poor communities and access to education and social benefits for Malays and indigenous people (the Bumiputera ). This latter aspect included the establishment of privileged access to public services, the granting of land rights, preference in education and training, and job quotas in the public sector. In the 1980s, Malaysia's leadership envisioned the formation of the Malay Baru (New Malays), a better-educated, politically and socially active people able to live in harmony with other communities. In the early 1990s the government relaxed some privileges and reduced some quotas for Bumiputera, making the social welfare system more inclusive and accessible to a wider range of people than it had been before.

The recent economic turbulence of 1997 and 1998 brought higher unemployment, higher prices, and lower incomes. This particularly affected the most vulnerable social groups of society, not only in rural areas, but also in major urban centers. Nevertheless, there were no large groups of people migrating from the country, and Malaysia's quality of life remained much better than in neighboring Indonesia, the Philippines, or Thailand. Around 6.8 percent of the population lived below the poverty line in 1997, most of them in East Malaysia (for comparison, in the neighboring Philippines 32 percent of the population lived below the poverty line in 1997). The economic recovery of 1999 and 2000 reversed the decline in incomes and standards of living.


During the last decade the Malaysian labor force has grown rapidly, due to robust economic growth and the large proportion of young people born in the 1970s. In 1999, the Malaysian labor force was 9.3 million people, with an unemployment rate of 3 percent, or around 270,000. Due to rapid expansion of all sectors of the national economy, there has been a high demand for all types of workers, especially skilled labor in the manufacturing sector and well-trained professionals in the services sector. This led in turn to better wages and rapidly improving working conditions.

The Malaysian government is trying to develop better education at all levels, as it wants to attract skill-intensive industries and services to the country. Primary education is compulsory, and young people may choose between a large number of both public and private schools and colleges. There is an established system of vocational and technical training. A number of Malaysians receive their education overseas, many of them with state support, although during 1997 and 1998, many students returned home. The most popular destinations for overseas education are the United States, England, Canada, and Australia. However, even the rapidly growing numbers of educated and trained Malaysians cannot meet market demand. In the late 1990s, Malaysia experienced shortages of medical doctors, information technology specialists, and professionals in various other areas. In order to meet growing demand of university-trained professionals, in 1994 Malaysia allowed foreign universities to establish campuses in the country.

The higher wages and better working conditions attract large numbers of temporary workers from neighboring Indonesia, Bangladesh, Thailand, and the Philippines. Many of them are hired to work in the low-skill and low-wage construction and service sectors and on agricultural plantations. However, Malaysia has also experienced an inflow of illegal foreign workers, prompting the government to implement harsh detention measures and mass deportation of unauthorized arrivals. Malaysian law does not allow foreign workers to join trade unions. The working conditions of illegal workers are generally inferior to those enjoyed by legally contracted workers. However, labor contractors may be prosecuted if workers complain about abuses or other problems.

The first trade unions appeared in Malaysia before World War II. There are currently 544 trade unions in Malaysia, engaging in the union activities of just over 11 percent of the workforce. Most of the private-sector trade unions are members of the Malaysian Trade Union Congress (MTUC), which was established in 1951. Around 90 unions of public-and civil-sector employees are members of the Congress of Unions of Employees in the Public and Civil Services (CUEPACS). Unions maintain their independence from the government and from political parties; by law, union officers may not hold principal positions in political organizations. However, some individual trade union leaders have been elected to the parliament, and the leader of MTUC joined the ruling party in 1997. The Malaysian Trade Union Act guarantees the right to form or participate in trade union activities, but it restricts the right to strike, calling for "socially responsible behavior." Strikes are extremely rare in Malaysia for several reasons, including strong demand in the labor market and the government's promotion of "industrial harmony." In case of labor disputes, the Ministry of Human Resources may intervene in conciliation procedures; in extreme cases, disputants may refer their case to the Industrial Court. The Industrial Relations Act prohibits employers from taking actions against workers for participating in lawful trade-union activities. There is no national minimum wage, although there have been calls recently from trade unions for its introduction. The Employment Act of 1955 established a maximum 48-hour working week.

The Malaysian Constitution prohibits forced and bonded labor by children, and the government claims that it rigorously enforces child-labor provisions. However, the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions estimates that 75,000 children are engaged as laborers. Faced with the shortages in the workforce, the Malaysian government encourages women to work, providing various initiatives. Currently, more than 35 percent of the labor force are women. However, unionization among women is generally lower than among men.


1400s. The Kingdom of Malacca is founded.

1511. Malacca is conquered by the Portuguese under Afonso de Albuquerque.

1641. The Dutch establish control in the region.

1786. The Sultan of Kedah leases the island of Pinang to the British East India Company.

1819. Singapore is founded by Sir Thomas Raffles.

1824. Malacca falls to Britain.

1888. British North Borneo and Sarawak become British protectorates.

1896. The British form a federation, comprised of Perak, Selangor, Negri Sembilan, and Pahang.

1909. British acquire control over Kedah, Kelantan, Perak, and Terengannuthe 4 northern states in Peninsular Malaysiafrom Siam (now Thailand).

1921. Port Singapore becomes the principal base for British Navy in East Asia.

1942. Malay Peninsula is occupied by Japanese Army.

1945. Malaya is liberated from Japanese occupation.

1946. British impose a system known as the Malayan Union and grant political rights to immigrants.

1948. The Federation of Malaya is established.

1948. State of Emergency is declared in response to armed campaign by the Malayan Communist Party.

1957. Malaya is granted independence within the British Commonwealth.

1963. Malaysia is expanded to form the Federation of Malaysia; Singapore joins the federation.

1965. Singapore leaves the federation.

1967. Malaysia becomes a founding member of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN).

1969. Serious rioting breaks out in the capital city, Kuala Lumpur; more than 200 people killed.

1970. The Malaysian government introduces the New Economic Policy (NEP).

1981. Dr. Mahathir bin Muhammad becomes prime minister of Malaysia.

1983. Prime minister imposes restrictions on the power of the Yang di-Pertuan Agang and the Council of Rulers.

1995. The ruling political coalition Barisan Nasional wins parliamentary elections in landslide victory.

1997. In response to the Asian financial crisis, the government imposes restrictions on currency trading and announces public spending cuts.

1998. National Economic Action Council is established to advise the Malaysian Cabinet on the economic crisis.

1998. Prime Minister Mahathir bin Muhammad dismisses his apparent successor, Finance Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim.

1999. The ruling political coalition Barisan Nasional wins parliamentary elections while losing 14 seats in the parliament.


Malaysia's economy has benefited from several factors, including a stable political environment, an effective bureaucracy, flexible economic policies, export-oriented industrialization, and inflow of foreign direct investments (FDIs). This has brought prosperity and a high level of confidence to the majority of the population. The country has a healthy, rapidly growing economy, although its government has often been criticized for state intervention into economic development and the imposition of capital and currency exchange controls in 1998. However, subsequent events have shown that these were temporary measures, and the government is considering re-liberalization of its economy. Inflation remains low and is under control. Malaysian currency exchange is still tightly regulated and pegged to the U.S. dollar; with the economic recovery, the Malaysian ring-git might be floated again within the next few years. In 1999 and 2000, Malaysia achieved strong economic recovery and, if economic growth at an annual rate of 7.4 percent continues, within the next 20-30 years Malaysia may join the international club of developed nations. In 1998, as if to announce that it had arrived on the world stage, Kuala Lumpur saw the completion of the stunning Petronas Towers, the world's tallest skyscraper complex.

Nevertheless, there are several issues to be addressed. Malaysia's government has developed close relations with its private businesses. These "special relations" with some business groups have allegedly led to the emergence of political cronies with unlimited access to public resources. The experience of neighboring Indonesia shows that this is a dangerous trend that could negatively affect economic development in the future. In 1998-99, Malaysia was widely criticized for establishing increasingly tough political control of the country, and for some harsh measures against the opposition. It remains to be seen whether these measures have in the long term strengthened political stability or undermined it. The political succession of the current leadership will also be a problem. In neighboring Indonesia and Thailand, changes in the political leadership have led to destabilization of the political environment.

In the longer term, Malaysia will need to maintain its international competitiveness, since there is growing competition from other emerging markets for FDIs and for the transfer of modern technologies. Although political and social unrest in neighboring Indonesia and the Philippines has no direct effect on Malaysia, it threatens social stability by causing influxes of refugees and by undermining regional stability. Environmental issues are also important for Malaysia in the longer term as deforestation and global climate change may undermine the country's agriculture, which still plays an important role in the national economy. The recent forest fires in the Indonesian part of Borneo affected not only East Malaysia, but Peninsular Malaysia as well, by injecting hazardous air pollution. This sort of thing, if repeated, may undermine tourism, another important sector of the Malaysian economy. The forecast global economic slowdown may also negatively effect the export-oriented Malaysian economy.


Malaysia has no territories or colonies.


Bank Negara Malaysia (Central Bank of Malaysia). "CurrentHighlights." <>. Accessed March 2001.

Department of Statistics, Malaysia. <>.Accessed March 2001.

Economist Intelligence Unit. Country Profile: Malaysia. London: Economist Intelligence Unit, 2000.

Economist Intelligence Unit. Country Report: Malaysia. London: Economist Intelligence Unit, November 2000.

Gomez, Terence E., and K.S. Jomo. Malaysia's Political Economy: Politics, Patronage and Profits, New York: Cambridge University Press, 1997.

The Government of Malaysia. Prime Minister's Office. <http://>. Accessed March 2001.

Grouch, H. Government and Society in Malaysia. Singapore:Cornell University Press, 1996.

International Financial Statistics Yearbook, 1999. InternationalMonetary Fund, 1999.

Jomo, K. S., and Greg Felker. Technology, Competitiveness, and the State: Malaysia's Industrial Technology Policies. London: Routledge, 1999.

Khoo, B. T. Paradoxes of Mahathirism. New York: Oxford University Press, 1995.

Kuala Lumpur Stock Exchange. <>.Accessed March 2001.

Lucas, Robert E. B., and Donald Verry. Restructuring the Malaysian Economy: Development and Human Resources. London: MacMillan Press, 1999.

Malaysian External Trade Development Corporation. <http://>. Accessed March 2001.

The New Straits Times. <>. AccessedMarch 2001.

U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. CIA World Factbook 2000: Malaysia. <>. Accessed March 2001.

Rafis Abazov


Kuala Lumpur.


Malaysian ringgit (also known as the Malaysian dollar). One Malaysian ringgit (RM1) equals 100 sens. There are coins of 1, 5, 10, 20, and 50 sens. Paper currency is in denominations of RM2, 5, 20, 50, and 100.


Electronic equipment, petroleum and liquefied natural gas, chemicals, palm oil, wood and wood products, rubber, textiles.


Machinery and equipment, chemicals, food, fuel, lubricants.


US$229.1 billion (at purchasing power parity, 1999 est.).


Exports: US$83.5 billion (1999 est.). Imports: US$61.5 billion (1999 est.).

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Malaysia." Worldmark Encyclopedia of National Economies. . 9 Jul. 2018 <>.

"Malaysia." Worldmark Encyclopedia of National Economies. . (July 9, 2018).

"Malaysia." Worldmark Encyclopedia of National Economies. . Retrieved July 09, 2018 from

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

The Chicago Manual of Style

American Psychological Association

  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.



Major Cities:
Kuala Lumpur, George Town

Other Cities:
Alor Setar, Ipoh, Johor Baharu, Kota Baharu, Kota Kinabalu, Kuala Terengganu, Kuantan, Kuching, Melaka, Seremban


This chapter was adapted from the Department of State Post Report dated October 1994. Supplemental material has been added to increase coverage of minor cities, facts have been updated, and some material has been condensed. Readers are encouraged to visit the Department of State's web site at for the most recent information available on travel to this country.


Malaysia is a colorful amalgam of traditional and modern influences. Situated between the South China Sea and the Indian Ocean, it has drawn on China, India, Western Europe, Polynesia, and the Arab world to create a unique multilingual and multicultural nation.

British stewardship of the Malay States began in Penang in the late eighteenth century. After Japan's temporary conquest during World War II and a major Communist insurgency during the 1950's, sovereignty was transferred peacefully in 1957 to an independent federal government. Since independence, the Federation has expanded to include the former British colonies of Sabah and Sarawak on the island of Borneo and changed its name from Malaya to Malaysia to recognize the importance to the country of Chinese, Indian, and aboriginal peoples as well as the ethnic Malays. Singapore was a part of the Federation from 1960-1968.

For over a century Malaysia had enjoyed economic prosperity based on large-scale rubber and tin production. Over the past twenty years production of oil and gas has fueled Malaysia's rapid economic growth. Manufacturing, especially of electronics components, has recently assumed the chief position among Malaysia's exports.

The prosperity brought by tin, rubber, and later natural energy and electronics is supplemented by a stable system of public administration and public services. The culture, variety, and people make it a challenging and interesting country in which to live and work.


Kuala Lumpur

Kuala Lumpur lies within the Federal Territory, an area of 244 square kilometers surrounded by the state of Selangor. It is near the middle of the west coast of peninsular Malaysia, 400 kilometers northwest of Singapore and 40 kilometers inland. It's population is approximately 1.3 million (2000 census). Within metropolitan Kuala Lumpur are located all the major offices of the Malaysian Federal Government; the city also serves as the commercial center of the country.


Kuala Lumpur has several supermarkets, minimarkets, and other local markets that sell fresh produce and imported items. While the variety is large, most imported items cost substantially more than in the U.S. Excellent tropical fruits and vegetables, which often form part of menus here, include both the familiar and the exotic, such as bananas, mangoes, mangosteens, jackfruit, papayas, and the notorious, uniquely-scented durian.

Local seafood of good quality includes prawns, crabs, and a variety of fish. Local beef, mutton, pork, and poultry are also available. Many Americans prefer frozen or chilled beef and lamb imported from Australia and New Zealand. U.S. beef is available but expensive.

Many canned, bottled, frozen, and packaged foods are imported, as are most paper products. Shoppers can usually find the desired item or brand or a good substitute, but anything imported is expensive. Most stores stock baby foods, including formula, cereals, and strained foods. These items are more expensive here than in the U.S. Strained baby foods carry freshness dates. Not all brands of American-made formula are available and not all formula containers are dated for freshness, so arrange for shipment of any special brand recommended by a pediatrician.


Malaysians are increasingly style-conscious; many are fully aware of the latest trends in Western fashions. However, Westerners should be conscious of relatively conservative dress codes in certain circumstances, especially among Malays. Use discretion in selecting attire to avoid inadvertently causing embarrassment to your host or guests. This is particularly important for women. Traditional dresses for Malay women have ankle-length skirts and long sleeves.

Generally speaking, Malaysia's hot, humid climate calls for light clothing, except at hill resorts, where sweaters or light jackets may be needed, especially at night. Extensive use of air conditioning, often supercooled, in offices, hotels and restaurants in Kuala Lumpur and other cities, needs to be taken into account in selecting attire. Hence there are occasions when transitional clothing such as lightweight sweaters, linen jackets for women, and suit jackets or blazers for men, should be worn for comfort. Rainstorms in Kuala Lumpur can be heavy, often occurring in the afternoon or early evening, but usually are brief. Because of the heat, umbrellas are used instead of raincoats.

Clothing and shoe stores in Kuala Lumpur offer a wide selection of items. However, adult sizes tend to be smaller than in the U.S., and large sizes can be hard to find. Prices are comparable to those in the Washington area. It is possible to find shoemakers who will make shoes to order at reasonable prices.

Many reasonably priced tailors are available, and most of them stock good supplies of imported and domestic materials. Attractive, locally-produced batik ties and shirts are reasonably priced. Cotton long-sleeve batik ranges from $12 to $40; silk batiks are more expensive and can exceed $100 each. Shoes larger than size 10 are difficult to find.

Women wear lightweight dresses with either long or short sleeves, or light skirts and blouses. A number of dressmakers offer an extensive selection of materials. In general, custom-tailored clothes are better than ready-made clothes which can be expensive, poorly tailored, and of inferior quality.

There are many shoe stores in Kuala Lumpur, but shoes larger than size 9 and narrow widths are hard to find.

Clothing requirements for children are simple. Schools require uniforms, but they can be made inexpensively here. Summer-weight clothes are worn all the time, except at the hill resorts. Tennis shoes and thongs are popular for all casual activities. I.S.K.L. uniforms include regulation shirts, which must be purchased at the school, and navy blue pants or skirts which can be made inexpensively by local tailors or purchased locally. High school students can wear navy blue or white slacks or long shorts. Girls may also wear navy blue or white skirts. Bring a basic supply with you. No denim is allowed. Some students wear light weight sweaters to school because of the air conditioning.

Supplies and Services

Malaysia is becoming an increasingly consumer-oriented society, and numerous shopping malls cater to the needs of Malaysia's growing middle class and the many expatriates living in Kuala Lumpur. Almost any product you would want to buy, or a reasonable substitute, can be purchased in Kuala Lumpur, but prices are higher than in the U.S. Most standard household and medical supplies and toiletries are readily available, but tend to be more expensive here than in the U.S. Some items are in constant supply, while others appear and disappear unexpectedly.

Familiar brands of American and English cigarettes and Dutch and English cigars are sold locally, as are various pipe tobaccos, but American brands are hard to find.

Basic Services: Tailoring, dressmaking, and shoe repair are all easy to obtain. Dry-cleaning services are available, but treatment for specialcare fabrics is not always available. Beauty shops and barber shops abound. Those in the international-class hotels are convenient and provide the most acceptable service. However, many people try the numerous unisex styling salons found in the shopping malls or the small barber shops clustered in alleyway shophouses run by Malay, Indonesian and Indian barbers.

Religious Activities

Malaysia is officially an Islamic country. However, non-Moslems are free to pursue their own religious beliefs and worship as they please. A variety of religious organizations serve the local Chinese, Indian, and expatriate communities. To avoid unintentionally giving offense, try to become familiar with the standards of behavior appropriate for interacting with members of each of the major Malaysian ethnic groups.

For Christians, local Anglican, Lutheran, Mormon, Presbyterian, Baptist, Methodist, and Roman Catholic denominations hold English-language services. The Presbyterian congregation serves as the principal expatriate international Protestant church, welcoming attendance by all worshippers without regard to previous affiliation. The nearest synagogue is located in Singapore.


The International School of Kuala Lumpur (ISKL) is the only school in Kuala Lumpur which provides elementary and secondary education for foreign students using American elementary and college preparatory curricula. ISKL has been accredited by the Western Association of Secondary Schools and Colleges.

The school offers classes from pre-school (ages 3-4 years) through grade 12. Students transfer to equivalent grades in the U.S. Enrollment is generally about 1400. Students from a total of 46 countries attend ISKL. More Americans attend than any other nationality; Americans make up about 15% of the student body. (The Japanese are second at about 15%) ISKL offers a full college-preparatory program as well as a variety of extracurricular activities and intramural sports. Graduating seniors have a high acceptance rate at the colleges to which they apply in the U.S. The school provides bus transportation but no boarding facilities. Each year the faculty and students present several stage productions. The playing field is used not only for school events, but also for community softball games on Sunday-afternoons, football games sponsored by the American Association, and other community events. ISKL follows the standard American school year, but celebrates Malaysian instead of American holidays.

The school is now divided into two campuses located several miles apart (one for pre-kindergarten through grade 5, the other for grades 6-12). The upper school (grades 6-12), includes a gymnasium, swimming pool, tennis courts, outdoor basketball courts, an outdoor playing field, an open-air snack bar, air-conditioned classrooms, a library, and an auditorium.

For more information, write to the ISKL administrator at the following address:

International School of Kuala Lumpur PO Box 12645 50784 Kuala Lumpur Malaysia.

The private Alice Smith School uses a mainly British curriculum. It offers instruction from kindergarten through the equivalent of grade five. For more information, write to: Alice Smith School, Jalan Bellamy, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

The Garden School, although similar to the Alice Smith School in its use of a British curriculum, differs in that it offers instruction through the secondary level. For more information, write to: The Garden School, 251 Jalan Bukit Bintang, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

Special Educational Opportunities

With the exception of the International Islamic University, local 4-year colleges and universities normally are not open to foreigners, and in any case an increasing number of courses are being taught in Bahasa Malaysia instead of English. Some private 2-year colleges will accept foreigners, but check to be sure credits can be transferred to a recognized U.S. school. Other classes in various Malaysian arts and handicrafts are offered periodically in the community. For further information on these classes, check Selamat Datang, an information book published by the women's division of the American Association. Selamat Datang contains extensive information on such topics as local customs, food, tourism, shopping, churches, schools, and clubs.

ISKL has an extensive ESL program. It also offers special classes for children with reading difficulties and limited facilities for other learning disabilities. No other special educational facilities are available for the handicapped.

Sports & Clubs

Opportunities to join local clubs are limited and require some persistence and patience. Arrangements vary from club to club, but usually involve a deposit of approximately $1,000 which may or may not be refundable, sponsorship by club members, and an interview. For many years, local clubs were the main focus of organized social life and athletic activities among the expatriate community. Some of the best clubs in Kuala Lumpur now are either closed to new members, have long waiting lists, or require fees that are prohibitive. However, always inquire about temporary membership at any clubs in which you are interested.

Kelab Darul Ehsan offers "term" and fully transferable memberships. Non-golf term membership costs about $1,200 per year. Membership including golf costs about $2,000 per year. The club has indoor and outdoor tennis, squash, badminton, an exercise room, swimming pool, golf course, and restaurants. Many of the larger hotels have modern health clubs open to local residents. One that is especially convenient is the "Sweat Club", located adjacent to the MiCasa Hotel, off Jalan Tun Razak. The Sweat Club offers a full range of health club exercise facilities, including an aerobics studio, exercise machines, a swimming pool, tennis courts and a squash court. Full membership costs around $400, "off-hour" membership is about $120; monthly dues cost about $40.

The Royal Selangor Golf Club, on Jalan Tun Razak, is no longer offering individual short-term memberships. Corporate memberships of $8,000 per individual might be available, however.

The Subang Golf Club, located near the international airport 30 minutes from downtown, has facilities for golf, swimming, tennis, dining, and slot machines. Foreign applicants are restricted to temporary memberships. The two year temporary membership has a three month waiting list; entry fees are around $4,000 with monthly dues. The Hilton Hotel Racquet Club has two tennis courts and five squash courts on the roof of the downtown Hilton Hotel. Members are entitled to use the Hotel's pool. Annual dues are over $900 for family memberships; over $600 for single memberships. Members are entitled to one hour of court time per day. Court time must be booked at least two days in advance, and booking is difficult for certain times of the day.

The Lake Club, located near the Parliament Building on the other side of town, has temporary memberships with an initiation fee of about $1,200. The club has several grass and synthetic tennis courts, squash courts, a large pool complex, a library, several restaurants, and movie presentations on the weekends.

The Selangor Polo and Riding Club offers riding instruction for children and adults as well as polo for experienced adults. School horses are available for lessons, and members may board their own horses at the club. The club has a bar and schedules occasional activities in connection with tournaments and other special events. Entry fees for subscribing members are around $600; with monthly dues for families or single members. A refundable riding deposit of about $200 is required for family memberships; $100 for single members. Lessons range in price. A temporary membership for up to 2 months is available.

The Selangor Yacht Club, located an hour away in nearby Port Kelang, owns several sailboats that members can rent at moderate rates. Mooring and landing facilities are also available. The club operates a bar and restaurant featuring a selection of Western and Eastern dishes. The club, which has about 200 members, sponsors weekly sailboat races. Membership is now open and requires sponsorship by two members, a modest initiation fee, and monthly dues. Temporary memberships for up to a year are available and require, in addition to two sponsors, a low, refundable deposit and monthly dues are required. The Royal Selangor Flying Club, at the military airport 6 kilometers from the center of the city, provides its own planes for private flying instructions and for members' use. Meals are available. Fees for plane rental, which vary according to the type of plane and whether or not a professional pilot is needed.

Kelab Golf Angkatan Tentera (the Armed Forces Golf Club) is located near the Royal Selangor Flying Club on the Air Force Base just south of town. It features a short, but challenging, nine-hole golf course. The clubhouse includes a bar and small restaurant. Only 50 expatriates can be members at any one time, and a wait of 4-5 months is customary before a membership application is accepted. Entry fees, which include first quarter dues, are about $650. Monthly dues apply.

The Royal Port Dickson Yacht Club is located 1½ hours away from Kuala Lumpur on a beach along the Straits of Malacca. Facilities include a restaurant, five tennis courts, four squash courts, a swimming pool, billiards, boat rentals, equipment for windsurfing and water skiing, and an active yacht basin. When membership applications were last accepted, initiation fees were $600, and applicants needed two sponsors and were interviewed by a membership committee. Three month temporary memberships are currently available.

The Hash House Harriers, a 45-year old association of cross-country running enthusiasts, and its associated splinter groups, organize runs through oil palm and rubber plantations. Membership rates are reasonable, but expect a wait to enter as a regular member.

Several other clubs have more open membership arrangements. The Selangor Club, also known as "the Spotted Dog", is located downtown facing several of Kuala Lumpur's more picturesque colonial structures across a large public green. Housed in a renovated colonial building featuring Tudor styling, it has long been a landmark in Kuala Lumpur. The club uses the green for national tournaments and its own sporting events including cricket, soccer, field hockey, squash and tennis. Besides four grass tennis courts, the club facilities include a restaurant and ballroom. Bridge lessons are available. All membership applications must be sponsored by two members. Temporary memberships are available, but expect a wait of one year before memberships can become permanent.

Public facilities, such as swimming pools, tennis courts, and playgrounds for children, are limited. The ISKL pool is open to pupils and their families during certain hours of the day. The schedule is posted at school.

Touring and Outdoor Activities

Short trips to outstation areas offer a change of scenery and diversion from the pace of city life, but only the highlands offer any relief from the city's hot, humid climate. Hazardous driving conditions outside of Kuala Lumpur deter many potential travellers, but the rewards of the change of scenery and natural beauty of the country make it worth the effort. In general, the roads are well maintained but winding and overcrowded.

The Awana Golf Club, and Genting Highlands complex, about a one-hour drive from Kuala Lumpur into the Pahang mountains, includes several hotels and a golf course, and offers a cool change to the lowlands.

Fraser's Hill , about 100 kilometers north of Kuala Lumpur and 2½ hours away by car, sits at an altitude of 1,370 meters, and is reached by a narrow, winding mountain road. The resort offers a nine-hole golf course, a few new tennis courts, squash courts, and walking paths through the jungle. The weather is refreshingly cool despite high humidity and intense sunlight during the daytime. Sweaters or light jackets should be worn at night. Besides accommodations at a new hotel, the resort rents numerous houses and bungalows, each with full furnishings and its own staff. Make reservations at least 3 weeks in advance for the hotel and 6 months in advance for bungalows. For major holidays, some families book a year in advance.

Higher at 1,450 meters and farther north than Fraser's Hill, Cameron Highlands offers the same basic change in climate. It lies about 240 kilometers north of Kuala Lumpur, about five hours away by car. Cameron Highlands offers hotels, bungalows, restaurants, and an 18-hole golf course, all at reasonable rates. There are also several hiking trails through the mountain forest. Flowers and excellent local produce, such as strawberries, can be purchased in the area, which is also known for numerous tea plantations that dot the hillsides.

A round trip can be made in one day by car to Port Dickson , one hundred kilometers southeast of Kuala Lumpur, (about 1½ hours drive each way). Port Dickson, a seaside resort, consists of the town itself and a series of sandy bays stretching 17 kilometers south along the coastal road. Facilities are available for swimming, fishing, water skiing, windsurfing, tennis, and golf. Unfortunately, many areas of the beaches are no longer scenic and have pollution problems. Despite this, clean and picturesque coves can still be found.

Several rest houses and hotels provide meals and accommodations. Company-owned bungalows can be rented for a weekend or several days at reasonable cost, but they have become harder to find.

Malacca , situated about 150 kilometers southeast of Kuala Lumpur, a two hour drive by highway, (longer if the scenic coastal drive is taken), is one of the more interesting and picturesque places in Malaysia. The city's architecture reflects its long history as a seaport city-state and later as a colonial stronghold of the Portuguese, Dutch, and British, who held it from 1824 until Malaysia's independence in 1957. Though prices for antiques have climbed in recent years, window shopping in Malacca for Chinese, Portuguese, Dutch, and British antiques is always enjoyable. Malacca is a good place to take visitors.

Like Malacca, Penang offers many opportunities for camera enthusiasts and sightseers. An island city off the northwest coast of Malaysia, Penang boasts beautiful beach hotels, an inclined railway to the top of Penang Hill, ferries to the mainland, small antique shops, and numerous temples, mosques, and British colonial buildings.

Flights from Kuala Lumpur take about an hour. Penang can also be reached in 7 hours by car on a route that takes the traveller through the principal tin mining region of the country and near Kuala Kangsar, the site of the Ubidiah Mosque, one of the most beautiful in Malaysia.

Singapore lies about an hour away by air or 7 hours by car or train off the southern coast of the peninsula. It offers a wide range of shopping and sight-seeing opportunities, and a cosmopolitan atmosphere.

Both car and boat must be used to reach Taman Negara , the National Park, which is in the middle of the peninsula 6 hours from Kuala Lumpur. It offers camping or bungalow facilities, and trails in virgin jungles give hikers excellent opportunities to see Malaysia's flora and fauna in their natural habitat. Caution should be taken to avoid leech and insect bites during certain times of the year.

On the island of Borneo , also known as Kalimantan, the states of Sabah and Sarawak and the Sultanate of Brunei, have unique history, some modern resorts, and give the truly adventurous a chance to glimpse aboriginal culture, jungles, and mountains.

East Malaysia can be reached in 2 hours on flights across the South China Sea.

The East Coast, accessible by plane or car, offers beautiful, white-sand beaches and numerous examples of Malay culture and handicrafts. The drive to the nearest East Coast city, Kuantan , takes 4 hours. Kuala Trengganu and Kota Baru and are an additional several hours north along the coast. Roads are fairly good. The pace of life is considerably more relaxed than in Kuala Lumpur. Several resorts, including a Club Med, have opened along the coast in recent years.

A number of small, secluded islands off both coasts have hotel accommodations. Many are ideal for scuba diving and snorkeling, particularly those off the East Coast, such as Tioman Island , one hour from Kuala Lumpur by air, which is lovely, but seasonal (March to September). Off the West Coast, Pangkor Island resorts are increasingly popular year-round. By car, it is a 4½ hour drive to Lumut followed by a short ferry ride to the island.

Around Kuala Lumpur are several interesting places to visit, such as the National Museum; Batu Caves, a limestone formation north of the city; Chinatown; bird and butterfly parks, an orchid garden, a pewter factory and a local handicraft center. Tours to visit local places of interest in the vicinity are available through the hotels.


A number of air-conditioned theaters in metropolitan Kuala Lumpur show a good selection of American films, but many films are censored. Local cinemas also show a variety of Chinese, Indian, Indonesian, and Malaysian films, occasionally with English subtitles. Ticket prices are reasonable, but these theaters are not frequented much by the expatriate community.

Although the city has no professional theaters, the major hotels do have occasional dinner theater presentations, amateur theatrical events are staged at ISKL, and local professional productions are occasionally presented at various venues.

Dining out is a favorite pastime. The cuisine offered by local restaurants reflects the rich diversity of Malaysia's population; literally hundreds of restaurants, coffee shops, and open air food stalls specialize in Malay, Indian, Western, and any of several types of Chinese food. Except at hotel restaurants, dining out is fairly inexpensive. Restaurants are sanitary, and while not up to U.S. standards by any means, are acceptable for most people. The food can be exciting to taste and, at open air restaurants or stalls, exciting to watch being prepared. For those who seek other kinds of excitement, the city also has several discos and a number of bars and nightclubs. Visiting musicians perform at several concerts each year.

Penang and East Malaysia have several organized festivals and pageants that may appeal to the enthusiastic traveler. Most festivals in Kuala Lumpur are celebrated in a low-key manner. A parade marks Independence Day; banners and arches are erected for Hari Raya, which marks the end of the Islamic month of Ramadan; and a Quran-reading contest occurs each year during Ramadan.

At Chinese New Year, lion dancers and fire crackers can be seen and heard throughout the Chinese sections of the city. During the Indian festival of Thaipusam, hundreds of thousands of devotees come to Batu Caves just north of the city to pay homage to Krishna. Many of the devotees carry ornately decorated kavadis, some attached to their bodies with hooks through the skin. Smaller, but still elaborate, versions of the Thaipusam festivities take place in Penang and elsewhere throughout the country.

Social Activities

The American Association of Malaysia, which is open to all resident Americans, conducts charity and social programs, luncheons, and trips to Bangkok and around Malaysia. The AAM also sponsors the annual George Washington Birthday Ball, a the Memorial Day picnic, and a community 4th of July Celebration. The women's division meets monthly and offers a variety of classes and other activities.

The Lincoln Resource Center, while primarily for Malaysians, welcomes Americans interested in meeting Malaysians and joining the dialogue. The center also features a library of books, journals, films, and video cassettes specializing in American social studies and the humanities. Similar facilities are offered by the British Council, the Goethe Institute, and Alliance Francais.

Special Information

The States of Sabah and Sarawak in East Malaysia maintain separate customs and immigration offices, so travel to the Borneo States must be treated as an international journey. All long-term residents of Malaysia must obtain national identity cards (ICs).

George Town

George Town is the capital of Penang, a Malay state on the Strait of Malacca. Penang consists of Penang Island where George Town is located and a narrow strip of land along the coast on mainland peninsular Malaysia. George Town has a population of over 180,000 (2000 census), and is Malaysia's leading port. The British were first attracted to George Town's natural harbor as the spot to anchor their warships in defending British East India Company posts. As trading in the area developed, Chinese, Indians, Arabs, and many others settled harmoniously alongside the indigenous Malays.

George Town boasts two mosques; several historic churches; Chinese, Siva, and Sri Mariamman temples; and Buddhist pagodas. The temple of Kek Lok Si, in the suburb of Ayer Itam, is reputed to be the largest and finest temple in Southeast Asia. The Botanical Gardens and Fort Cornwallis, a historic landmark that marks the spot where Captain Francis Light first set ashore on Penang Island over 200 years ago, are other places of interest. Several religious and/or cultural festivals are held in George Town every year. Street markets are popular, selling interesting things to eat, drink, wear, or use in the home. Penang Island is known as a resort area.


Dalat School, which offers a U.S. curriculum for grades one through 12, is located six miles from the center of the city, on the north shore of the island. Founded in 1928, the school has boarding facilities; enrollment is around 200 with a little over 100 boarders. Accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges, the school is sponsored by the Christian and Missionary Alliance. The staff includes specialists in reading, computers, and learning disabilities; also available are a counselor, psychologist, nurse, and chaplain. The school year runs from the end of August to June, with a six-week vacation in December and January. The campus of Dalat School is situated on eight acres. Facilities include 22 buildings, 13 classrooms, a 10,000-volume library, and six dormitories. The school's address is: Tanjung Bunga, 11200 Penang, Malaysia.


ALOR SETAR (also spelled Alor Star) is the capital of Kedah State in the northwestern region of Malaysia, about 50 miles north of George Town. The city, with a population of approximately 115,000 (2000 census.), lies near the Kedah River. A railway links Alor Setar with Kuala Lumpur to the south and the Thai railroad system to the north. Once a bustling inland port, the city today is fast becoming an important shopping and trading center. The Zahir Mosque in Alor Setar is one of the most beautiful in the country. The city also has a state museum that houses some ancient artifacts, and has an interesting section on early Chinese porcelain ware.

The capital city of Perak State, IPOH has an estimated population of over 566, 000 (2000 census). It is situated in western Malaysia, midway between George Town and Kuala Lumpur in the tin-producing Kinta Valley. With a hot, rainy, tropical monsoon-type climate, the city's average annual rainfall exceeds 80 inches. Limestone and tin are produced here by both modern and ancient methods. Ipoh has a thriving market and railroad. Known as "the city of millionaires," it has a lovely park, Japanese Gardens, and Chinese cave temples for tourists to visit. The city was occupied by the Japanese from 1942 until the end of World War II. The coastal town of Lumut is 55 miles southwest; its modern naval base has contributed to its fast growth. Known for its shell and coral handicrafts, Lumut is the site of the annual Sea Festival.

JOHOR BAHARU (also spelled Johore Bharu and Johore Bahru) is located in the southern Malay Peninsula, just opposite Singapore and about 175 miles southeast of Kuala Lumpur. The capital of Johor State, the city has a population of more than 384,000, most of whom are Chinese, and is connected with Singapore by a stone causeway across Johore Strait.

Johor Baharu is the seat of the sultan of Johor, and his residence, Bakit Serene, houses priceless art treasures. The beach resort of Desaru is just east of Johor Baharu on the South China Sea. There are luxury-class hotels here, an 18-hole golf course designed by Robert Trent Jones, and plans for further expansion.

Johor Lama is 18 miles from Johor Baharu. Of historic interest, it is the site of a restored fort originally built in 1587.

To the west is the town of Pontian and a famous fishing village with homes on stilts near the water's edge. It is known for its seafood restaurants.

Northwest of Johor Baharu is Ayer Hitam , known for the ceramics produced at the Aw pottery works. The quiet town of Kota Tinggi , 35 miles north, is known for its waterfalls.

Johor Baharu is accessible by a fine network of road, rail, and air services. The airport at Senai connects it to all major Malaysian cities.

KOTA BAHARU (also spelled Kota Bharu) is situated on the Malay Peninsula, about 380 miles northeast of Kuala Lumpur on the South China Sea. Historically, the city was seized by Japan on December 10, 1941, as part of the offensive against Singapore during World War II.

Today, Kota Baharu, the capital of Kelantan State, is a modern city, with an important power station, and a population of over 234,000 (2000 census). Kota Baharu is connected to almost all major cities in Malaysia and Singapore by roads, rail, and air; Kuala Lumpur is a 45-minute flight away.

The city's cultural center, Gelanggang Seni, offers performances of gasing (top-spinning), kite-flying, wayang kulit (shadow puppet theater), and silat (Malaysian art of self-defense). Native handicrafts may be purchased in the central market.

Landmarks in Kota Baharu include the State Mosque, completed in 1926; Merdeka Square, which honors Malay warriors who died during World War II; and the Istana Jahar, or State Museum, built during the reign of Sultan Muhamad IV and completed in 1899. The city has many hotels and beach resorts in the area.

KOTA KINABALU was formerly known as Jesselton and is the capital of Sabah, Malaysia in East Malaysia (formerly North Borneo). Situated on a small inlet of the South China Sea, Kota Kinabalu was founded in 1899, and in 1947 became the capital of British North Borneo, replacing Sandakan. It is a relatively new town, built on the ruins of the original city, which was razed during World War II.

With a population of approximately 113,000 (1980 census), the city is the chief port of the state, connected to the interior by road and rail. Rubber is exported from Kota Kinabalu's port. The Kinabalu International School is located three-and-a-half miles from the city. Founded in 1973, this coeducational, day school employs a British and Australian curriculum for kindergarten through grade six.

Kota Kinabalu has an international airport, about four miles from the city. Daily air service operates between all of Sabah's major townsKota Kinabalu, Labuan, Sandakan, Lahad Data, and Tawau.

Other cities of interest near Kota Kinabalu include Penampang , nine miles away, which reveals a cross-section of Sabah's exotic flora, fauna, and sociocultural life. The village of Semporna , on the south coast, is known for its cultured pearls (Sabah is the only state in Malaysia that produces pearls). Tuaran , about a half-hour drive from Kota Kinabalu, is known for its tamu (market). A colorful tamu is also held every Sunday morning at Kota Belud , 48 miles north. Kudat , 150 miles from Kota Kinabalu, is noted for its nativesthe Rungus. Sandakan , the former capital of North Borneo, is on Sabah's east coast, 240 miles from Kota Kinabalu. It is a modern city sprawled along the sea's edge, with a population of over 350,000.

KUALA TERENGGANU (also spelled Kuala Trengganu) is located on the South China Sea in central Malaysia. About 175 miles northeast of Kuala Lumpur, Kuala Terengganu is the capital of Terengganu State. With a population over 250,000 (2000 census), it is both a port and the site of an important weaving industry. Situated on the Terengganu River, the city is also the home of the sultan of Teregganu.

South of the city are numerous fishing villagesKemaman, Kemasik , and Kuala Dungan . Rantau Abang is where the famous giant leathery turtles are found. They return to this area to lay their eggs and can be seen from May to September, with the peak months being July and August.

KUANTAN , the capital of Pahang State, is rapidly developing as an important port and seaside resort. Situated on the east coast of the central Malay Peninsula on the South China Sea, Kuantan is just north of the mouth of the Pahang River. The area was a strategic point in the Japanese invasion of the peninsula, and was seized during December 1941 and January 1942.

Today, this city of over 283,000 (2000 census) offers miles of beautiful, clean, sandy beaches, ideal for fishing, swimming, and boating. Kuantan is noted for its authentic craftsmanship in woodcarving, batik printing, brocade, and pandan leaf weaving.

The numerous villages near Kuantan are known for their rich cultural traditions. Beserah , six miles north of Kuantan, is a serene fishing village. Cherating, 30 miles north, is the site of Asia's first Club Med, but is also known for its native charms. At Pekan , 28 miles south, the Royal Palace, Istana Abu Bakar, stands out as a modern architectural design in this charming town of small, old-fashioned shops. It is also the site of a four-day cultural and sporting festival celebrating the sultan's birthday. Kuantan is accessible by air and road from Kuala Lumpur 125 miles to the southwest. There is regular bus service as well as outstation taxis.

KUCHING is the capital and financial center of Sarawak in East Malaysia, formerly Northwest Borneo. Situated on the Sarawak River, Kuching is the state's largest city and a river port where sago flour and pepper are exported.

Founded in 1839 by James Brooke, the city has Anglican and Roman Catholic cathedrals and a museum of Borneo folklore. The world-famous Sarawak State Museum here houses one of the finest collections of Sarawak tribal weapons, tools, art, and artifacts. The law courts, the clock tower, and Fort Margherita are some of the best-preserved and most beautiful examples of British colonial architecture in this area. Kuching's Masjid Besar (State Mosque) was completed in 1968; the city also has several historic Chinese temples.

Interesting places near Kuching include Santubong , 20 miles away, a seaside village known for its swimming and fishing. From the seventh through 13th centuries, this town was an important trading village for the Chinese dynasties of the period. Kuching's population is approximately 152,300 (2000 census).

The historic city of MELAKA , formerly Malacca, is situated on the Strait of Malacca about 90 miles south of Kuala Lumpur. The oldest town in Malaysia, founded about 1400 by a Malay prince, Melaka was one of the leading commercial centers of the Far East until the 17th century. Traders introduced Islam to Malay through Melaka. The city was captured by the Portuguese in 1511 and by the Dutch in 1641. Using the city more as a fortress than as a trading port, the Dutch retained control of Melaka until 1824, when it was transferred to Great Britain.

Today, Melaka has little economic importance, but retains some Portuguese and Dutch buildings, as well as a Portuguese-Eurasian community. With a population about 270,000 (2000 census), most of the city's inhabitants are Chinese, who have acquired many Malay customs. It is a mecca for antique hunters, but if an antique is purchased to take out of the country, permission must be sought from the director general of Museum Negara. Melaka can be reached from Kuala Lumpur by express buses or cabs. Domestic flights are also available.

SEREMBAN is situated between Kuala Lumpur and Melaka in southern Malaysia. Linked by rail with Port Dickson on the Strait of Malacca, Seremban is the commercial center for the surrounding rubber-growing region. Tin mines are also located near the city which, as the capital of Negeri Sembilan, has a population over 133,000.

Of interest are Lake Gardens and the State Museum which features a Malay house built without the use of a single nail. Negeri Sembilan is traditionally a matriarchal state, where women inherit rights over property and land to the exclusion of men. West of Seremban is the royal town of Sri Menanti , where the Istana, or ruler's palace, is located.


Geography and Climate

Peninsular Malaysia, slightly smaller in size than Michigan, extends south for 800 kilometers from Thailand's Isthmus of Kra to Singapore and the Indonesian Archipelago. Sabah and Sarawak, the states of East Malaysia that together are about the size of Kansas, lie 600 kilometers to the east across the South China Sea. These two states, former British colonies on the northeast coast of Borneo, stretch for 1000 kilometers to the southern islands of the Philippines.

Malaysia's land area covers 336,400 square kilometers. A central mountain range with peaks rising to 2100 meters divides peninsular Malaysia. Scenic coastal plains lie on either side of the mountains; most of the population lives in the plains and foothills of the western coast along the Straits of Malacca. The eastern coast, along the South China Sea, has beautiful white, sandy beaches but fewer people. Between the two coasts lie the mountains and an often impenetrable jungle. Primary forest covers 60% of Malaysia and contains a variety of flowering plants and immense, but now diminishing, timber reserves. Vegetation, even in the cities, is lush and tropical. Forest wildlife includes gibbons; tigers; elephants; mouse deer; countless species of birds, monkeys, and insects; and, in Sabah and Sarawak, the orangutan.

The weather in Kuala Lumpur varies little throughout the year. daily minimum and maximum temperatures remain fairly constant averaging 24°C (75°F) and 32°C (90°F). Average annual rainfall of 250 centimeters keeps the humidity high. Kuala Lumpur's location in a valley compounds not only the humidity but also the smog problem brought on by increasingly congested streets. Longtime foreign residents sometimes complain of the enervating effect of the unchanging climate.

Although Kuala Lumpur is not subject to typhoons or cyclones, brief rainy seasons occur each year and bring scattered flooding to the metropolitan area. One to two months of relatively dry weather usually precede the rainy seasons, although afternoon and evening thunder showers occur regularly in Kuala Lumpur throughout the year. The east coast and East Malaysia experience longer rainy seasons, and more widespread flooding occurs as a result.

Malaysia, an entomologist's paradise, abounds in insect life of all kinds, including beautiful jungle butterflies and incredibly large cockroaches. Insects do carry disease in Malaysia. Mosquitoes and other bugs can be bothersome; dengue, cholera, and malaria are endemic in parts of the country, but with the exception of dengue, rarely affect the expatriate population in Kuala Lumpur or other major cities.


In 2000, Malaysia's estimated population was approximately 21.8 million, with about 83% in Peninsular Malaysia and 17% in East Malaysia. In 1991, the Federal Territory, consisting primarily of the city of Kuala Lumpur, had a population of over 1.1 million. Malaysia's population is growing at over 2% per year.

The population of Malaysia includes several ethnic groups; the largest group, the Malays, make up about 58% of the population. Almost without exception, Malays follow the state religion of Islam and speak the national language of Bahasa Malaysia (formerly called Malay).

Chinese, most of whose ancestors came to Malaysia from southern China during the 19th and early 20th centuries to work in the tin mines or to set up small businesses, make up about 27% of the population. Today, most Chinese live in urban areas and work in trade, business, and finance. The most common Chinese dialects are Cantonese and Hokkien; however, Mandarin is also widely understood as it is the language of instruction in Chinese schools.

Malaysians of Indian descent make up another 8% of the population. Their ancestors came from the Indian subcontinent as laborers on the rubber plantations and as civil servants in the British colonial government.

Non-Malay indigenous groups, Eurasians, and Europeans make up the remainder of the population. Most of the non-Malay indigenous peoples are concentrated in East Malaysia, where they are an important social and political force.

About 84% of the population speaks Bahasa Malaysia. The literacy rate for the country as a whole is approximately 84%; the rate in East Malaysia is somewhat lower than in Peninsular Malaysia. English is still widely spoken, particularly in urban areas. English proficiency declined in the 1980s, when the government promoted the use of Bahasa Malaysia in schools, government, and business. In recent years, however, the government has promoted English language skills.

Public Institutions

Malaysia has a parliamentary system of government based on free, multi-party elections. A free market economy, abundant natural resources, and a well-educated population have helped Malaysia become one of the most prosperous of the developing countries. Malaysia is a constitutional monarchy, nominally headed by the Yang Di-Pertuan Agong, or paramount ruler. The ruler is elected for a five-year term from among the nine hereditary rulers of the peninsular Malay states. The ruler also is the leader of the Islamic faith in Malaysia, as are the rulers in their own states.

Malaysia's Constitution was promulgated in 1963 when Sabah and Sarawak joined the Federation of Malaya to form Malaysia. The Constitution has been amended frequently since its original enactment. Executive power is vested in the Cabinet, led by the Prime Minister. The Cabinet is chosen from among the members of parliament as in the British system of government. All of Malaysia's Prime Ministers since independence have been the leaders of the country's predominant political party, the United Malays National Organization (UMNO).

The bicameral Parliament consists of the Dewan Negara (the National Council or Senate) and the Dewan Rakyat (the People's Council or House of Representatives). Of the 69 members of the Senate, the Paramount Ruler appoints 43 and each of the 13 state legislatures elects two. All Senators sit for 6-year terms. Members of the House, the more influential of the two bodies, are elected in single member constituencies by universal adult suffrage. General elections must be called at least once every 5 years. The House has 180 members, of which 133 are from the states of Peninsular Malaysia and the island of Labuan and 47 are from Sabah and Sarawak. Legislative power is divided between the Federal Parliament and the elected assemblies of Malaysia's 13 states, with state governments retaining power over several important areas, including land use and religion.

The Malaysian legal system is based on English Common Law. The Supreme Court, the highest court in Malaysia, reviews decisions referred from the High Courts and has original jurisdiction in constitutional matters and in disputes between states or between the Federal Government and a State. Below the Supreme Court are two High Courts, one for Peninsular Malaysia and one for East Malaysia. Islamic, or Syariah, law applies nationwide to Moslems. Islamic courts come under the jurisdiction of the individual states, and ultimate appellate authority rests with the ruler of the state concerned.

The titular heads of 9 of the 13 states in Malaysia are the hereditary rulers, the others being Governors appointed by the Federal Government. Effective executive power rests in the hands of the Chief Minister of each State, and the members of their State cabinets, selected from the members of the State assemblies.

Arts, Science, and Education

Intellectual life in Malaysia is not limited to the country's seven universities. In addition to public lectures and seminars given in the national language at the universities, there are various other professional and service organizations whose activities are open and which welcome foreigners as members. Examples are the Malaysian Nature Society, the Malaysian Association for American Studies, and the Malaysian Culture Study Group.

The National Museum in Kuala Lumpur houses exhibits on Malaysian culture and history. The city also has a National Art Gallery and several small private art galleries that regularly put on exhibits of local and internationally recognized artists. Major hotels and foreign missions frequently sponsor exhibitions and musical and dramatic performances. Several amateur groups also present dramatic and/or musical performances relating to the major cultures represented in Malaysia.

The Museum of Asian Art at the University of Malaya exhibits an excellent collection of ceramic art. Lessons are available in Kuala Lumpur in Asian art and music.

Commerce and Industry

Manufacturing has accounted for 33% of GDP in 2000. Principal manufactured products include semiconductors, consumer electronic and electrical products, textiles, and apparel. Malaysia is the world's third-largest producer and one of world's largest exporters of semiconductors. The U.S. is the primary trading partner for these products, taking about 26% of Malaysia's electronic products in 2000.

The agricultural sector employs about 15% of the work force. Malaysia is the world's largest producer and exporter of palm oil (about half of the world's supply). Malaysia is also a significant producer of natural rubber, cocoa and tropical timber.

An increasing variety of American companies are involved in Malaysia, such as Esso, Motorola, Intel, Texas Instruments, Mattel, Colgate-Palmolive, RJR Nabisco, Citibank, American International Assurance (AIA), Johnson and Johnson, and Baxter Healthcare. In 1992, an Embassy survey of U.S. companies in Malaysia indicated that U.S. firms held nearly $7 billion in assets in Malaysia at the end of 1991, chiefly in the petroleum (65% of total investment) and the microelectronics and manufacturing (32%) sectors.

The United States is Malaysia's third most important trading partner (after Singapore and Japan).


Buses and minibuses are dangerously overcrowded except late at night and can be unreliable at all times. Taxis are numerous, metered, and inexpensive, but hard to find at peak hours or when it is raining. Drivers usually speak enough English to reach a destination and to follow directions, but language problems are still frequent and some drivers do not know the city well.

Kuala Lumpur's narrow and winding streets, built a century ago to handle hawkers and trishaws, are now very crowded. While several new "circular" roads have been built recently to help alleviate the overcrowding, and more new highways are under construction, traffic remains heavy, especially at peak hours. Multilaned highways often merge into narrow two lane roads in the center of town and cause added congestion.

Malaysia's west coast has a well-developed system of roads between major cities. Paved and fairly well-maintained, these primarily two-lane roads are usually congested because of heavy use by buses, intercity taxis, and trucks carrying timber and other commodities. A paved coastal road follows the east coast. Its traffic is not as heavy as that on the west coast, but the main trunk roads occasionally suffer from lack of repair. A good road across the peninsula connects Kuala Lumpur with the east coast. Other cross-peninsular routes exist farther south; in the north a new east-west highway cuts through the jungles and mountains and links the two coasts. Although the roads on both coasts are scenic and you can drive to Singapore, Penang, and other distant cities, most employees prefer to fly to these cities and avoid the congested, often hazardous traffic. By car, Singapore and Penang are 6 to 8 hours from Kuala Lumpur. A new Malaysia/Singapore divided highway stretches from Singapore to the Thai border.

Train travel is inexpensive. Many employees find it quaint, even rustic, but occasional delays occur. Daily train service connects Kuala Lumpur with Penang and Singapore. From Penang, the international express operates to Bangkok daily, but reservations must be booked in advance. The trip to Singapore takes from 6 to 10 hours, depending on the type of train. First-class accommodations with air conditioning are available, as are sleeping compartments on night trips. Subang International Airport is 20 kilometers from Kuala Lumpur. Regular jet service operates between major cities in the region with connections to Western Europe and the U.S. Because American carriers do not yet offer direct passenger service to Kuala Lumpur (although United has plans pending), travelers to and from post use Singapore, Tokyo, Seoul, Hong Kong, or Bangkok to change from either Northwest Orient Airlines or United Airlines to foreign carriers. Taxis are available at the airport. Fares are based on a zone system.


Telephone and Telegraph

Direct-dial facilities exist to most of Peninsular Malaysia, Singapore and the U.S. The telephone system is only occasionally overloaded.

Telephone service to the U.S. is available 24 hours daily. A 3-minute overseas call to any point within the U.S. through the Malaysian telephone company is about $9 for person-to-person and $6 for station-to-station; each additional minute costs around $2. Persons with an AT&T Calling Card can reach the U.S. via AT&T's "USA Direct" ser-vice by dialing 800-0011. Such calls cost about $3.70 for the first minute and $1.48 for each additional minute, plus a service charge of $2.50. Sprint and MCI have similar calling plans and can be accessed in Malaysia. Calls from the U.S. are usually cheaper than those placed from Malaysia. The Malaysian telephone company, Telekom Malaysia, has recently introduced a service which enables callers in the U.S. to dial a special toll-free number which will connect them to the Malaysian telephone system so they can make a collect call to someone in Malaysia.

Telegrams may be sent from main telegraph offices, post offices, and hotels, by phone. The minimum charge is over $4 for 22 words; the address counts as regular wording. Each additional word costs $0.20. FAX facilities are also available, and are often a cost-effective way to communicate.

Radio and TV

English-language programs share time with broadcasts in Malaysian, Chinese, and Tamil on both radio and TV in Malaysia. Voice of America and BBC can be received with some interference, but Radio Singapore and Radio Australia are usually clear. There are three television channels, two of which are run by the Malaysian government. In addition to local productions, Tamil movies, and Chinese movies and soap operas, the stations show a variety of American, British, and Australian programs. Weekday broadcasting usually begins at 4:00 p.m. and lasts until midnight. Programming begins earlier in the afternoon on weekends and in the morning on local holidays.

Malaysia uses the European PAL TV system.

Newspapers, Magazines, and Technical Journals

Numerous magazines and newspapers are published in East and West Malaysia, most in Malaysian, Chinese, and Tamil. Several are published in English, and some English-language newspapers in Kuala Lumpur serve a national market. Most foreigners read the New Straits Times (morning), the Star (morning), and the Malay Mail (afternoon), which give limited coverage to U.S. and international news and sports and more extensive coverage to local news and to other more sensational topics. The Asian Wall Street Journa l and Asian editions of USA Today, Time, Newsweek, and Reader's Digest are sold locally. A few other selected U.S. periodicals arrive by air close to the time of their release in the U.S. or by surface mail several weeks or months later. The International Herald Tribune, printed in Singapore, usually arrives in Kuala Lumpur in mid-afternoon on the day of publication and always has good coverage of U.S. news and sports. The Far Eastern Economic Review and Asiaweek give excellent coverage of Asian news.

The Lincoln Resource Center, the library of the U.S. Information Service, has the best collection of American books in the country. It also has an extensive reference section, periodical section, and videotape collection. The International School also has a good library but it does not include recent best sellers.

American and British hardback and paperback books are sold in hotels and numerous bookstores, but they are usually expensive.

Health and Medicine

Medical Facilities

Many local physicians have received at least part of their training in Australia, the U.K. or the U.S.

American citizens are advised to go to Subang Jaya Medical Center in an emergency. A private facility, this hospital resembles a standard western hospital in operation with an emergency room staffed 24 hours daily. Tawakal Hospital, has 24 hour emergency room service and is convenient if time is critical. The General Hospital, which should be used only in an emergency as an alternative to Subang or Tawakal hospitals, also has a 24 hour emergency room. Other hospitals have emergency rooms that are not open or staffed by doctors around the clock. Three other hospitals in the area, Pantai, Assunta, and University, are used to a lesser degree.

Several dentists operate private clinics in the city and can meet routine dental needs including orthodontic care. Orthodontia tends to be cheaper than in the U.S., but treatment may differ from U.S. practices.

No special facilities provide services for the handicapped except for special instruction given by the International School on a limited basis for children with reading disabilities and some other learning difficulties.

Community Health

Tropical fatigue can last for 6 weeks after arrival. The climate can be debilitating over an extended period because of rainfall, high humidity, uniformly high temperatures, and lack of seasonal variations.

Colds, bronchial disturbances and sinus conditions are common and tend to linger longer than they do in the U.S. Air conditioning probably contributes to this problem since many restaurants and shops are uncomfortably overcooled in relation to the outside temperature. Exhaust fumes from numerous and inadequately maintained motor vehicles combine with smoke from burning brush piles to cause discomfort for those with respiratory conditions.

Dengue fever, including the hemorrhagic variety, exists throughout Malaysia, and expatriates are occasionally affected in Kuala Lumpur. Cholera cases, which are reported less frequently, occur principally in rural areas. In the past, Americans have contracted hepatitis A and dengue fever. Chloroquine-resistant malaria exists, mostly in rural areas, and the number of reported cases has increased. Open drainage ditches and stagnant water at construction sites facilitate breeding of mosquitoes in the city. Malaria suppressants are recommended for extended travel in rural areas outside of Kuala Lumpur. The recommended dose is 500mg of Chloroquine per week and 200 mg of Paludrine daily.

Food poisoning rarely occurs, but a few Americans experience mild forms of dysentery or diarrhea after eating in the local open-air food stalls and, occasionally, the better restaurants.

As in any tropical country, skin rashes, fungi, and parasites are common. There are also several varieties of snakes, some of which are poisonous.

Drinking water is potable in the urban area of Kuala Lumpur. In outstation areas, water should be boiled or chemically treated. Most medical items and drugs can be purchased locally, but some drugs available over-the-counter in the U.S. require prescriptions in Malaysia, and pharmacies may not have a licensed pharmacist on duty at all times.

Preventive Measures

Before coming to Post, you should be inoculated against tetanus, hepatitis B, immune globulin, and should take an oral dose of typhoid vaccine. Take a tuberculin test so that any change during your stay can be investigated. Children and young adults should be inoculated against diphtheria and take the oral polio vaccine. Yellow fever immunization is required for everyone arriving from Africa and Latin America or other infected areas. Exposure to the intense tropical sun should be gradual to avoid serious sunburns.


Jan. 1 New Year's Day

Jan/Feb. Thaipusam*

Feb. 1 Kuala Lumpur City Day

Feb. Chinese New Year (2 days)*

Mar/Apr. Good Friday*

Mar/Apr. Easter*

May 1 Malaysia Labor Day

Apr/May Wesak*

May 1 Labor Day

June (1st Sat) Birthday of HM the King, Seri Paduka Baginda Yang di-Pertuan Agong

Aug. 31 Malaysian National Day

Oct. Diwali*

Dec. 25 Christmas Day


Hari Raya Haji/Id al-Adha*

Hari Raya Puasa/Id al-Fitr*


Mawlid an Nabi*

Nuzul al Qur'an*



Passage, Customs & Duties

A passport valid for at least six months is required to enter Malaysia. American citizens do not need a visa for a pleasure or business trip if their stay in Malaysia is 90 days or less. For more information on entry requirements, contact the Embassy of Malaysia, 2401 Massachusetts Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20008, telephone: (212) 328-2700, or the Malaysian Consulates located in New York, telephone (202) 328-2700, or Los Angeles, telephone (213) 892-1238. See also the Malaysian Government home page on the Internet at Overseas inquiries should be made at the nearest Malaysian embassy or consulate.

Malaysia's customs authorities may enforce strict regulations concerning temporary importation into or export from Malaysia of items such as firearms, religious materials, antiquities, medications, business equipment, currency, ivory, and other items. It is advisable to contact the Embassy of Malaysia in Washington or one of Malaysia's consulates in the United States for specific information regarding customs requirements. Customs officials encourage the use of an ATA (Admission Temporaire/Temporary Admission) carnet for the temporary admission of professional equipment, commercial samples, and/or goods for exhibitions and fair purposes. ATA Carnet Headquarters, located at the U.S. Council for International Business, 1212 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10036, issues and guarantees the ATA carnet in the United States. For additional information call (212)354-4480; send an e-mail to [email protected], or visit http://www.uscib.orgfor details.

Malaysia strictly enforces its drug laws. Malaysian legislation provides for a mandatory death penalty for convicted drug traffickers. Individuals arrested in possession of 15 grams (1/2 ounce) of heroin or 200 grams (seven ounces) of marijuana are presumed by law to be trafficking in drugs.

U.S. citizens living in or visiting Malaysia are encouraged to register at the U.S. Embassy in Kuala Lumpur and to obtain updated information on travel and security within the country. The U.S. Embassy is located at 376 Jalan Tun Razak 50400, Kuala Lumpur. The mailing address is P.O. Box No. 10035, 50700 Kuala Lumpur; Telephone (60-3)2168-5000. The fax number for the U.S. Embassy is (60-3)242-2207; the fax number for the Consular Section is (60-3)248-5801. Internet home page: ; e-mail address: [email protected].


Pets shipped from non-Common-wealth countries must be quarantined for one month upon arrival in Malaysia. Current vaccination records must be available at time of entry.

The Subang International Airport quarantine kennel is a 30 minute drive from Kuala Lumpur. The kennel costs about $1.20 per day to board cats and $1.60 for dogs.

Excellent veterinary care is available locally. Several tropical canine diseases, for which treatment is not fully successful, are peculiar to Malaysia. Ticks and fleas can be a serious problem in some sections of the city. American pet foods are available, although more expensive than in the U.S.

Currency, Banking, and Weights and Measures

The Malaysian ringgit is freely convertible. The exchange rate, which fluctuates daily, was US$l.00 = RM3.80 as of May 2002.

Malaysia has adopted the metric system, and government efforts to enforce its use have done away with a host of old measuring units, including pounds, katis, taels, and piculs.



American Association of Malaysia. Selamat Datang. Given to newly-assigned personnel on arrival at post.

APA Photoguide. Prentice-Hall, Inc.: Englewood Cliffs, NJ.

Andaya, Barbara Watson and Leonard Y. A History of Malaysia. Macmillan: London, 1982.

Barber, Noel. War of the Running Dogs: How Malaya Defeated the Communist Guerillas, 1940-60. Collins: London, 1971.

Bedlington, Stanley S. Malaysia and Singapore: The Building of New States. Cornell University Press: Ithaca, NY, 1978.

Bock, Philip K. ed. Culture Shock: A Reader in Modern Cultural Topology. University Press of America: Lanhan, MD, 1981.

Chandra, Muzaffar. Islamic Resurgence in Malaysia. Penerbit Fajar Bakti Sdn. Bhd.: Petaling Jaya, Malaysia, 1987.

Chapman, Spencer. The Jungle is Neutral.

Fisk, E.K., and Osman Rani, eds. The Political Economy of Malaysia. New York: Oxford University Press, 1982.

Gullick, John. Malaysia: Economic Expansion and National Unity. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1981.

Hall, D.G.E. A History of Southeast Asia. 4th ed. St. Martin's Press: New York, 1981.

Han Su Yin. And the Rain My Drink. Jonathan Cape: London, 1956; reprint Grafton Books, 1973.

Henderson, John W., et al. Area Handbook for Malaysia. American University Foreign Area Studies: Washington, DC, 1970. (Available from U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, DC 20402.)

Hoefer, Hans, ed. Jalan-Jalan. Apa Productions: Hong Kong, 1981.

Husin Ali, S. The Malays, Their Problems and Future. Kuala Lumpur: Heinemann Asia, 1981.

Jackson, Robert. The Malayan Emergency: The Commonwealth's Wars 1948-66. London: Routledge, 1991.

Mahathir bin Mohammed, Datuk Seri. The Malay Dilemma. Federal Publications: Kuala Lumpur, 1982.

Malaysia, A Country Study. U.S. Department of the Army: Washington, DC, 1984. (Available from U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, DC 20402.)

Means, Gordon P. Malaysian Politics: The Second Generation. Oxford University Press: Singapore, 1991.

Milne, R.S., and Diane K. Mauzy. Politics and Government in Malaysia. Singapore: Federal Publications, 1978.

Nagata, Judith. The Reflowering of Malaysian Islam. University of British Columbia Press: Vancouver, 1984.

Rehman Rashid. A Malaysian Journey. Rehman Rashid: Petaling Jaya, Malaysia, 1993.

Rimmer, Peter J., and Lisa M. Allen, eds. The Underside of Malaysean History: Pullers, Prostitutes, Plantation Workers. Singapore: Singapore University Press, 1990.

Roff, M.C. The Politics of Belonging: Political Change in Sabah and Sarawak. London: Oxford University Press, 1975.

Roff, William R. The Origins of Malay Nationalism. Yale University Press: New Haven, 1967.

Runciman, Steven. The White Rajas, A History of Sarawak From 1841 to 1946. Cambridge University Press: London, 1960.

Ryan, N.J., The Cultural Heritage of Malaysia. 2d ed. Humanities Press, Inc.: Altantic Highlands, NJ, 1971.

Sandhu, K.S. Indians in Malaya: Some Aspects of Their Immigration and Settlement (1786-1957). London: Cambridge University Press, 1969.

Syed Amin, Noor Ainu. Malaysian Customs and Etiquette: A Practical Handbook. Times Books International: Singapore and Kuala Lumpur, 1991.

Turnbull, C. Mary. A Short History of Malaysia, Singapore, and Brunei. Washington, DC: Three Continents Press, 1981.

Wang Gungwu, ed. Malaysia, A Survey. Praeger: New York, 1964.


Burgess, Anthony. The Long Day Wanes: A Malayan Trilogy. Norton: New York, 1977.

Burgess, Anthony, ed. Maugham's Malaysian Stories. Heinemann Asia: Singapore, 1969.

Fauconnier, Henri. The Soul of Malaya. (Translated from the French by Eric Sutton.) Oxford University Press: Kuala Lumpur and London, 1965.

Theroux, Paul. The Consul's File. Houghton Mifflin Co.: Boston, 1977.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Malaysia." Cities of the World. . 9 Jul. 2018 <>.

"Malaysia." Cities of the World. . (July 9, 2018).

"Malaysia." Cities of the World. . Retrieved July 09, 2018 from

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

The Chicago Manual of Style

American Psychological Association

  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.



Basic Data

Official Country Name: Malaysia
Region (Map name): Southeast Asia
Population: 22,229,040
Language(s): Bahasa Melayu, English, Chinese dialects, Tamil, Telugu
Literacy rate: 83.5%
Area: 329,750 sq km
GDP: 89,659 (US$ millions)
Number of Daily Newspapers: 31
Total Circulation: 2,191,000
Circulation per 1,000: 130
Number of Nondaily Newspapers: 1
Total Circulation: 17,000
Circulation per 1,000: 1
Total Newspaper Ad Receipts: 1,765 (Ringgit millions)
As % of All Ad Expenditures: 58.60
Number of Television Stations: 27
Number of Television Sets: 10,800,000
Television Sets per 1,000: 485.9
Number of Satellite Subscribers: 525,000
Satellite Subscribers per 1,000: 23.6
Number of Radio Stations: 92
Number of Radio Receivers: 10,900,000
Radio Receivers per 1,000: 490.3
Number of Individuals with Computers: 2,400,000
Computers per 1,000: 108.0
Number of Individuals with Internet Access: 3,700,000
Internet Access per 1,000: 166.4

Background & General Characteristics

The southeast Asian country of Malaysia includes people from many other Asian and western countries and numerous ethnic groups. This diversity is reflected in its economy, politics, social systems, and culture. The first people to inhabit the Malaysia peninsula, the Malays, came down from South China around 2000 B.C. Around 600 A.D. Sri Vijaya headed a strong empire in southern Sumatra that dominated both sides of the Straits of Malacca. In the 1300s, Sri Vijjaya fell and the Majapahit Empire controlled Malaysia. The Muslims began to dominate the peninsula around 1400 when a fugitive slave from Singapore founded a principality at Malacca. This Muslim principality fell to Portugal in 1511, and in 1641, the Dutch took control from the Portuguese. The British East India Company entered the peninsula in 1786, and in 1819, the British established a settlement at Singapore. In 1784, British treaties protected some areas. In 1895 four states became the Federated Malay States. Thailand in 1909 ceded four northern states (Kedah, Kelantan, Trengganu, and Perlis) to the British, together with Johor in 1914, and this whole area became known as the Unfederated Malay States. In 1892, separate British control was extended to North Borneo, and in 1898 Sarawak became a separate British protectorate.

In December 1941, during World War II, the Japanese conquered Malaya and Borneo, and they held it throughout the war. After World War II, the British formed the Malayan Union that included the nine peninsular states along with Pinang and Malacca. In 1946, Singapore and the two Borneo protectorates became separate British protectorates. On February 1, 1948, the Federation of Malay succeeded the Malayan Union. In 1957, the Federation of Malay became an independent member of the British Commonwealth. In 1962, Malaya and Great Britain agreed to from the new state of Malaysia that would include Singapore, and the British Borneo territories of Sarawak, Brunei, and North Borneo, but Singapore voted not to join. However, for two years Singapore was part of the Federation of Malay states until 1965 when Singapore became independent. The "Federation" was dropped that same year, and Malaysia became the official name of the newly independent British colonies. Malaysia has a combined land area of 329, 760 square kilometers and is similar in size to New Mexico in the United States.

Nature of Audience

As of 2001, the multiracial population of peninsular Malaysia was estimated at 22,229,040. There are three main ethnic groups: the Ma-lays, called Bumiputera ("sons of the soil," 58 percent); Chinese (30 percent); the Indians (10 percent), and others (10 percent). More than 50 percent of Malaysians live in urban areas. Most of the Chinese live in urban and tin mining areas, while many Malays live in rural areas. The Chinese who live in urban areas are wealthier, and over the years spurts of ethnic violence have erupted between them and the Malays. The indigenous Orang Asli aborigines number about 50,000. The kampung forms the basic unit of Malay society, a tightly knit community consisting of kinship, marriage ties, and neighbor relationships which are regulated by traditional Malaysian values. In 1999, the four major languages were Malaya, Tamil (an Indian dialect), Chinese, and English.

The 1990s brought economic prosperity to Malaysia, which is rated as an upper middle-class country. The unemployment rate in the 1990s remained at nearly 4 percent. The literacy rate is 92 percent, and all Malaysians are required to attend school at least until age 15. Many Malaysians obtain degrees from local and foreign universities. With government loans some study in the United States, New Zealand, Australia, or the United Kingdom.

Written literature in Malaysia goes back to the sixteenth century and describes old Malaya society, for example, Hikayat Hang Tuah (Hang Tuah's Life Story) andSejarah Melayum, a history of the Malaysian peninsula. The first newspaper in Malaysia, begun by the British in Panang in 1805, was the Prince of Wales Island Gazette.

The Malay government has continuously censored the press in response to political instability which characterized the peninsula for much of the twentieth century. In 1968, the Malaysia National News Agency, Bernama began operating. In 1984, the Printing and Publications Act enabled the Minister of Home Affairs to revoke any publications licensees deemed dangerous to the state. Malaysia is one of the most authoritarian and repressive countries regarding the press.

In the 1930s under British control, the country developed restrictive policies toward the press because it feared the spread of communism. In April 1930, the Malayan Communist Party was founded in Singapore. Mainly urban Chinese were members of the party, and as a result many were arrested. This group later became involved in the local labor movement. In 1990, the Communist Party in Malaysia collapsed.

Despite the threat of communism in the 1930s, the Malay vernacular press flourished in that decade. Between 1900 and 1918 of the 13 newspapers and periodicals started, Singapore published eight, Pennang published three, the federated states had two, and Kelantan had one. During the first two decades, the Singapore press produced Al-Iman (1906-1908) and Neracha (1911-1915), Islamic religious reform journals. The secular newspapers included Utusan Melaya (1907-1921) andLembaga Melaya (1914-1931).

Early Publications & Two Early Editors

Utusan Melayu and Lembaga Melaya were modeled on the English press and sought to provide a more balanced view of the news. However, both newspapers reflected the views of the man who edited them, Mohd Eunos b. Abdullah, the so-called father of Malay journalism. Born in Singapore in 1876, the son of a prominent merchant from Sumatra, Abdullah was educated in the Malay School in Kampong Glam and graduated in English from the Raffles Institute in 1894. At thirty-one, after working several years as a master attendant in the ports of Singapore and Muar in Jahore, he took a job with the Free Press, Singapore's oldest newspaper. For the Free Press, he edited the Malay edition, and he witnessed a growing demand for a vernacular press. Abdullah with the help of William Makepeace, the owner of the Free Press founded theUtusan Melaya in 1907.

Published three times weekly in the vernacular Malaya language, the Utusan Melaya presented the cable and local news that appealed to an urban Singapore audience. This newspaper also commented on a wide range of public issues. Moreover, the paper was used as a language teaching medium in the schools.

In 1914, Abdullah also served as editor of the moderately progressive Lembaga Melayu, which mirrored theMalaya Trinbure. It did not publish editorials until 1929 but did publish accounts from the overseas wire service. This newspaper was the only daily published in Malaysia until it stopped publication in 1931.

In 1931, Onn b. Ja'afar founded the Warta Malaya, which became successful after the Lembaga Melayu folded. The Wasta Malaya became an important voice for the Malay readers because it shifted focus from Singapore to the Malaya peninsula. Warta Malaya influenced the startup of thirty-four other newspapers and periodicals between 1920 and 1930. Warta Malaya discussed wide-ranging issues that included controversial topics regarding non-Malay demands for increased rights and higher education and the development of the Malay economy for the Malays. It was also critical of the British occupation of Malaysia. Onn b. Ja'afar became an outspoken critic of colonial authority and the Malaya relationship with Great Britain.

By the mid 1930s there were over eighty-four periodicals published in Singapore and throughout the Malay Peninsula. During the years 1935 and 1936 there were twenty-five new Malaysia newspapers published in the Malay language. Increasing commercialization and professionalism in journalism, coupled with the affordable price, caused newspapers to flourish. By 1931, with over one-third of the males literate, these newspapers and magazines were widely popular, especially among schoolteachers and government workers. In addition to Warta Malaya (1931-1941), prominent Malaysian newspapers in circulation before World War II include Majils (1931-1941), Lembaga (1935-1941) and Utusan Malayu (1939-1941).

Political Unrest

In January 1941, Japanese troops invaded northern Malaysia, and the Japanese took over Sarawak in 1942. The British surrendered Singapore to the Japanese the same year, and the Japanese killed many Chinese residents, while others fled from the cities to the jungles. Many newspapers were suspended during the war. Then the British returned in 1945. The decade that followed included episodes of ethnic unrest and a resurgence of the Malaysia Communist Party in 1946, and in 1948, the British expanded their control over the media during what was called the Emergency, when communists tried to gain control over the government. During this twelve-year period, the government initiated aggressive media campaigns to control the terrorists. It. was not until 1960, however, that the communist insurgency was suppressed.

Inter-ethnic violence shook Malaysia in 1969 when the Malaysian Chinese Association withdrew from the government. Its removal destroyed the alliance of ethnic political parties. There were demonstrations, parades, and rumors of ethnic violence. At least 178 people died in rioting. The government declared a state of emergency, and Tn Abdul Razak (1922-1976), the prime minister, and the National Council temporally replaced the government.

On August 13, 1970, Malaysia proclaimed a national ideology, while the sultan served as the supreme ruler. The government proclaimed a five-point ideology, Rukunegara, for Malaysia. These principles included loyalty to the supreme ruler; the belief in God; respect for the Constitution, especially the special rights of Malays and the rule of law; and respectful behavior towards one another.

Social unrest, government censorship, and the 1967 Publications Act that was amended in 1984 put further restrictions on a free press in Malaysia. In 2002, Malaysian newspapers are primarily government controlled and censored. These newspapers contain about 60 percent of local and national news; the remaining space covers topics related to other parts of the world.

Newspapers & Their Circulation

The oldest English daily, New Straits Times (formerly the Straits Times ), founded in 1845 in Kuala Lumpur, is a business and shipping information paper with a circulation of 190,000. The Star, modeled on its Hong Kong cousin and on popular British tabloids, was founded in 1971 in Selangor. It has an average circulation of 192,059. The afternoon Malay Mail began circulation in Kuala Lumpur in 1896. It emphasizes lighter news and features and has a circulation of 75,000. Also, The Business Times was founded in Kuala Lumpur in 1976, by splitting the shipping and financial sections of the New Straits Times. It has a circulation of 15,000.

Post World War II Newspapers and Their Circulation

The Malay language newspapers after World War II attempted to carve out a separate Malay culture and identity. Of the five Malay language newspapers, the largest is the morning daily Berita Harian founded in 1957 in Kuala Lumpur with a circulation of 350,000. The Metro Ahad, also in Kuala Lumpur, has a daily circulation of 132,195. The Watan has a circulation of 80,000.

The four Tamil language newspapers are also published in Malaysia's capital, Kuala Lumpur. These newspapers are the Malaysia Nmban with a circulation of 45,000; the Tamil Nessan founded in 1924 with a daily circulation of 35,000 and a Sunday of 60,000; Tamil Osai with a daily circulation of 21,000 and a Sunday circulation of 40,000; and the Tamil Thinamani with a daily circulation of 18,000 and Sunday circulation of 39,000.

The seven Chinese language newspapers primarily cater to urban Malaysian Chinese. The China Press in Kuala Lumpur has a circulation of 206,000. The Chung Kuo Pao, also in Kuala Lumpur, has a circulation of 210,000. The Guang Ming, a daily in Selangor, has a circulation of 87,144. The Kwong Wah Yit Poh, founded in 1910 in Panang, has a circulation of 65,939 daily, and on Sunday 76,958. The Nanayang Siang Pau founded in 1923 in Selangor has a daily circulation of 183,801 and a Sunday edition circulation of 220,000. The Shin Min Daily News, established in Kuala Lumpur in 1966, is a daily morning paper with a circulation of 82,000. The Sin Chen Jit Poh, founded in 1929 in Petaling, Selangor, has a daily circulation of 227,067 and a Sunday circulation of 230,000.

There are four daily newspapers in English and Chinese in Sabah. The largest is the Sabah Times with a circulation of 30,000. It is followed by the Daily Express (25,520), Syarikat Sabah Times (25,000), and the Borneo Mail (14,000). The largest Chinese newspaper in Sabah is the Hwa Chiaw Jit Pao (circulation 28,000), Merdeka Daily News(6,948), Api Siang Pau (3,000), and Tawau Jih Pao (circulation not known).

There are five Chinese and three English newspapers in Sarawak. The Chinese newspaper with the largest circulation is the See Hua Daily News (80,000). The others are International Times (37,000), Malaysia Daily News (22,735), Miri Daily News (22,431), and the Berita Pe-tang Sarawak (12,000). The English newspaper in Sara-wak with the largest circulation is the Borneo Post with 60,000 subscribers. The others include The People's Mirror (24,990) and the Sarawak Tribune and Sunday Tribune (29,598).

On Peninsular Malaysia the Sunday papers in English include the New Sunday Times, established in Kuala Lumpur in 1932, with a circulation of 191,562. A competing Sunday paper in the English language founded in Kuala Lumpur in 1896 is the Sunday Mail with a circulation of 75,641. The Sunday Star in Selangor has a circulation of 232,790.

Sunday newspapers in the Malay language include Berita Minggu printed in Kuala Lumpur (421,127), the Mingguan Malaysia founded in 1964 in Petaling Jaya (493,523), and the Utuan Zaman also in Petaling Jaya and founded in 1964 (11,782).

The one Sunday paper in the Tamil language, the Makkal Osai, is printed in Kuala Lumpur and has a circulation of 28,000. As of 1999, there was no Chinese language Sunday paper in Malaysia.

The newspapers with the largest readerships in Malaysia in 2002 are The Star and The Sunday Star. First published in 1971, as a regional newspaper in George Town, Penang, The Star was the first tabloid newspaper published in Malaysia and the first English newspaper printed with the web offset process. It became Penang's premier newspaper in 1976, outselling The New Strait Times, a newspaper that was 139 years old. Also, Tunku Abdul Rahman retired in 1970 as Malaysia's first prime minister, and in 1976, he became chairman of the board. The same year, The Star went national by moving its headquarters from Penang to Kuala Lumpur. In 1981 it moved its headquarters to Petaling Jaya to accommodate a growing staff, as well as to improve with the latest technology in publishing. In 1995, The Star became the first Malaysian newspaper to launch an edition on the World Wide Web.

In June 2001 the daily circulation of The Star reached 279,647 and The Sunday Star reached 292,408. The New Strait Times had a circulation of 136,273, and New Sunday Times had 155,565. Malay Mail had a circulation of 34,206, and the Sunday Mail had one of 50,215. That same year 5,843 titles were published in Malaysia, amounting to over 29 million copies. There were 42 daily newspapers in 1996 compared to 44 in 1995. The average circulation of newspapers in 1996 was 3.3 million.

There are numerous magazines published each year in Malaysia, but many go out of print because of the difficulty in getting sufficient numbers of advertisers to support them. The top ten magazines in 2000 published in the Malay language are Al Islam, Anjung SeriBola Sepak, Dewan EkonomiDewan KosmikDewan Masyarakat, Dewan PelajarDewan SiswaIbu, and Jelita. The most popular English language magazine is Aliran Monthly, a reform movement magazine working towards establishing freedom, justice and solidarity for all Malaysians. Aliran Kesedaran Negara (ALIRAN), established in 1977, Malaysia's first multiethnic reform movement and the nation's oldest human rights group, publishes it. Other popular English language magazines include Far Eastern Economic Review, FemaleFortuneLifeMen's Review, National GeographicNew IdeaNewsweek, andThe Planter. The top Chinese-language magazines published in Malaysia as of 2000 are Business World, Feminine, Photo PictorialReader's DigestUtusan Pegguna,Women, and Modern Home.

Economic Framework

The economy in Malaysia recovered after a slow down in 1997. Prime Minister Mahathir blamed international speculators, especially U.S. billionaire George Soros, whom Mahathir believed was responsible for manipulating the currency market in Asia in 1997. In response to the declining economy Mahathir cut government spending by 18 percent and delayed huge development projects. By 2000, the Malaysian economy had improved, and the annual gross domestic product (GDP) had increased. The sixth Malaysia plan was successful because of continued governmental fiscal restraints and double-digit export growth. This plan encouraged trends toward privatization and increased industrialization.

While privatization is a goal in the business sector, a free press without government restrictions is hardly a priority. The government controls the presses and the publishing enterprises throughout Malaysia. There are strong political and economic ties between the government and the media. In 2002, for example, the Ministry of Finance owned 30 percent of the consortium that operates Mega TV. A subsidiary firm, Sri Utara, of the investment arm of the Malaysian Indian Congress, a political party in the coalition government, owns 5 percent of Mega TV.

Political Ownership of Media

The political parties and their investment companies control the major newspapers in Malaysia. The Utusan Melayu Group publishes three Malay language dailies and has strong ties to Prime Minister Mahathir's party. In addition, the Star is owned by the Malaysian Chinese Association, a party affiliated with the ruling coalition. Private interests aligned with the Malaysian Indian Congress control all the Tamil newspapers. The investment arm of Mahathir's party, the Fleet Investment Group, has controlling interest in TV 3 and the New Straits Times.

According to Aliran, the journal of social reform, these connections reveal the biases of the Malaysian media. During the 1995 general elections, the daily newspapers carried government advertisements in full but accepted only partial advertisements from oppositional parties. Some believe that newspaper owners do not allow new entrants into industry despite the fact that they may add to the public good. What the imprisoned Assistant Prime Minister Anwar called an "informed citizenry through a contest of ideas," is as of 2002 as elusive as ever in Malaysia.

Distribution Issues

Due to the various geographic features especially the straits that separate Peninsular Malaysia from Malaysia on the island of Borneo, there are problems connected to newspaper distribution, as well as the desire for some papers to go national or have sites on the Internet. Newspaper circulation reflects ethnic and geographic divisions. English papers are popular in large urban areas. The rural areas are conservative and read more Malay newspapers that catered to Muslims. Still there are few East Malaysian papers on the peninsula and still fewer peninsular papers can be found in circulation in East Malaysia. Singapore with a 90 percent Chinese population does not allow the circulation of papers from Malaysia, nor does Malaysia allow circulation of newspapers from Singapore.

The Star was the first Malaysian newspaper to be launched on the World Wide Web on June 23, 1995. The Star and Sunday Star also publish four magazines. Kuntum, an educational monthly in Bahasa Malaysia is for children ages six to twelve. Though not particularly popular, Shang Hai, is regarded as the most authoritative Chinese magazine in the country. Galaxie, is a light reading English entertainment magazine published fortnightly, claimed to be popular with teenagers and working adults. In addition, Flavours is a magazine devoted to good food and dining in Malaysia.

In 2002, in addition to the Star, quite a few papers had Internet sites. The English ones include New Straits Times,,,, and Bernama, the Malaysian National News Agency. Malay-language newspapers with Web sites are in Tamil characters, , andUtusan Malaysia. Internet links to Malaysian Chinese newspapers are Kwong Wah Yit Poh and Nanyang SiangPau.

Newspaper Cost and Prices

The paper pulp prices have remained stable since the 1980s in Malaysia. In late 1980, the price for pulp was US$445 per ton; in 2002, the price was US$450 per ton. Malaysia purchases most of its newsprint from Canada. In the 1990s, Malaysia began recycling newsprint when Theen Seng Paper Manufacturing Sbn. Bhd started operating in Selangor darul Ehsan, Malaysia. This firm is the long established leading manufacturer of recycled paper in that country.

The average daily price for a newspaper in Malaysia has increased from 17 cents per copy in 1980 to 40 cents per copy in 2002. Sunday papers run about 60 cents for each edition.


The National Union of Journalists represents journalists in Malaysia. Labor strikes among journalists in Malaysia are rare, but disagreements with the government's strict policies have increased especially after the conviction of Anwar in 1998. In December 2001 about 40 journalists at the Sun staged demonstrations outside their office in Kuala Lumpur protesting the government's suspension of two editors. Altogether in 2002 there were nearly 7,000 people employed as journalists, photographers, and editors in the country.

Press Laws

In Malaysia two opposing positions define the newspapers. The Barisan National, the ruling coalition, contrasts directly with its opposition. Press accounts suggest the Barisan is moderate and its opposition is extreme. Barisan promotes harmony among ethnic groups while the opposition creates ethnic conflict. The press in Malaysia fluctuates between ideas about democracy as ideal and the elitism that is the fact in this classist society.

As of the early 2000s, the restrictions on the press laws in Malaysia have been associated with Mahathir Mohamad, who became prime minister in 1981 and in 1982 joined Malaysia's ruling party, the United Malay National Organization (UMNO). Dr. Mahathir Mohamad was responsible for the Printing Presses and Publications Act of 1984, which mandates all publications to have a license that can be revoked by the Minister for Home Affairs. There is no judicial review, and the ministers' decisions are final. These press laws constitute a holdover from British rule when the British successfully curtailed the spread of communism in Malaysia by censoring the press.

In 2002, the press restrictions are used by the UNMO to suppress any views that put the government or the Malaysian people in an unfavorable light. Most Malaysians read information that has been censored by the government. The UMNO and the Barisan National coalition are both allied in a national coalition that controls radio and television stations, as well as newspapers.

These coalitions put more restrictions on the press following the November 1997 election, when the Pan Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS) gained significantly against (UMNO). This election caused the UMNO-controlled government to ban the Harakak, the press-controlled newspaper that could only be sold to PAS party members. In 1998, this newspaper also increased in circulation following the prosecution of former Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim.

In 1987, three national newspapers closed under the Internal Security Act, the Printing Presses and Publications Act, and the Judicial Act. These newspapers, the English-language Star, the Chinese-language Sin Chew Jit Poh, and the Malay-language Waton, reported on the racial aspects of a political conflict between two government parties. In 1988, the government allowed these papers to reopen after they made substantial changes in their editorial management.

Although the government does not directly censor what is published in the print media, the ISA has affected the print media in Malaysia. In May 2001 the publisher of two major dailies controlled by Nanyang Press Sdn Bhd, Nanyang Siang Pau and China Press were sold to the Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA), a political party that is the second largest of the ruling coalition in Malaysia. The MCA gained control over these dailies, in addition to the seventeen other Chinese publications and magazines it owns. The Chinese Malaysian community opposed this action, but MCA purchased Nayang Press holdings after a rarely held government assembly meeting, Extraordinary General Meeting (EGM), approved the purchase. The effect of this purchase was to further curb the freedom of the Malaysian Press because the government directly controls all Malay and English presses.

The control shows up in various ways. In June 2001, the director of Utusan Melayu, Raja Ahmad Aminilah was forced to resign from the government controlled media group because he wrote a letter of appeal advocating that the jailed politician, Anwar Ibrahim, be allowed to choose his own medical treatment. Under the Sedition Act in May 2001, a party youth leader for Teluk Intan Branch, named Azman Majohan, was arrested by the police and held for ten days for uttering seditious words at a political rally in Taiping town. On May 2, 2001, the Hulu Klang state assemblyman Mohamed Azmin Ali was sentenced to jail for 18 months by a sessions court in Kuala Lumpur, after he was found guilty of providing false information in Datuk Seri Ibrahim's corruption trial that took place in March 1999.

On that same date, Anwar Ibrahim was not allowed to appeal his case in court to deny allegations (four on sodomy, and one corrupt practice) against him, although these charges were dropped by a High Court. Dr. Rais Yatin the de facto law minister said the charges were dropped because Anwar was already serving a fifteen year jail term. However, the defense team noted that Anwar was innocent, and there was no evidence to support the charges brought against him. Anwar was an advocate of freedom of the press in Malaysia and this caused the rift between him and Prime Minister Mahathir. It began in March 1996 at an Asian journalists' meeting when Anwar said that journalists should be a vehicle for "the contest of ideas and cultivate good taste." Shortly after that speech, Anwar told Time magazine that his views about a free press were in the minority: "My principle is an informed citizenry, is responsible citizenry, so there must be respect for freedom of the press."

In March 2001, the Home Affairs Ministry held up the distribution of Far Eastern Economic Review andAsia Week because of a photograph that made Prime Minister Mahathir look bad.

A libel award in July 2000 by Malaysia's highest court sent chills down the spines of timid journalists in Malaysia.. The high court upheld a 7 million ringgit (US$1.8 million) libel award to a Malaysian business tycoon, Vincent Tan. The court believed Tan had been damaged by four Malaysian industry magazine articles published in 1994. The journalist who was fined 2 million ringgit in the case, the 40-year veteran M. G. G. Pillai noted that during his whole career he had not earned enough money to pay the court costs or damages awarded against him. Pillai believed the decision by the high court reduces journalists to being public relations officers. This high court decision even prompted prominent international bodies to issue a report titled "Malaysia 2000: Justice in Jeopardy," which expressed deep concern about the judicial system in Malaysia.

Fallout from this high court decision caused several independent publications to have their annual permits rejected. The Home Ministry also put limits on the publication of the very popular Harakah, making it go from being bi-weekly to being bi-monthly. One columnist James Wong Wong concluded that all the acts that restrict freedom of the media, like the Internal Security Act, the Sedition Act, and the Official Secrets Act, have instilled fear among journalists and senior editors throughout Malaysia.


All the media and press acts, the Printing Presses Acts, the Internal Security Act, and the Control and Import Acts give the Ministry of Information and the censors authority to ban imported and domestic material in Malaysia. In June 2001, the government confiscated more than 1,000 political books after conducting a raid by the Home Ministry Office in Jahor Bari. It was believed that the books confiscated by the government contained material alleged to be dangerous to racial harmony.

In another incident in May 2001 the Home Minister banned a book titled Pengakuan Paderi Melayu Kristankan Beribu-ribu Orang Melayu (Malay Priest Confesses to Having Converted Thousands of Malays to Christianity) because the book was believed to be detrimental to public order. Moreover, the Home Ministry in June 2001 held back three issues of the international news magazine Asia Week cover dates May 25 and June 8 contained criticism of the Malaysian Prime Minister, Dr. Mahathir.

There are few federal laws that restrict officials from providing journalists with information, unless the information has an effect on national security or the military. Government official can order the press not to talk with journalists or corespondents, if they deem the information sensitive.

State-Press Relations

Deputy Prime Minister Abdullah Ahrmad Badari, who took office following the sentencing of Anwar in 1999, is the Minister of Information. He has the responsibility for carrying out the communication activities through three departments: Department of Information, the Department of Broadcasting, and Film Negra Malaysia (National Film Unit).

Through the departments of Information, Broadcasting, and the National Film Unit, the Ministry of Information directs all the channels of news information in the country. This includes billboards and special television documentaries and films related to Malaysia, as well as codes and standards for radio and television.

By 2000 the relationship between journalists and the government had grown increasingly strained. Journalists and reporters have very little rights when it comes to criticizing the government. Evidence of this contentious relationship between the press and the government has caused several editors to be removed, as well as newspapers and magazines to be indefinitely suspended or completely shut down.

In January 2000, A. Kadir Jasin, the chief editor of New Straits Times Press Bhd lost his position after a disagreement with the government. Kadir published a series of articles that angered some of the top government officials and led to his removal.

Following the trial of Anwar Ibrahim in 1998, the government took a hard line and threatened that it would place more restrictions on the local and foreign press. In July 1998, the Deputy of Information Minister Suleiman Mohamad stated, "If the media indulge in activities that threaten political stability or national unity, we will come down hard regardless of whether they are locals or foreign."

Johan Jaafar, the editor of the leading Malay-language daily, the Utusan Malaysia, was forced under government pressure to resign in July 1998. The government disliked his paper's coverage of the operational problems regarding a new airport under construction. The stories were embarrassing to the UMNO party which is a major stockholder of the paper.

Magazines have also fallen under the government's scrutiny. In March 1999, the government notified the editor of Detich, a bi-monthly magazine, that its publishing license would not be renewed. Forced to suspend publication by the government, the Detich suffered major financial losses. The editor Ahmad Lutfi Othman told reporters after the government suspended the license: "We hope the ministry will be more rational in the future. We may have criticized the government occasionally but we never intended to break the law."

In August 2000 the government revoked the license of another magazine, this one edited by Ahmad Lutfi Othman. The decision to revoke the Wasilah license was politically motivated: Lutfi is a member of the Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party, one of the opposition parties to the UMNO.

Several individuals in January 2000 were arrested by the Malaysian government for alleged criticisms made toward the government. Some of those arrested were prominent party members, defense lawyers, and media professionals, for example, Zulkifi Suong, editor of Harakah, and Chia Lim Thye, the owner of 's printing company. Both Suong and Thye were charged with sedition relating to an article Harakah published in 1999 about the sacking of Anwar Ibrahim. In court, Thye and Suong pleaded not guilty to the charges, yet restrictions and limits were placed on the newspaper.

In April 2000, in order to smooth relations with the Malaysian media, the government announced plans to review the colonial era publishing laws. This pressure came from the press freedom community in Malaysia. The laws to muzzle the press and human rights groups began under British rule in 1948 and were tightened under Prime Minister Mahathir in 1984. Some 581 journalists signed a petition stating that opposition to these laws was growing, and they advocated that the government create a national press council to regulate the industry. Apparently, their petition fell on deaf ears because as of 2002, no council has been created to review the press laws.

The government has learned to pressure local media in various ways. Apparently upset with what the Malaysian press published from the international wire services (about 20 percent of Malaysia's news comes from that service), Prime Minister Mahathir announced that Moslem nations should set up their own international news agency to counter what he called the distorted views of the Islamic world. According to Mahathir, "If we don't have any faith in our own news agencies, we tend to publish what is distributed by the Western wire services." He continued: "As a result, we don't get at least an alternative view." He was also critical of the media's portrayal of terrorism as a solely a Muslim invention.

Attitude toward the Foreign Media

The government continues to have a very suspicious view of the foreign media. In August 1998, Information Minister Mohamad Rahmat announced the government's plans to put more restrictions on foreign journalists in the country. Foreign journalists in Malaysia are required to register with the Home Minisitry, and they have to obtain a work permit. They are also required to furnish the Ministry of Information with details about their professional and personal background and provide information about their employers before they can receive a government issued pass. While Rahanat did not announce what the new rules or restrictions would be for the foreign press, he made it clear that foreign journalists may not produce in "negative and bad news."

While no foreign journalist was jailed in the 1970s, this was not the case in the 1990s. A veteran Canadian journalist Murray Hiebert in September 1999 got a six weeks jail sentence for "scandalizing the court," a ruling from an antiquated piece of colonial legislation. His sentence originated from his 1997 article in Far Eastern Economic Review titled "See You in Court" that addressed the growing number of law suits being filed in Malaysia. The article centered on a suit brought by the wife of a distinguished judge who sued an International School for dropping her son from a debate team. Heibert noted that this case moved suspiciously quickly thorough the court system. The judge's wife sued Heibert because she believed his article undermined the Malaysian judiciary. The court held Heibert's passport and set his bail at US$66,000. Heibert accepted the six-weeks jail term because had he appealed he would have had to wait a longer period of time before the case was resolved in court. According to his lawyers, Heibert was the first foreign journalist in over fifty year to be jailed for contempt in Malaysia.

U.S. President Bill Clinton and Canadian Prime Minister Lloyd Foxworthy spoke out against Heibert's incarceration. Prime Minister Mahathir in an address to the UN General Assembly responded by going on the offensive, by talking about the double standards in the West regarding human rights issues: "I think American habits of arresting other citizens in other countries and bringing them back to trail in America is contrary to international law." Mahathir accused Canada of violating human rights in the treatment of its own indigenous groups. Later at an assembly of 1,400 Commonwealth jurists in Kuala Lumpur, he lashed out at the Western media, the United Nations, currency traders, and human rights groups who have a distorted view of right and wrong.

Prime Minister Mahathir frequently gives advice on how the media should behave. The 1999 World Press Freedom Review summed up Mahathir's style for handling foreign media. "Free reporting and fair comment on sensitive topics will most likely be greatly curtailed given the potential consequences. 'Advice' on how the media should behave emanates regularly from the Prime Minister's Office, setting a clear official tone." The review continued: "In his typical diatribes against the media, Mahathir calls for what he interprets as 'responsible' journalism and feels Western media should be held responsible for their 'misreporting' In practice, his view is that regardless of a story's accuracy or an overwhelming public interest, nothing should be published if it undermines the position of those in authority creates tension or unrest." The review concluded: "The prime minister claims that freedom is dangerous, and in less developed countries like Malaysia, the government has to curtail freedom of speech for the good of the people."

The government continues to restrict material it deems to be sensitive. For example, in February 1999, the Malaysian government banned its own agencies from subscribing to foreign publications found to be critical of Malaysia. Those publications banned from government agencies were Asiaweek, The Far Eastern Economic Review, and the International Herald Review. Sine the 1970s, the government has been extremely suspicious of these publications.

News Agencies

A statutory body that the Malaysian Parliament authorized in 1967 to be Malaysia's national news agency, Pertubohan Berita Nasional Malaysia (Bernama), began operations in 1968. Bernama has an appointed five-member supervisory council and a board made up of six representatives each from the newspapers and the federal government all subscribers of Bernama. They also have alternate members appointed by the government. Bernama offices are located in all the states of Malaysia. They are also located in Washington, D.C., London, New Delhi, Dhaka, and Melbourne. In 2000, Bernama was equipped with fully computerized technology. Its purpose is to provide news services, general and economic, to subscribers in Malaysia and Singapore. Moreover, most of the Malaysian newspapers are subscribers to Bernama, as well as the electronic media, including radio, television, and the Internet. Before 1998, nearly all Bernama news and information was in the form of still photographs and text, but that year the agency launched BERNAMA TV. Bernama also disseminates its news on the Internet.

Bernama was given the official right in June 1990 to distribute news throughout Malaysia, and it does so in Malay and in English. Bernama also has an exchange agreement with other agencies, including Antara (Indonesia), Organization of Asian News Agencies (OANA), Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), and the Middle East News Agency.

In late 1999, there were several foreign news bureaus with offices in Malaysia, all located in Kuala Lumpur: Agence France Presse (AFP), the U.S. Associated Press (AP), Italy's Inter Press Service (IPS), Press Trust of India, Thai News Agency, the U.S. United Press International (UPI), the U.K. Reuters, and the People's Republic of China.

Broadcast & ELECTRONIC News Media

Similar to the print media, the electronic news media also fall under government control. The Malaysian Parliament, approved by the Broadcasting Act in December 1987, gives the Minister of Information the authority to monitor and control all radio and television broadcasting. The minister can likewise revoke any license held by a private company deemed to have violated the provisions of this act.

The government also has strict codes that the radio and television media must follow. The May 2002 version of the Malaysian Advertising Code of Ethics for Television and Radio protects the television industry as well as the government's social pollicies. This code controls the content of commercials and advertisements. The code restricts programs or advertisements that promote an excessively materialistic lifestyle. Using sex to sell products is restricted. In addition, scenes involving models undressing are not allowed. Women have a strict dress code: they must be covered from the neckline to below the knees. Swimming trunks for men and women can only be shown in scenes involving sporting or athletic events. All scenes or shots must be filmed in Malaysia, and only 20 percent of foreign footage is allowed and then only after it is approved by the minister. Moreover, all musicals and songs must be produced in Malaysia.

Unacceptable products, services, and scenes include alcoholic beverages. Blue denims are restricted; however, certain jeans made of other materials can be advertised. Dramatizations that show the applications of products to certain parts of the body, such as the armpits, is restricted. Clothes with imported words or symbols are restricted because they may convey undesired messages. Other restrictions include scenes which suggest intimacy, disco scenes, feminine napkins, and kissing between adults.

Radio Malaysia broadcasts over six networks in various languages and dialects. Besides Radio Malaysia, Suara Islam (Voice of Islam) and Suara Malaysia (Voice of Malaysia) broadcast regularly in Peninsular Malaysia. Radio Television Malaysia broadcasts in Sabah and Sara-wak. There is also Rediffusion Cable Network Sbn Bhd and Time Highway Radio, both of which have offices in Kuala Lumpur and primarily serve East Malaysia.

Other television networks besides Radio Television Malaysia in Sabah and Sarawak are situated on Peninsular Malaysia. Television Malaysia, founded in 1963, controls programming from its main office in Kuala Lumpur. TV 3 (Sistem Televisyen Malaysia Bhd) is Malaysia's first private television station that began broadcasting in 1984. Meast Broadcast Network systems began operating when Malaysia's first satellite was launched in January 1996. Malaysia launched a second satellite in October of that year. Mega TV, which started broadcasting in 1995, has five foreign channels, and the government owns 40 percent of Mega TV. The commercial station, MetroVison began broadcasting in July 1995. It is 44 percent owned by Sendandang Sesuria Sbn Bhd and 56 percent owned by Metropolitan Media Sbn Bhd. In addition, as of 1996, when the government ended the ban on private satellite dish ownership, Malaysians can own dishes.

Malaysia's wealthiest media baron is Ananda Kirshnan, who owns the direct satellite and broadcast company, Astro. Kirshman is a powerful ally of the Malaysian government, and his financial ventures are directed to helping Prime Minister Mahathir achieved a fully developed Malaysia by 2020. Khazanah Nasional, a government-owned investment company, bought a 15 percent stake in Astro in 1996 for US$260 million. Regulators in the government have steadily supported Krishman's companies by providing him with essential licenses in telecommunications, satellites, and gambling. Kirshman, a graduate of Harvard University's Business School, wants to "provide Asian alternatives to the Western media offensive." In 1997, his studios were working overtime to produce shows that would be morally accepted to the conservative Asian audiences not only in Malaysia but also to the Philippines and Vietnam.

The growth of the Internet in Malaysia has created problems for the Malaysian government. One government project begun by Mahathir in the late 1990s was Cyberjava, the multi-media Super Corridor designed to attract high tech industry and serve as a community totally wired to the Internet similar to the Silicone Valley in California. It covers the same area as Singapore and is located on the tip of Peninsular Malaysia. In keeping with his promise Mahathir has pledged not to censor the Internet, and to promote Cyberjava, he has been forced to have a hands-off policy regarding the Internet. In 1998, the Malaysian government allowed Malaysia's first commercial non-government controlled online newspaper, MalaysiaKini to begin operations.

In March 2001, the government-operated press instituted a campaign to undermine the credibility of Malay-siakini, the only non-government controlled online newspaper that began in 1999. The most credible media voice in Malaysia, this paper took advantage of Mahathir's promise not to ever censor the Internet. Mahathir, however, became upset with Malaysiakin i when the Far Eastern Economic Review reported that it received funding from George Soros' Open Society Institute. The prime minister was quoted to have said that loyal Malaysians should stop reading Malaysiakini because of the possible link to Soros. Mahathir has often attacked Soros in his speeches probably because Soros is a Jew, and Mahathir is a Muslim. Steven Gan, the editor of Malaysiakini, refuted the charges and even produced financial records that showed that the paper had never received any money from Soros. Gan received the International Pioneer Press Freedom Award in 2000.

In the early 2000s, the debate about trying to censor the Internet in Malaysia continues. In March 2002 both the public and Parliament are split on the issue; half want to see tighter controls and censorship, and the remaining half wants the Printing Press laws to be discontinued and the Internet to be free from government censorship.

Education & TRAINING

Some of the first courses for journalists in Malaysia were conducted by the South East Asia Press Center (SEAPC), formed in 1966 and supported by the Ministry of Information, local newspapers, and the Press Foundation of Asia. Its purpose was to provide something on the order of inservice education for people already employed as journalists in the country. Graduated courses in journalism are offered by the Universiti Sains Malaysia. Programs in journalism began in 1971 in the School of Humanities at that institution. In 2000, one of the major criticisms among journalists' in academia is the lack of enivronmental journalism in the Malaysian curriculum.

Courses in mass communications were first offered at Institut Teknololji Mara (ITM). Mostly the Malaysian government finances this institution and students must be bumiputras in order to attend. The school is situated in the suburbs of Kuala Lumpur. Universsiti Kebagsaan Malaysia (the National University of Malaysia) also has courses and offers degrees in mass communication and journalism. The school is located in Bangi, south of the capital. Through the Department of English, the University of Malaya offers courses specializing in theory and research in mass communications. The Institute ACT in Petaling Jaya has a center for continuing education and focuses on media technology and journalism. Tanku Abdul Rahman College, in Kuala Lumpur (TARC ), also offers bachelor degree programs in mass communications and journalism.

The headquarters of the Asian Institute for Broadcasting, affiliated with the Ministry of Information is the Institut Penyiarn Tun Abdul Razak (IPTAR) at Angkaspuri. There are courses at that institution through the Asian Institute for Broadcasting (AIBD). This institution receives partial support from UNESCO and the Malaysian government.

The National Union of Journalists (NUJ) is the major journalistic association in Malaysia, and it is affiliated with the Confederation of ASEAN Journalists. The other association is the Newspaper Publishers Association.

Steven Gang, the editor of MaylasiaKini received the International Pioneer Press Freedom Award in 2000 for his efforts at keeping his online newspaper free from government intrusion. In May 2001, on "World Press Freedom Day," the Committee to Protect Journalists meeting in New York City put Mahathir Mahamad on the "Top Ten Enemies of the Press" list.


While Malaysia has kept up with the rest of the world in technology and a prosperous economy, a truly free press in 2002 does not exist in this Southeast Asian country. Little has changed. The government still views the media as a means for promoting the government. It believes the press should not be sensational but should be a watchdog for society.

Journalists in Malaysia have to contend with many obstacles that journalists who live in other countries do not. The local and foreign journalists in Malaysia have to contend with various press laws and publications acts, as well as libel suits. It seems little change can be expected in the years to come so long as the government associates gains with a press controlled by the authorities.

Significant Dates

  • 1984: The Printing Presses and Publications Act is revised.
  • 1994: The Communist Party is no longer active in Malaysia.
  • 1998: Deputy Prime Minister Anwar is charged with corruption and jailed.
  • 1998: MaylasiasKini, the first on-line commercial newspaper, is established.
  • 1998: Murray Heibert is the first foreign journalist jailed in Malaysia in over fifty years.
  • 1998: A. Kadir Jasin, editor of New Straits Times, is forced by authorities to resign.
  • 1998: Authorities cancel the publication of two magazines, Esklusif and Wasilah.
  • 1999: The National Union of Journalists (NUJ) urges the government to provide a more favorable environment for the press industry.
  • 1999: Five hundred and eighty-one journalists call for an appeal of Printing Presses and Publications Act.
  • 2001: The debate over the licensing of publications escalates.


Asher, R. E., ed. The Encyclopedia of Language and Linguistics, vol. 5. New York: Pergamon Press, 1994.

Barr, Cameron W. "Combative Leader Challenges Both His People and Foreign Press," Christian Science Monitor, vol. 90, issue 212 (28 September 1998): 8.

"Detention Without Trial: Internal Security Act, ISA," Malaysian Civil and Political Rights , 2nd Quarter 2001 (April-July 2001), Suram, Selangor, Malaysia.

The Europa World Year Book , vol. II. London: Europa Publications Limited, 1999.

"Foreign Labor Trends, Malaysia, 1994-1995," U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of International Labor Affairs, prepared by the American Embassy, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, 1995.

Gullick, John. Malaysia: Economic Expansion and National Unity. Boulder, Col.: Westview Press, 1981.

Ingram, Derek. "Commonwealth Press Union," Round Table, vol. 349, issue 1 (January 1999): 28.

Kurian, George Thomas, ed. World Press Encyclopedia. New York: Facts on File, Inc., 1982.

Loo, Eric. "Media Tightly Prescribed," Neiman Reports, vol. 50, issue 3 (Fall 1996): 79.

"Mahathir's Dividend," The Economist, vol. 330 (12 March 1994).

"Malaysia's Rough Justice," The Economist, vol. 348 (28 August 1998).

Martin, Stella, and Denis Walls. In Malaysia. London: Brandt Publications, 1986.

Murphy, Dan. "Malaysia's Strike on Freedoms," Christian Science Monitor, vol. 93, issue 74 (13 March 2001):3.

Neto Anil. "Libel Award Chill Malaysia's Journalists," Asia Times, July 15, 2000. Available at http://www.atimes.comINTERNET.

Osman, Mohd Taib. Malaysian World-View. Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 1985.

"Publish and be Chastised," The Economist, vol. 358 (3 March 2001).

Roff, William R. The Origins of Malay Nationalism. New Haven, CN.: Yale University Press, 1967.

Ross-Larson, Bruce, ed. Malaysia 2001: A Preliminary Inquiry. Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia: Syed Kechik Foundation, 1978.

"The Shaming of Malaysia," The Economist, vol. 349 (7 November 1998).

Sumner, Jeff, ed. Gale Directory of Publications and Broadcast Media, 136th ed., vol. 5. Farmington Hills, MI.: Gale, 2002.

Van Wolferen, Karel, "The Limits of Mass Media," NIRA Review (Winter 1995).

Lloyd Johnson

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Malaysia." World Press Encyclopedia. . 9 Jul. 2018 <>.

"Malaysia." World Press Encyclopedia. . (July 9, 2018).

"Malaysia." World Press Encyclopedia. . Retrieved July 09, 2018 from

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

The Chicago Manual of Style

American Psychological Association

  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.



Basic Data
Official Country Name: Malaysia
Region: Southeast Asia
Population: 21,793,293
Language(s): Bahasa Melayu, English, Chinese (Cantonese, Mandarin, Hokkien, Hakka, Hainan, Foochow), Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, Panjabi, Thai, Iban, Kadazan
Literacy Rate: 83.5%
Academic Year: January-November
Compulsory Schooling: 9 years
Public Expenditure on Education: 4.9%
Libraries: 471
Educational Enrollment: Primary: 2,840,667
  Secondary: 1,889,592
  Higher: 210,724
Educational Enrollment Rate: Primary: 101%
  Secondary: 64%
  Higher: 12%
Teachers: Primary: 148,000
  Secondary: 102,139
  Higher: 14,960
Student-Teacher Ratio: Primary: 19:1
  Secondary: 19:1
Female Enrollment Rate: Primary: 101%
  Secondary: 69%

History & Background

Malaysia is a commendable example of how a country, with definite goals and pointed persistence, can achieve impressive progress in the field of education in a relatively short period. According to one source, its literacy rate of 93 percent at the end of the twentieth century is one of the highest in the world. Malaysia has taken important strides consistently since its independence (Merdeka ) in 1957 and even more dramatically since Prime Minister Dr. Mahathir Mohammad held before the people his "Vision 2020" for all fields of governmental activity, including education. Its goals are to create a corps of educators fully qualified to develop the country into a "regional education hub." The country's mission is to "to create knowledge workers who will become a critical national resource with the capacity not only to absorb and master the new and emerging technologies but also to innovate and manage change." The goal is to put Malaysian students "on par with the top students in some of the world's best universities." The education scene in Malaysia exudes positive, optimistic synergies.

Consisting of the Malay Peninsula or West Malaysia and the states of Sabah and Sarawak (East Malaysia) in the northwestern coastal area of the island of Borneo, Malaysia covers an area of 127,581 square miles. The two areas are separated by about 400 miles of the South China Sea. West Malaysia covers an area of about 50,806 square miles, or 40 percent of the country. Sabah and Sarawak cover about 60 percent of the total area, though they have only 21 percent of the population. Peninsular Malaya is bounded on the north by Thailand while Sabah and Sarawak are bounded by the South China in the west and by Indonesia's Kalimantan in the east and the south.

Historically, the Malay Peninsula was a sparsely populated area. The land had little possibility of agriculture and its mineral deposits remained largely unexploited. The narrow northern neck of the peninsula was used for trade between the East and the West. The Malay people are of the same racial stock as those of the Indonesian islands but few settled in Malaya, preferring the fertile lands of Jagva. In the process of transmission of Indian culture to Southeast Asia, the people of Malaya absorbed Hinduism and Buddhism. The tradition of a Buddhist monk doubling as a village school teacher began in the early centuries of the Common Era and continues through the centuries.

Unlike neighboring countries Burma (Myanmar), Thailand, and Cambodia, no major kingdoms developed or lasted in the Malay Peninsula for lack of economic resources. Not until the fifteenth century did the first major polity encompassing all of Malaya emerge. In 1402, Parameshwara, a prince from Palembang in Sumatra across the Straits, established his kingdom on the Malay Peninsula at Melaka (Malacca ). In a bid to attract the East-West trade as well as the regional trade and shipping, he provided excellent facilities for merchants and mariners from India, China, Java, Champa, Pegu (Lower Burma), and Arabia, who needed to spend several months in a year until the monsoons subsided. In the process, he and the dynasty he established created the tradition of a multi-ethnic, multi-religious society thriving in an atmosphere of coexistence and cooperation in separate quarters of the city-state.

Islam was spreading fast in the insular region particularly among the trading and shipping communities. In order to spread the religion and create a thalossocracy embracing the entire peninsula, the Malacca sultans (rulers) entered into matrimonial alliances with the ruling chiefs across Malaya. For a century until the Portuguese conquered Melaka in 1510, it remained the center of commerce in Southeast Asia and of Islam in the peninsula. The population of peninsular Malaysia is more multiracial, multi-religious, and multilingual than that of Sabah and Sarawak. Malays and other indigenous people are called bhumiputeras (children of the soil); Chinese and Indians are the two other major communities. Of these, Chinese are about 36 percent in peninsular Malaya and in Sabah and Sarawak. Indians number about 11 percent in peninsular Malaya and in Sabah and Sarawak. These numbers are relevant not only for the country's political balance and racial harmony but also for the formulation of educational policies directed toward national integration.

Constitutional & Legal Foundations

The Federation of Malaysia was born in 1963. Two years later, Singapore seceded to form an independent and sovereign state. Malaysia, thereafter, constituted 11 states of peninsular MalayaPerak, Kedah, Selangor, Negri Sembilan, Johor, Pahang, Perlis, Kelantan, Terengannu, Melaka and Pulau Pinang and two states on the island of Borneo, namely, Sabah (formerly North Borneo) and Sarawak. Sandwiched between Sabah and Sarawak is the small sultanate of Brunei, whose extreme fortunes are built on oil. Besides the 13 states, there are two federally administered territories, namely, the country's capital of Kuala Lumpur in Selangor State and Labuan.

Malaysia has, since its inception in 1963, been a federal democracy with Kuala Lumpur as the federal capital where the federal legislature and the Supreme Court are housed. Nine states of peninsular Malaya are headed by hereditary rulers, the sultans, who constitute the Conference of Rulers and elect, mostly by rotation, one of themselves, as the Yang Di Pertuan Agong (Supreme Head of State) for 5 years. Melaka and Pulau Pinang on the peninsula and Sabah and Sarawak in East Malaysia are not members of the Conference of Rulers. Each of the 13 units of the federal polity has an elected government on the Westminster pattern with the chief minister and his cabinet belonging to the party with the largest number of elected representatives in the lower house. At the federal level, the prime minister and his cabinet belong to the majority party in the lower house of the parliament.

Educational SystemOverview

A decade before the end of the British rule, the educational system in Malaya was reorganized along the lines of the Barnes Report of 1951. Up to that point of time, Malaya's educational system lacked uniformity in curriculum and an articulated rationale for a policy which would be relevant to the political and socio-economic goals of the people. The country's three principal ethnic communitiesMalays, Chinese and Indians (mostly Tamils from South India)ran their own schools, the latter two often importing a syllabus used in the countries of their origin. The Barnes Report recommended a national school system, which would provide primary education for 6 years in Malaya and English, hoping that over a period of time, the attraction to have separate schools in Chinese and Tamil would wane and disappear. The reaction of the Chinese community to the Barnes Report was not totally positive. While the community agreed with the basic recommendation that Malay be treated as the principal language, it felt that there should be some provision to recognize Chinese and Tamil as important components of a new definition of Malaya's national identity.

Partly to pacify the ethnic sensitivities, the colonial government approved a modified formula that would allow bilingualism in Malay schools (Malay and English) and three language "solution" in Tamil and Chinese schools (either Tamil-Malay-English or Chinese-Malay-English). It recommended a common curriculum for all schools, hoping that a national school system would evolve. In 1955, two years before Malaya's independence, the Razak Report endorsed the concept of a national education system based on Malay (the national language), being the main medium of instruction. A key paragraph from it was reproduced in Section 3 of the Education Ordinance of 1957:

A national system of education acceptable to the people of the Federation [of Malaya] as a whole which will satisfy their needs and promote their cultural, social, economic and political development as a nation, having regard to the intention to make Malay the national language of the country while preserving and sustaining the growth of the language and culture of other communities living in the country.

In the national discussion that followed the Razak Report, two alternative models figured: Switzerland with three languages had fostered national unity "without impairing the autonomy and equality of different languages and cultures." On the other hand, the United States had assimilated the divergent immigrant communities by the use of a common dominant language. The Razak Report revealed an intention to follow the American model. At the same time, the last part of the concluding sentence endorsed the need to include the Swiss component of "sustaining the growth of other languages and cultures" in order to foster the unity of all people.

The Razak Report recommended two types of secondary schools: those using Malay as the medium of instruction to be called "national schools" while those using Chinese, Tamil or English were to be designated "national-type schools." Both being "national," the government should give financial aid to both the types. With the attainment of independence, the new government basically followed the Razak Report. There was no problem at the primary school level since the child's mother tongue would be the medium of instruction. The parents had the option to choose any other language; in practice, such a choice would narrow it down to the use of English as the medium of instruction. There was also a general consensus that at a later stage at the primary level, English and/or Malay could be learned as a "foreign language." The emphasis in these early years was on the need to establish a system that would foster national unity but not at the cost of harmony among the three communities, each of them being keen on preserving its own cultural traditions. Therefore, until the mid-1960s, the government focused on upgrading the content of education rather than on the medium of instruction. Thus, the grant-in-aid to schools were tied to adopting the national curriculum and to offer professional training to teachers to qualify them to teach the advanced syllabus in most subjects particularly, mathematics and sciences. This was because the government felt obliged to link education to the needs of an expanding, modern economy.

In 1967, Malaysia proclaimed Bahasa Melayu the national language for purposes of administration and education. In an effort to promote national integration, it was progressively made the main medium of instruction in schools and institutions of higher learning. At the same time, the people had the option to use their mother tongue and other languages.

In late 2000, the Malaysian government announced that technology education and high-tech industries would have leading roles in the country's economy which would thereafter be predominantly "knowledge-based" or "K-economy." It would address the country's "digital divide by de-emphasizing past practices of promoting businesses run by ethnic Malays." For this purpose the government would focus on education "as a means to deliver the promise of empowering the individual in the twenty-first century." In real terms, economy and education would aim at closing the digital divide between the rural and urban centers of population. The emphasis on high-tech economy and education shifted the government focus from the practice of hand-picking individuals and businesses under the indigenous or Bumiputra policy to introducing information technology at the level of the masses.

The government had emphasized developing a technology infrastructure program called the Multimedia Super Corridor (MSC). By the end of 1999, there were 32 MSC-approved companies, 33 percent of which were software companies and 29 percent dealt with multimedia. Together, the MSC companies helped to augment the manufacturing output of the country by an estimated 20 percent for several years. There was criticism, however, that the MSC helped the upper class industrialists and businessmen leaving the middle and lower classes and rural populations out of the prosperity loop. The anomaly would be rectified through the new policy. The 2001 budget provided for the spread of computer literacy on a mass scale, including computers in all schools, building 167 schools and 4 new universities, and allocating $316 million for training institutes. If the trend continues, Malaysia would join nearby Singapore in its efforts to minimize the digital divide.

Preprimary & Primary Education

In Malaysia, the preschool education, outside the home, begins at the age of four or five in kindergartens, which are run both by the government as well as nongovernmental agencies and the private sector. The Ministry of Education interferes the least at this level of education. It does provide broad guidelines in terms of a "curriculum," teaching approaches and how to provide a "secure and stimulating environment" for preschool children, but it also allows considerable flexibility to the managements and teachers of such schools to make variation in the style and content of teaching. Such variation is specially allowed at the preschool and tertiary education (university education) levels. In 2000, there were 1,076 public kindergartens with 27,883 kindergarten students and 1,699 teachers. Additionally, there were 2,161 private kindergartens.

Education is provided free by the government. It is not compulsory. Yet, 99 percent of all six-year-olds attend the primary school and 92 percent of all students go on to the upper secondary schools. Sensitive to the multi-ethnic character of its population, Malaysia has set up two categories of schools: national schools and national-type schools. Schools of all levels operate on a semester system for a total of 41 weeks in a year. Because of a shortage of school space, some schools in urban centers operate in two shifts: morning and afternoon.

While most of the primary and secondary schools are run by the government, there is a growing number of private schools. They are becoming increasingly popular because they give students a greater degree of mobility. At any stage, they can opt out of the private schools and join the national schools and vice versa. Such private schools use either a Malaysian syllabus or one from an overseas school. Some private schools also offer a 2-year Sixth Form program which prepares the students for entry into local or foreign universities.

The Malaysian system of education comprises four levels: primary, lower secondary, upper secondary, and postsecondary schools. Parents are free to choose the type of school, national (Bahasa Melayu) or "nationalist-type" Chinese or Tamil. Students completing six years of primary education are automatically promoted to lower secondary level. Those from the "national-type" schools are required to spend a year in transition class in order to acquire sufficient knowledge of Bahasa Melayu to be able to follow the instruction at the lower secondary school level (or Form I as it is called), where the medium of instruction is only in the national language, Bahasa Melayu. At the primary level, the emphasis is on the acquisition of strong writing and reading skills as well as a good foundation of maths and basic sciences. Two assessment examinations at the end of the third and the sixth years enable an evaluation of the student's performance. Those who perform extremely well at the third year examination are often allowed to skip the fourth year and go directly to the fifth year. The government also runs some residential schools providing a stimulating environment for some specially gifted students interested in specializing in sciences. In such schools, there are special facilities for students to cultivate fluency of English so that they are better able to assimilate advanced knowledge in science and technology. In 2000, there were 7,084 primary schools with 2,870,667 students and 150,681 teachers giving a teacher-student ratio of 1:19.

The Ministry of Education's policy is to try to accommodate the particular needs of the visually and hearing impaired as well as of those with learning difficulties, within the mainstream school system. Special facilities may be given to some students for some time, but the goal is to integrate them in regular classes as early as possible. In 2000, there were 283 schools that were equipped with special facilities and qualified teaching staff to help integrate such children within the general school system. However, there were 31 "special education schools" for those who need more intensive and personal one-on-one care and attention and who cannot be integrated into the mainstream schools.

Secondary Education

The lower secondary stage consists of three years (seventh to ninth grades or Forms I to III) at the end of which students take the Lower Secondary Assessment Examination (Sijil Rendah Pelajaran or PMR). Many of those who fail the PMR end their education and join the labor market. Students who pass the PMR move to more specialized fields of study at the upper secondary school based on choice and aptitude for the arts or sciences "streams." They may join technical or vocational school for two years. Both the categories of students are evaluated at year 5 through the Malaysian Certificate of Education examination (Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia or SPM). At the upper secondary level, several schools are set up to provide a technically-biased academic education and preemployment skills. Some secondary schools offer the Malaysian Higher School Certificate (Sijil Tinggi Pelajaran or STPM) program which qualifies students for entry into the national universities, colleges, or teacher-training institutions.

In 2000, some of the students in lower secondary schools joined the upper secondary programs offered by the MARA Institute of Technology and colleges. They offer courses in technology, commerce, business management. MARA's polytechnics offer training courses in commerce and engineering to train technicians and junior executives. In 2000, there were 1,538 lower and upper secondary schools with 1,794,515 students and 96,523 teachers, with a teacher-student ratio of 1:18.6.

Technical education has had a longer tradition than higher education in humanities or social sciences. In 1925, a technical school was opened at Brickfrields, Kuala Lumpur, which a half-century later, in 1972, became the University of Technology, Malaysia. After the country's independence in 1957 and formation of the Federation of Malaysia in 1963, the successive five-year plans focused on creating a "market-sensitive" education system, which would train enough people to meet the needs of industry and business. Efforts were also made to locate the technical school close to the location of industries so that the students could take advantage of practical training through observation or apprenticeship. Other objectives of vocational education included encouraging those who are not oriented to white collar jobs to take training in short-term and diploma courses and acquire technical skills to enter a vocation.

The technological education would include computer technology to keep the country in the league of developed countries. Another aim was to close the digital gap between the urban and rural populations in Malaysia. The prime Minister, Dr Mahathir's "Vision 2020" included technical and vocational education among the priorities for the nation. Consequently, the percentage of those who opted for these categories of education jumped from the 7 percent of those passing the PMR, in 2000.

Two kinds of students tend to take up technical and vocational education. Those who fail the Sijil Rendah Pelajaran or PMR given at the end of Form III or the ninth grade and those who pass the PMR, and move on to upper secondary school and choose technical or vocational school as one of the "streams" (some others being arts and sciences) for two years. There has been an increasing trend to include some technical and vocational education as a part of the regular curriculum in the regular secondary schools. An increasing number of students join the MARA Institute of Technology taking diplomas in engineering or business.

Higher Education

At the time of Malaya's independence in 1957, there was no university in the country. There was, however, a university in Singapore established in 1949 called the University of Malaya, which was established as a result of merger of two well-known institutions in Singapore. The only academic institution that offered courses leading to a degree was the King Edward College of Medicine in Singapore, which had been recognized as a full-fledged medical college since 1915. The second institution was the Raffles College, established in Singapore in 1928, which offered courses in English, history, geography, and some other subjects leading to a diploma. In 1959, a campus of the University of Malaya was opened in Malaya's capital, Kuala Lumpur.

Since the birth of the Malaysian Federation in 1963, higher education institutions (HEIs) have expanded phenomenally in number, student enrollment, and the range of specialties they offer. In 2000, there were 11 universities in the public sector, besides 6 private universities and 283 private colleges. The demand for higher education was so high that all six private universities were established in just two years in 1996 and 1997 in response to public demand for admission to the HEIs and the inability of the government-funded HEIs to meet the need. In 1996, enrollment in the HEIs was 17,589; in 1997, it jumped to 28,344 students. Even so, in 1997, only one-third of the total of 86,384 applicants could be admitted. Consequently, in 1996, more than 15,000 students went overseas for higher education. The affluent conditions in the country have accounted for an exponential demand for higher education; in 1998, there were about 60,000 Malaysian students studying overseasa large number in the United States and The Nanyang Chinese University.

The growth of higher education in Malaysia had a Chinese dimension, which affected the Chinese not only in Singapore but also people of Chinese origin in Malaya. Thus, in 1956, those who believed in Chinese education instead of Western established the Nanyang University in Singapore primarily for students from Chinese secondary schools in Malaya and Singapore. The low academic standards, inadequately-trained faculty, and an "inwardlooking concentration on all things Chinese" at the Nanyang University in its early years were so inadequate that they failed to establish credibility among many of the forward-looking citizens. The governments of Malaya and Singapore refused to recognize the degrees of the Nanyang University as qualifications for entrance to the civil service; the industrial and business sector followed the government practice. Not wanting to allow the Nanyang University to lapse into a reactionary stronghold of Chinese nationalism, the government of Singapore reinstated in 1962, one year before the birth of the Federation of Malaysia, grants-in-aid to the Nanyang University. After Singapore pulled out of the Federation two years later, the fate of the Nanyang University remained no longer the responsibility of the Federation of Malaysia.

Admission to national universities in Malaysia for undergraduate education is determined by examination and selection. The minimum requirement is passing the SPM and STPM certificate examinations. Students must apply through the Universities Central Admissions Unit. Each university, however, has the option of deciding which students to admit. To help students from rural areas who may not have adequate preparation at the primary and secondary levels, some places are reserved in some national universities. There are also special facilities for students in the form of pre-university training programs and special incentives such as government fellowships.

The government shows the high importance it attaches to university education and its immediate relevance to the country's yearning for economic betterment in the days of increasing globalization. Thus, a Ministry of Education statement states:

In the 21st century, the young person entering the workforce will be judged not so much on the knowledge and skills acquired, but on the capacity for lateral thinking, creativity, and an integrated approach to learning. The university system is expected to bridge the fundamental shift from an information-based society to a knowledge-based one. Malaysia is putting in place the hardware and software to equip students to take advantage of the opportunities offered by an increasingly interconnected world.

In late 2000, the government announced major plans to promote a "K-economy" or "knowledge-based economy" in which technology education would play a major role. This would aim at reducing the digital divide in the country in which the lower classes and rural population had been left out of by the revolution in Information Technology. The immediate plans, for which the Finance Minister provided $316 million in the 2001 budget included opening 4 new universities besides 167 new schools and funds for putting computers in all schools. If the plans are continued and there are positive prospects for such a development, Malaysian institutions of higher education will have new success not only in the field of computer technology but in its impact in the fields of politics, economics, sociology, social behavior, business management, and many others.

The Ministry of Education's Higher Education Division coordinates policies for university education although the universities are considered autonomous. Most of the work with the universities is done by a 10-member National Accreditation Board for higher education. The Board formulates policies on the quality of courses and the accreditation of certificates, diplomas, and degrees. The Board's goal is to ensure high academic standards on par with the best universities in the world. In order to provide equity and a balanced representation of various disciplines and programs, the membership of the Board is drawn from faculty of the various public universities.

Unlike academics in many non-Communist developing countries who try to keep distance from business and industry, the Malaysian universities and research institutions have been very open about the desirability of building cooperative and cordial bridges with government and industry. The government encourages the researchoriented department of universities and research and development institutions to interact with industry. Such collaboration is promoted through the National Council for Scientific Research and Development. This includes joint research projects with multinationals who are a large part of Malaysia's economic landscape. A separate government organization, the Malaysian Technology Development Corporation, promotes linkages among companies, innovators, entrepreneurs, and financial institutions for industrial exploitation of university research projects. The "purpose-built" construction of high-tech parks close to major universities enable effective interaction between academia and industry and the optimum utilization of resources and capabilities of both. As the Ministry of Education proclaims, "the emphasis is on matching research and development efforts with market needs within a dynamic and flexible environment. This provides students with a unique learning opportunity where classroom knowledge can be immediately tested in a real-life business environment."

Malaysia has taken several steps to bring its education in line with the developed world. It claims to have entered into "strategic alliances" between Malaysian universities and selected overseas universities known for specific areas of expertise. There is a discernible urge to "internationalize" the curriculum particularly in the areas of technology, business management and accounting. For this purpose, a number of public (called "national" in Malaysia) and private universities and colleges offering education packages were put together in collaboration with "the most reputable academic institutions in the world." Additionally, several accounting firms have been registered as training organizations for "chartered accountants" offering "articleship" to aspiring candidates.

Administration, Finance, & Educational Research

The Ministry of Education formulates the national educational policy in terms of the goals and objectives set by the Prime Minister, Minister of Education, and the Cabinet. It periodically prepares plans, programs, and projects to fit into the national Five-Year-Plans. Although the country's constitution provides for decentralization of certain powers to the states, the federal Ministry of Education has throughout Malaysia's history played a superior role in laying down policies and guidelines for the state-level education departments, and at times, the district level officials in charge of education.

The Ministry of Education functions as two wings: academic and administrative, headed by the Director-General of Education and the Secretary-General. At the apex of policy planning in the Ministry is the Educational Planning Committee (EPC) of which the Minister of Education is the head. Its sub-committees formulate policies regarding curriculum and preparation of text-books, development, finance, higher education, scholarships, and teacher training for approval by the EPC.

Roughly corresponding to these committees are 12 academic divisions. The Educational and Planning and Research Division is a very important division connected to the EPC. Another is the Curriculum Development Center responsible for disseminating effective teaching methods and strategies as well as new curricula programs and for producing support materials. The Textbook Division, which gets the textbooks written in conformity with the revisions in curriculum and printed in time for the beginning of the classes. Support in the form of audio-visual facilities and other kinds of technology is provided by the Educational Technology Division while a still separate Technical and Vocational Division assists the vocational secondary schools and polytechnics in revising curriculum and supply of the state-of-the art technical facilities. A special division, the Computer Services Division provides not only the physical facilities and their upgrading but also consult services. Another division named the Examination Syndicate is responsible for conducting all national-level examinations. Inspection and supervision of effective instruction and management of school of all levels comes under the Federal Schools Inspectorate. Still another division deals with all questions pertaining to the teaching of Islam.

The Ministry of Education requires all educational institutions, whether they are in the public or private sectors, to observe the rules and regulations regarding the registration of schools. The Schools and Teachers Registration Division ensures the academic qualifications of teachers and that the physical facilities in schools follow certain standards. Teachers and academic administrators needing upgrading receive training at the Aminuddin Baki Institute, which functions directly under the Ministry of Education.

The Ministry's Higher Education Division coordinates policies for university education although the universities are considered autonomous. Most work that pertains to connecting with the universities is done by 10-member National Accreditation Board for public and private institutions of higher education. The Board formulates policies on the quality of courses and the accreditation of certificates, diplomas, and degrees. The Board's goal is to ensure high academic standards in keeping with the best universities in the world. In order to provide equity and a balanced representation of various disciplines and programs, the membership of the Board is drawn from faculty of various public universities.

Also working with the Division of Higher Education is the External Affairs Division, which looks after the country's cooperative ties with other institutions of higher education in the region as well as across the world. The Scholarships Division deals with financial assistance to students and teachers within the country as well as for Malaysian students studying abroad Lastly, there is the Computer Services Division, which provides technical expertise in management of information services.

At the state level, the State Education Departments are headed by directors. These departments are responsible for the implementation of all educational programs, projects, and activities in the state. They also conduct monitoring of curricular programs in schools as well as give professional advice to teachers. In service courses, particularly those pertaining to the training and dissemination of new curricula, have become a major activity at state level. Regular feedback on the implementation of educational programs is relayed to the Ministry through regular meetings and discussions between these departments and the Ministry.

Malaysia has, since its inception, been liberal with funds for its educational establishment, spending on education in 1997, the largest portion of the budget at 22 percent. In that year, the allocation for education was augmented by 30 percent. This is exclusive of expenditure on the well-known MARA Junior Science colleges, which because of their rural bias are not funded by the Ministry of Education but come under the purview of the Ministry of Rural and National Development. The major items of expenditure include 11 years of free schooling at primary, lower secondary and secondary levels. There are plenty of scholarships available to the deserving, both on grounds of academic merit and economic need. The Textbook Division of the Ministry of Education makes textbooks available to the needy on a free loan basis. There are residential schools for secondary-level science students for those coming from the less developed northern Malay states or rural areas. Those who are economically disadvantaged are fully subsidized including boarding facilities.

A major item in the education budget is higher education, which includes ten public universities and a number of research institutions. Tuition is free and there are a large number of fellowships and grants available for the economically disadvantaged. The Ministry of Education's Scholarships Division and External Affairs Division jointly assist placement and funding of students going overseas for advanced studies. Until the mid-1980s, the preferred destination was Great Britain. The deep cuts in allocations to universities, which resulted in virtual abolition of financial assistance to foreign and Commonwealth students during the government of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, sharply reduced the number of Malaysian students going to the United Kingdom. Instead, thousands of them, as many as 20,000 annually made their way to U.S. universities where the prospects of some funding at some time during a student's academic career held hope of financial relief. Malaysia's growing prosperity based on trade and industry ties with American counterparts also paved the way for an increasing number of Malaysian students from affluent families to prefer the United States over the United Kingdom for higher education. The unit costs in 2000 were estimated at US$350 at the primary level; US$560 at the secondary level for arts and science; US$1,500 for secondary vocational; US$950 for polytechnics; US$5,000 for teacher training; and US$7,000 for university education.

Since the mid-1990s, the Malaysian government instituted a Total Quality Management (TQM) program in all its ministries and departments, including in the Ministry of Education. A major study in the field of education in Malaysia by Professor Gopal K. Kanji of the Sheffield Hallam University (U.K.) and his associates, Abdul Malek Bin A. Tambi and William Wallace in 1999, evaluated TQM in the Ministry of Education and in higher education institutions (HEIs). A merit of the study was its detailed comparison of TQM in Malaysia and the United States.

The government's policy in education, particularly higher education, is to bring it in line with the country's manpower planning and to provide the country with the right and adequate supply of trained manpower to keep pace with economic growth and the country's publicly declared goal to make Malaysia "a regional center of excellence in education." Accordingly, in 1992, the Public Services Department, which is the highest public administrative agency, introduced guidelines in TQM for all the ministries, departments, and other agencies of the government and appointed appropriate certification bodies to conduct audits of their performance in accordance with TQM and ISO 9000. Institutions (HEIs) implement the guidelines and subject themselves to TQM audit. Under these regulations, the Public Services Department regulates Higher Education.

In keeping with these requirements, the Ministry of Education introduced the TQM by launching a "customer charter" on April 1, 1996. The Ministry formed a policy and quality section to monitor the education policy at all levels based on the TQM principles. Within 6 months of the launching of the customer charter, the National Higher Education Council was established in September, 1996 to monitor standards in the government HEIs and a "grading system" was laid down to assess the effectiveness of each academic department and its faculty. In the following year, in July, the government announced the formation of the National Accreditation Commission to assess the quality and standards in private universities on lines similar to those prescribed for public HEIs. The whole process of implementing the TQM and assessment of performance is aimed at improving the "productivity" of HEIs with the obvious intention of linking quality assessment and government funding of HEIs, particularly universities in the public sector.

The study of TQM in the field of education in Malaysia and its comparison with European and American experience in TQM was very effective. Gopal K. Kanji and his associates conducted an extensive survey, collecting data from Malaysia and the United States in December 1997 (Malaysia) and February 1998 (United States) to gauge the extent of TQM implementation in Malaysian HEIs, factors involved in the TQM evaluation, and what critical elements in the process affect TQM results. Their objectives included an assessment of the TQM in HEIs in terms of their "contribution to the organizations' performance and business excellence."

A preliminary report of the study, published in mid-1999 pointed out that while some HEIs in Malaysia introduced TQM as early as 1992, "quality control circles" had been implemented by some as early as 1978. On the other hand, several HEIs planned to get ISO 9000 certification and not implement TQM at all. The study evaluated TQM in the Malaysian Ministry of Education in general and in higher education institutions (HEIs) in particular. A merit of the study was its detailed comparison of TQM in 216 HEIs in Malaysia and 294 in the United States. The "critical success factors" considered were the following: leadership; continuous improvement; prevention; measurement of resources; process improvement; internal customer satisfaction; external customer satisfaction; people management and teamwork.

The study's findings include: (1) Most of the Malaysian HEIs, 88.5 percent of them, are small, having less than 5,000 full-time students, compared to 49.1 percent in the United States. (2) The proportion of HEIs adopting TQM in Malaysia is 50.0 percent versus 95.5 percent in the United States; the adoption in either country of TQM does not depend on the age of the institutions. (3) The correlation between leadership and TQM is very high in both the countries. The institutional leadership was responsible for introduction of TQM in 77.4 percent of the institutions in the United States and 75.9 percent in Malaysia. (4) Some of the barriers to TQM are lack of commitment, insufficient knowledge, and fear of failure. (5) There is less high level expertise in TQM in the United States (25.9 percent) than in Malaysia (17.9 percent). On the other hand, there is a greater acceptance of "quality culture" in Malaysian HEIs (60 percent) than in their U.S. counterparts (47.2 percent). (6) In order to promote a higher degree of "quality motivation," The Malaysian HEIs reward their employees much more than than in the United States. In Malaysia, such incentives are in the areas of job promotion and vacations; in the United States they are given in the form of psychological and sociological rewards such as recognition and organizational support. The study attributes the variation to "typical cultural difference between the two countries."

Nonformal Education

Nonformal education is a combined enterprise of several government ministries, departments, and special agencies. It is provided also as a vocational or technical education for imparting specific skills for unemployed young people who are motivated to enter some vocational trade as a career. This conforms with one of Malaysia's larger objectives, namely, to create a "market-sensitive" system of education. Among other things, are to prepare candidates for productive activity to participate actively in commerce, industries, and other economic enterprises and to promote an awareness of the working environment, hence bringing about changes in society. Among the government agencies providing education and training programs are the Ministry of Human Resources; the Ministry of Culture, Youth, Sports and Welfare Services; the Ministry of Agriculture; the Ministry of Land and Regional Development; the Adult Education Division of the Ministry of Rural and National Development; and several government statutory bodies such as the National Unity Board, the Council for the Indigenous People, the National Productivity Center, and the Federal Land Development Authority. Programs include courses in apprenticeship, skill upgrading, instructional and technical skills, leadership, business, agriculture, preschool education, electrical and mechanical engineering-related fields, and commerce.

Teaching Profession

District/Division education offices have been set up in all but three states with the purpose of forming linkages between schools and State Education Departments. These education offices assist the state departments in the supervision of educational programs in the schools within the district. The State Resource Centers and the district Teachers Centers have been established to improve teachers' accessibility to media services and reference materials with the aim of enhancing teaching. These centers also provide an environment where teachers can work and interact with one and another and receive assistance and guidance. Activities conducted at these centers include workshops and in service courses for teachers.


The Ministry of Education formulates the national educational policy in terms of the goals and objectives set by the Prime Minister, Minister of Education, and the Cabinet. It prepares plans, programs, and projects periodically to fit into the national Five-Year-Plans. Although the country's constitution provides for decentralization of certain powers to the states, the federal Ministry of Education has throughout Malaysia's history played a superior role in laying down policies and guidelines for the state-level education departments, and at times, the district level officials in charge of education.

Unlike academia in many non-communist, developing countries keeping ostensibly away from business and industry, the Malaysian universities and research institutions have been very open in building bridges with the industry. Close collaboration among some university departments, research and development institutions, and the private sector have been promoted through the National Council for Scientific Research and development. This includes joint research projects with multinationals, who are a large part of Malaysia's economic development. A separate government organization, The Malaysian Technology Development Corporation is engaged in promoting linkages among companies, innovators, entrepreneurs, and financial institutions for the "commercialization" of university research projects. Notable is the "purpose-built" construction of high technology parks close to major universities to enable interaction between academia and industry and the optimum utilization of resources and capabilities of both. As the Ministry of Education proclaims, "the emphasis is on matching research and development efforts with market needs within a dynamic and flexible environment. This provides students with a unique learning opportunity where classroom knowledge can be immediately tested in a real-life business environment."


Kanji, Gopal K., Abdul Malek Bin A Tambi, and William Wallace. "Comparative Study of Quality Practices in Higher Education Institutions in the U.S. and Malaysia," Total Quality Management, May 1999.

Mohd Nor Wan Daud, Wan. The Concept of Knowledge in Islam: and its Implications for Education in a Developing Country, London: Mansell, 1989.

Nordin, Abu Baker. Improving Learning, an Experiment in Rural Primary Schools in Malaysia. New York: Pergamon Press, 1980.

Sato, Matsuo. Report and Recommendations of the President to the Board of Directors on a proposed Loan and Technical Assistance Grant to Malaysia for the Technical Education Project. Manila, Asian Development Bank, 1997.

Selvaratnam, V. Ethnicity, Inequality, and Higher Education in Peninsular Malaysia: the Sociological Implications. Singapore, National University of Singapore, 1987.

Wong, Francis Hoy Kee. Perspectives: the Development of Education in Malaysia and Singapore. Kuala Lumpur: Heinemann Educational Books, 1972.

D. R. SarDesai

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Malaysia." World Education Encyclopedia. . 9 Jul. 2018 <>.

"Malaysia." World Education Encyclopedia. . (July 9, 2018).

"Malaysia." World Education Encyclopedia. . Retrieved July 09, 2018 from

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

The Chicago Manual of Style

American Psychological Association

  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.


Malaysia (məlā´zhə), independent federation (2005 est. pop. 23,953,000), 128,430 sq mi (332,633 sq km), Southeast Asia. The official capital and by far the largest city is Kuala Lumpur; Putrajaya is the adminstrative capital.

Land and People

Malaysia consists of two parts: West Malaysia, also called Peninsular Malaysia or Malaya (1990 est. pop. 14,400,000), 50,700 sq mi (131,313 sq km), on the Malay Peninsula and coextensive with the former Federation of Malaya, comprising the states of Perlis, Kedah, Pinang, Perak, Kelantan, Terengganu, Pahang, Selangor, Negeri Sembilan, Melaka (Malacca), and Johor, and two federal territories (the cities of Kuala Lumpur and Putrajaya); and East Malaysia (1990 est. pop. 3,410,000), 77,730 sq mi (201,320 sq km), comprising the states of Sabah and Sarawak (the former British colonies of North Borneo and Northwest Borneo) on the island of Borneo and one federal territory, the island of Labuan. The two parts are separated by c.400 mi (640 km) of the South China Sea.

West Malaysia is bordered on the north by Thailand, on the east by the South China Sea, on the south by Singapore (separated by the narrow Johore Strait), and on the west by the Strait of Malacca and the Andaman Sea. East Malaysia is bordered on the north by the South China Sea and the Sulu Sea, on the east by the Celebes Sea, and on the south and west by Kalimantan (Indonesian Borneo). Along the coast within Sarawak is the independent nation of Brunei. Both East and West Malaysia have mountainous interiors and coastal plains. The highest point is Mt. Kinabalu (13,455 ft/4,101 m) in Sabah. The longest of the country's many rivers are the Rajang (c.350 mi/560 km) in Sarawak, the Kinabatangan (c.350 mi/560 km) in Sabah, and the Pahang (c.200 mi/320 km) in West Malaysia. Lying close to the equator, Malaysia has a tropical rainy climate. Over two thirds of the land area is forested.

Although it makes up only 31% of the country's area, West Malaysia has more than 80% of its people. Of the total population, most of which is concentrated on the west coast, some 50% are ethnically Malay, almost 25% are Chinese, over 10% are of indigenous descent, and about 7% are South Asian (mainly Tamil). In West Malaysia, Malays comprise about one half of the population, Chinese one third, and South Asians one tenth. In East Malaysia, the two largest groups are the Chinese and the Ibans (Sea Dyaks), an indigenous people, who together make up about three fifths of the total. Conflict between the ethnic groups, particularly between Malays and Chinese, has played a large role in Malaysian history, and recent years have seen increased tension between ethnic Malays and people of South Asian descent.

Nearly all of the Malays are Sunni Muslims (they are considered to be Muslim under the constitution), and Islam is the national religion. The majority of Chinese are Buddhists (Confucianism and Taoism are also practiced), and most of the South Asians are Hindu; 9% of the population is Christian. The official language is Bahasa Malaysia (Malay), although English is used in the legal system. Chinese (Cantonese, Mandarin, and other dialects), Tamil, and regional ethnic languages and dialects are also widely spoken.


Malaysia has one of the highest standards of living in SE Asia, largely because of its expanding industrial sector, which propelled the country to an 8%–9% yearly growth rate from 1987 to 1997. Growth contracted during the 1997–98 Asian financial crisis, and the government was forced to cut spending and defer several large infrastructure projects. Unemployment and interest rates rose, and thousands of foreign workers, many of them from Indonesia, were forced to leave the country. The economy began recovering in 1999, and growth continued into the early 21st cent. Despite long-term efforts of the government to improve the economic status of Malays through preferences, the Chinese have generally continued their long-standing dominance of the economy. The economic status of Malays, however, has significantly improved, leading to resentment among South Asians who, though largely poor, are not eligible for the opportunities open to Malays.

Malaysia is a large producer of rubber and tin; palm oil, crude petroleum and petroleum products, electronics, textiles, and timber are also important. Since the late 1980s, the government has moved to privatize large industries that had been under state control, and foreign investment in manufacturing has increased significantly. Pinang city is the chief port. Subsistence agriculture remains the basis of livelihood for about 13% of Malaysians and agriculture provides about 8% of GDP. Rice is the staple food, while fish supply most of the protein. Cocoa, coconuts, and pepper are also important agricultural products. Industry is largely concentrated in West Malaysia. The major cities on the Malay Peninsula are connected by railroads with Singapore, and an extensive road network covers the west coast. Malaysia's exports include electronic equipment, petroleum and liquefied natural gas, wood and wood products, palm oil, rubber, chemicals, and textiles. The main imports are electronics, machinery, petroleum products, plastics, vehicles, iron and steel, and chemicals. The major trading partners are the United States, Singapore, Japan, and China.


Malaysia is a constitutional monarchy and is governed under the constitution of 1957 as amended. The sovereign (the Yang di-Pertuan Agong) is a largely ceremonial head of state, and is elected every five years by and from the nine hereditary rulers of Perlis, Kedah, Perak, Kelantan, Terengganu, Pahang, Selangor, Negeri Sembilan, and Johor. The current sovereign is Sultan Abdul Halim Mu'adzam Shah of Kedah.

The prime minister is head of government and must be a member and have the confidence of the House of Representatives (Dewan Ra'ayat). The cabinet is chosen by the prime minister with the consent of the sovereign. There is a bicameral Parliament. The House of Representatives consists of 219 members, all elected by popular vote in single-member districts. The House sits for a maximum of five years but may be dissolved by the sovereign. The Senate (Dewan Negara) consists of 70 members chosen for three-year terms; each state legislature elects two and the sovereign appoints the remaining 44. There is a high court for each half of Malaysia and a supreme court. Administratively, the country is divided into 13 states and three federal territories.


Foreign Influence and Settlement

(For early history of West Malaysia, see Malay Peninsula; for history of East Malaysia, see Sabah and Sarawak.) When the Portuguese captured Malacca (1511), its sultan fled first to Pahang and then to Johor and the Riau Archipelago. One of his sons became the first sultan of Perak. From both Johor and Aceh in Sumatra unsuccessful attacks were made on Malacca. Aceh and Johor also fought each other. The main issue in these struggles was control of trade through the Strait of Malacca. Kedah, Kelantan, and Terengganu, north of Malacca, became nominal subjects of Siam.

In the early 17th cent. the Dutch established trading bases in Southeast Asia. By 1619 they had established themselves in Batavia (Jakarta), and in 1641, allied with Johor, they captured Malacca after a six-month siege. Another power entered the complicated Malayan picture in the late 17th cent. when the Bugis from Sulawesi, a Malay people economically pressured by the Dutch, began settling in the area of Selangor on the west coast of the peninsula, where they traded in tin. The Bugis captured Johor and Riau in 1721 and, with a few interruptions, maintained control there for about a century, although the Johor sultanate was permitted to remain. The Bugis were also active in Perak and Kedah. Earlier, in the 15th and 16th cent., another Malay people, the Minangkabaus from Sumatra, had peacefully settled inland from Malacca. Their settlements eventually became the state of Negeri Sembilan.

The British role on the peninsula began in 1786, when Francis Light of the British East India Company, searching for a site for trade and a naval base, obtained the cession of the island of Pinang from the sultan of Kedah. In 1791 the British agreed to make annual payments to the sultan, and in 1800 the latter ceded Province Wellesley on the mainland. In 1819 the British founded Singapore, and in 1824 they formally (actual control had been exercised since 1795) acquired Malacca from the Dutch. A joint administration was formed for Pinang, Malacca, and Singapore, which became known as the Straits Settlements.

During this period Siam was asserting its influence southward on the peninsula. In 1816, Siam forced Kedah to invade Perak and made Perak acknowledge Siamese suzerainty. In 1821, Siam invaded Kedah and exiled the sultan. The Anglo-Siamese treaty of 1821 recognized Siamese control of Kedah but left the status of Perak, Kelantan, and Terengganu ambiguous. In 1841 the sultan of Kedah was restored, but Perlis was carved out of the territory of Kedah and put under Siamese protection.

British Involvement

Later in the 19th cent. a number of events led Great Britain to play a more direct part in the affairs of the peninsula. There was conflict between Chinese settlers, who worked in the tin mines, and Malays; there were civil wars among the Malays; and there was an increase in piracy in the western part of the peninsula. Merchants asked the British to restore order. The British were also concerned that Dutch, French, and German interest in the area was increasing. As a result, treaties were made with Perak, Selangor, Pahang, and the components of what became (1895) Negeri Sembilan. In each state a British "resident" was installed to advise the sultan (who received a stipend) and to supervise administration. The Pangkor Treaty of 1874 with Perak served as a model for subsequent treaties.

In 1896 the four states were grouped together as the Federated Malay States with a British resident general. Johor, which had signed a treaty of alliance with Britain in 1885, accepted a British adviser in 1914. British control of the four remaining Malayan states was acquired in 1909, when, by treaty, Siam relinquished its claims to sovereignty over Kedah, Kelantan, Perlis, and Terengganu. These four, along with Johor, became known as the Unfederated Malay States.

In the latter half of the 19th cent. Malaya's economy assumed many of the major aspects of its present character. The output of tin, which had been mined for centuries, increased greatly with the utilization of modern methods. Rubber trees were introduced (Indian laborers were imported to work the rubber plantations), and Malaya became a leading rubber producer. Malaya's economic character, as well as its geographic position, gave it great strategic importance, and the peninsula was quickly overrun by the Japanese at the start of World War II and held by them for the duration of the war. The British, assuming that the attack would come from sea, had built their fortifications accordingly, but a land attack quickly drove them from the island. Malaya's Chinese population received particularly harsh treatment during the Japanese occupation.

When the British returned after World War II they arranged (1946) a centralized colony, called the Malayan Union, comprising all their peninsula possessions. Influential Malays vehemently opposed the new organization; they feared that the admission of the large Chinese and Indian populations of Pinang and Malacca to Malayan citizenship would end the special position Malays had always enjoyed, and they were unwilling to surrender the political power they enjoyed within the individual sultanates. The British backed down and established in place of the Union the Federation of Malaya (1948) headed by a British high commissioner. The Federation was an expansion of the former Federated Malay States. Pinang and Malacca became members in addition to the nine Malay states, but there was no common citizenship.

In that same year a Communist insurrection began that was to last more than a decade. The Communist guerrillas, largely recruited from among the Chinese population, employed terrorist tactics. In combating the uprising the British resettled nearly 500,000 Chinese. "The Emergency," as it was called, was declared ended in 1960, although outbreaks of terrorism have continued sporadically.

Independence and the Birth of Modern Malaysia

The Communist insurrection had the positive effect of spurring the movement for Malayan independence, and in 1957 the federation became an independent state within the Commonwealth of Nations and was admitted to the United Nations. The first prime minister was Tunku (Prince) Abdul Rahman, the leader of the Alliance Party, a loose coalition of Malay, Chinese, and Indian parties. The constitution guaranteed special privileges for Malays. In 1963 Singapore, Sabah, and Sarawak were added to the federation, creating the Federation of Malaysia. Since Singapore has a large Chinese population, the latter two states were included to maintain a non-Chinese majority. Brunei was also included in the plan but declined to join. Malaysia retained Malaya's place in the United Nations and the Commonwealth, and in 1967 it became one of the founding members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

The new state was immediately confronted with the hostility of Indonesia, which described the federation as a British imperialist subterfuge and waged an undeclared war against it. In the struggle Malaysia received military aid from Great Britain and other Commonwealth nations. Hostilities continued until President Sukarno's fall from power in Indonesia (1965). Nonviolent opposition came from the Philippines, which claimed ownership of Sabah until early in 1978.

The merger with Singapore did not work out satisfactorily. Friction developed between Malay leaders and Singapore's prime minister, Lee Kuan Yew, who had worked to improve the position of the Chinese minority within the Malaysian Federation. In 1965, Singapore peacefully seceded from Malaysia.

Intercommunal tension continued, however, between Chinese and Malays, and led in 1969 to serious violence and a 22-month suspension of parliament. Since then, political balance has been maintained by a multiethnic National Front coalition. Tun Abdul Razak succeeded Abdul Rahman as prime minster in 1970, and the following year Abdul Razak adopted the New Economic Policy, intended to improve the economic status of Malays through a system of preferences. When Abdul Razak died in 1976, Hussein Onn succeeded him as prime minister.

In 1981, Mahathir bin Mohamad, of the United Malays National Organization (UMNO), became prime minister. Mahathir led the National Front parties to reelection victories in 1982, 1986, and 1990. Mahathir's government was criticized for repression of Chinese and Indian minorities. A formal peace treaty between the Malay Communist party (MCP) and the Kuala Lumpur government was signed in 1989.

In 1995 the National Front again triumphed at the polls, winning in a landslide. Like several of its neighbors, Malaysia suffered a recession in 1997–98; however, unlike those that accepted financial aid from the International Monetary Fund, Malaysia took matters into its own hands. In Sept., 1998, it discontinued trading in its currency and imposed sweeping controls on its capital markets, particularly on investment from overseas; by mid-1999, the economy had begun to recover, though economic growth was slower compared to previous years.

Also in Sept., 1998, Mahathir dismissed his heir apparent, Anwar Ibrahim, who held the posts of deputy prime minister and finance minister. Anwar was found guilty of corruption charges in Apr., 1999, and sentenced to six years in prison, setting off unusual public protests; in Aug., 2000, he was convicted of sodomy and sentenced to nine years. Both convictions were condemned by international rights groups. In the Nov., 1999, elections the National Front again won a resounding victory, but big gains were made by the Islamic party of Malaysia (PAS), which increased its seats in parliament to 27 from 8, largely as a result of support from Malays who had previously voted for the UMNO. A party formed by Anwar's supporters and led by his wife did poorly.

A tough new law against illegal foreign workers, which took effect in 2002, forced many Indonesians and Filipinos to leave Malaysia. This strained relations particularly with Indonesia, where as many as 400,000 returned home. In Oct., 2003, Prime Minister Mahathir stepped down and was succeeded by Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, deputy prime minister since 1999. At the time of his resignation, Mahathir was the longest serving government leader in Asia. Five months later Badawi won a mandate of his own in parliamentary and state elections when the National Front coalition increased its sizable parliamentary majority by a third, winning 90% of the seats and 64% of the vote. PAS suffered significant losses at the national and state levels. In Sept., 2004, Anwar Ibrahim's conviction on sodomy charges was overturned, and he was released, his corruption sentence having been already reduced.

A second wave of some half million illegal immigrants left Malaysia in late 2004 and early 2005 under a government amnesty before the government began arresting and expelling illegal immigrants in Mar., 2005. By May, however, when the slow influx of Indonesians with work permits resulted in a worker shortage, Malaysia agreed to allow Indonesians seeking work to enter on tourists visas. In 2006 there was sharp public verbal jousting between Prime Minister Abdullah and his predecessor, and Mahathir found his influence in UMNO greatly diminished.

In late 2007 and early 2008 there was increased public unhappiness on the part of Malaysians of South Asian descent with their lagging standard of living (relative to Malays and Chinese). These concerns carried over into the parliamentary elections in Mar., 2008, and the National Front, though retaining a majority, failed to win two thirds of the seats for the first time since 1969, and lost control of five states as well (one state returned to National Front control in 2009). PAS, Anwar Ibrahim's Justice party, and the largely Chinese Democratic Action party all gained seats. The election results led to calls for Abdullah to resign, and he eventually announced that he would step down in Mar., 2009.

Anwar, meanwhile, sought to organize the opposition to defeat the government through parliamentary defections and a no-confidence vote. In June, 2008, however, he was again accused of sodomy, this time by a former aide. He denied the charges and accused the government of conspiring against him to remain in power. Anwar nonetheless was elected to parliament by a landslide in a by-election in August, but he was not successful in securing the parliamentary defections necessary to bringing down the government. Anwar later was acquitted (Jan., 2012) for questionable evidence, but a government appeal resulted in his conviction in Mar., 2014. (His 2014 conviction occurred shortly before he was to run for the Selangor state assembly, which was expected to lead to his become Selangor's chief minister; he was imprisoned in Feb., 2015, after his conviction was upheld.)

Deputy Prime Minister Najib Razak succeeded Abdullah as UNMO leader in Mar., 2009, as planned, and the following month Najib became prime minister. A court ruling in Dec., 2009, that Christians could use the word Allah to refer to God (a usage that is not unusual in other Muslim countries) sparked an outbreak of anti-Christian violence and resulted in increased religious tensions; an appeals court overturned that decision in 2013 and was upheld by the supreme court in 2014.

In July, 2011, frustration with the slow pace of economic and political reforms led thousands to protest Kuala Lumpur against the government despite the rally having been banned by the government and police efforts to prevent it and to disperse and arrest demonstrators. Filipino supporters of one of the claimants to the title of sultan of Sulu, a former territory that included parts of N Borneo and the S Philippines, occupied locations in E Sabah beginning in Feb., 2013; the invasion led to fighting with Malaysian security forces.

In the May, 2013, general elections, the National Front retained a majority in parliament but lost the popular vote to the three-party opposition coalition led by Ibrahim. The win was the result of gerrymandering and unequal electoral districts; the opposition also accused the National Front of fraud. The elections marked a clear shift in the country's politics, with the opposition in general supported by richer, urban, and Chinese voters and the National Front by poorer, rural, and Malay voters. Subsequently, Najib's government reemphasized policies that favored Malays and suppressed dissent, abandoning earlier tentative moves toward liberal reform and adopting more openly pro-Islamic positions.


See N. J. Ryan, The Making of Modern Malaysia and Singapore (4th ed. 1969); R. O. Winstedt, Malaya and Its History (7th ed. 1966, repr. 1969); J. Gullick, Malaysia: Economic Expansion and National Unity (1981); B. and L. Andaya, A History of Malaysia (1984); J. A. Lent and K. Mulliner, ed., Malaysian Studies (1986).

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Malaysia." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . 9 Jul. 2018 <>.

"Malaysia." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . (July 9, 2018).

"Malaysia." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved July 09, 2018 from

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

The Chicago Manual of Style

American Psychological Association

  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.



Official name: Malaysia

Area: 329,750 square kilometers (127,317 square miles)

Highest point on mainland: Mount Kinabalu (4,100 meters/13,451 feet)

Lowest point on land: Sea level

Hemispheres: Northern and Eastern

Time zone: 7 p.m. = noon GMT

Longest distances: Peninsular Malaysia extends 748 kilometers (465 miles) from south-southeast to north-northwest and 322 kilometers (200 miles) from east-northeast to west-southwest. On Borneo, Sarawak extends 679 kilometers (422 miles) from north-northeast to south-southwest and 254 kilometers (158 miles) from east-southeast to west-northwest; Sabah is 412 kilometers (256 miles) from east to west and 328 kilometers (204 miles) from north to south.

Land boundaries: 2,669 kilometers (1,658 miles) total boundary length; Brunei 381 kilometers (237 miles); Indonesia 1,782 kilometers (1,107 miles); Thailand 506 kilometers (314 miles)

Coastline: 4,675 kilometers (2,905 miles)

Territorial sea limits: 22 kilometers (12 nautical miles)


Located in Southeast Asia, Malaysia consists of two seh2rate, discontiguous regions: the southern portion of the Malay Peninsula, sharing a border with Thailand to the north; and the northern third of the island of Borneo, sharing borders with Indonesia and Brunei. The South China Sea separates the two regions. With a total area of about 329,750 square kilometers (127,317 square miles), the country is slightly larger than the state of New Mexico. Malaysia is divided into thirteen states and two federal territories.


Officially, Malaysia has no outside territories or dependencies; however, Malaysia is one of several countries that lays claim to several of the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea. The Philippines and Malaysia also disagree over the ownership of Sabah. Singapore, a small island nation south of the Malay Peninsula, and Malaysia dispute ownership of Palau Batu Putih (Pedra Branca Island). And finally, Malaysia and Indonesia both claim dominance over the Sidipan and Ligitan Islands.


Malaysia has a basically tropical climate, characterized by fairly high but uniform temperatures ranging from 23°C to 31°C (73°F to 88°F), with high humidity. Lying very close to the equator, Malaysia's seasons are based primarily on rainfall patterns.

Peninsular Malaysia experiences copious rainfall, averaging about 250 centimeters (100 inches) annually and occurring during two monsoon seasons. The heaviest rains fall during October through January; this time period is known as the northwest monsoon season. Squalls and thunderstorms characterize the southwest monsoon season, from April to October. The eastern coast receives the most abundant rainfallat least 300 centimeters (120 inches) per year. Elsewhere, the annual average is 200 to 300 centimeters (80 to 120 inches), with the northwestern and southwestern regions experiencing the least rainfall. The nights are usually cool throughout the country because of the nearby seas.


Peninsular Malaysia (131,587 square kilometers/50,806 square miles), formerly called West Malaysia, occupies the southern third of the Malay Peninsula on the Asian mainland. East Malaysia occupies the northern quarter of the island of Borneo and is divided into two parts: Sabah (74,398 square kilometers/28,725 square miles) in the north, and Sarawak (124,449 square kilometers/48,050 square miles) in the southwest. Sabah and Sarawak are almost, but not quite, separated by Brunei and Indonesia, which are the other two countries on Borneo. About four-fifths of Malaysia's terrain is covered by rainforest and swamp. Peninsular Malaysia's terrain consists of a range of steep forest-covered mountains with coastal plains to the east and west. Sarawak encompasses an allu-vial swampy coastal plain, an area of rolling country interspersed with mountain ranges, and a mountainous interior, most of which is covered with rainforest. Sabah is split in two by the Crocker Mountains, which extend north and south some 48 kilometers (30 miles) inland from the western coast.


Seacoast and Undersea Features

The South China Sea borders Peninsular Malaysia on the east and both Sarawak and Sabah on the north. The South China Sea, an offshoot of the Pacific Ocean, is the world's second-busiest international sea lane. More than half of the world's super-tanker traffic passes through the region's waters. The Celebes Sea, southeast of Sabah, is also an extension of the Pacific Ocean. The Sulu Sea, northeast of Sabah, separates the South China Sea from the Celebes Sea. The Andaman Sea on Peninsular Malaysia's northwestern coast is part of the Indian Ocean and the Bay of Bengal.

Sea Inlets and Straits

The Strait of Johore is a narrow channel that separates the southern tip of Peninsular Malaysia from Singapore. To Malaysia's west, the Strait of Malacca lies between Malaysia and Indonesia. It is the shortest route for ships traveling between the northern Indian Ocean and the Pacific, making it a vital shipping route. Sabah is bounded to the north by the Balabac Strait, which connects the South China Sea to the Sulu Sea.

Datu Bay is an inlet on the western coast of Sarawak. Brunei, Marudu, Labuk, and Darvel Bays are all inlets on the coast of Sabah.

Islands and Archipelagos

There are islands in all the waters surrounding Malaysia. Langkwai (363 square kilometers/140 square miles) is off the northwest coast in the Andaman Sea. Langkwai is actually made up of ninety-nine individual islands, the largest of which is Palua Senga Besar. Penang (285 square kilometers/110 square miles) is also located in the Andaman Sea. A mountainous island with heights of up to 829 meters (2,719 feet), it was the site of one of the earliest British colonies in the region and remains densely populated. Off Malaysia's eastern coast in the South China Sea lies Tioman Island, the largest of a group of sixty-four volcanic islands. The Redang Archipelago comprises nine islands in the South China Sea.

Off Sarawak's coast is the large, swampy island of Betruit (417 square kilometers/161 square miles). Labuan is an island chain off the coast of Sabah at the mouth of the Brunei Bay. It encompasses one main island and six smaller ones. Banggi (440 square kilometers/170 square miles) is the largest of the islands off Sabah's northern coast.

Sarawak and Sabah are themselves located on northern Borneo, the third-largest island on Earth (751,929 square kilometers/290,320 square miles). Malaysia shares Borneo with Brunei and Indonesia. Borneo is part of the Malay Archipelago, most of which is part of Indonesia.

Malaysia, along with the Philippines, China, Taiwan, Vietnam, and possibly Brunei, lays claim to several atolls within the Spratly Islands, situated in the South China Sea. Some geologists believe this region contains a huge oil reserve. Singapore, a small island nation south of the Malay Peninsula, disputes Malay-sia's claim to Palau Batu Putih (Pedra Branca Island). And finally, Malaysia and Indonesia both assert the right to govern Sidipan and Ligitan Islands.

Coastal Features

Muddy beaches and wide river plains dominate the western coast of Peninsular Malaysia. Mangrove swamps are common. On the eastern coast are many sandy beaches, some of which are quite narrow. The two coasts together form a diamond shape: narrow in the north, broadening near the middle of the peninsula, then narrowing again until they meet in the south. There are no major inlets or capes on the peninsula.

Sarawak also has a regular coastline, with the exception of Datu Bay.

Sabah has a more rugged coastline than the rest of Malaysia; its mountain ranges often extend to the shore. In eastern Sabah, the Darvel Peninsula separates Labuk and Darvel Baysin. A number of offshore islands around Sabah support extensive and diverse coral reefs.


The country's largest lake is artificial. Located in the northeast of Peninsular Malaysia, Kenyir Reservoir (369 square kilometers/143 square miles) is also the largest artificial lake in Southeast Asia. It surrounds about 340 islandsformerly hilltops and highlandsover 14 waterfalls, and numerous rapids. Temengor is another large reservoir, near the Thai border.

Tasik Bera, located in southwest Pahang, is the largest natural freshwater lake on the Malay Peninsula. It is situated in the saddle of the main and eastern mountain ranges of the peninsula, with an area of approximately 700 square kilometers (270 square miles).


Peninsular Malaysia's main watershed follows the Titiwangsa mountain range to about 80 kilometers (50 miles) inland, roughly parallel to the western coast. The rivers flowing to the east, south, and west of this range are swift and have cut some deep gorges, but on reaching the coastal plains they become sluggish. Almost all the states in Malaysia have adopted the names of the principal rivers flowing through their respective territories.

The longest river on Peninsular Malaysia is the Pahang (458 kilometers/285 miles). It has its source in the central Cameron Highlands, then flows south and east into the South China Sea. The second-longest river on the mainland, the Perak, flows south out of the Temengor Reservoir for 322 kilometers (200 miles), parallel with the western coast, before entering the Strait of Malacca. The Kelantin (242 kilometers/150 miles), which flows north out of the Cameron Highlands, has spectacular waterfalls at Mount Strong and Lata Beringin.

The Rajang River flows westward across Sarawak for 565 kilometers (350 miles), making it the longest river in the country. Sarawak's other major river is the Lupar River. These rivers and their tributaries are the primary means of inland travel in Sarawak; similarly, in Sabah, the Kinabatangan River, at 563 kilometers (349 miles), provides that region's major transport route. The Libang River Valley in Sarawak separates the two halves of Brunei.


There are no desert regions in Malaysia.


There are no permanent pasture or prairie lands in Malaysia.

Hills dominate the terrain between the two major mountain chains of the Cameron Highlands. The average elevation in this area is 1,829 meters (5,999 feet). It is regarded as the "Green Bowl" of the country, supplying produce such as cabbage, tomatoes, lettuce, and green peppers throughout Malaysia and Singapore.


The northern regions in Peninsular Malaysia are divided by a series of mountain ranges known as the Cameron Highlands that rise abruptly from the wide, flat coastal plains. The main range, running along the backbone of the peninsula, is the Titiwangsa, stretching for 500 kilometers (310 miles) southward from the border of Thailand. Its highest peak is Korbu, at 2,183 meters (7,162 feet). A secondary mountain chain lies to the east. Although it is generally lower in altitude, it does contain the highest mountain in Peninsular Malaysia: Mount Tahan (2,190 meters/7,185 feet).

The interior of Sarawak is an irregular, mountainous mass of unconnected ranges with a mean elevation of about 1,525 meters (5,000 feet). Mount Murud is Sarawak's highest peak, at 2,424 meters (7,950 feet). Mulu (2,376 meters/7,793 feet) is its second-highest peak; this mountain is famous for its caves.


The dense forests of Malaysia are thought to be the oldest in the world. Covering more than two-thirds of the country, they stretch from the mangrove swamps of the western coast, through freshwater swamps, to lowland hardwood forests, heath forests, and mountain forest. There are believed to be around 8,500 species of flowering plants and fernsand 2,500 species of treesin Malaysia's forests. About 59 percent of Malaysia's total land area is tropical rainforest. The Titiwangsa Range has the largest remaining continuous forest tract in Peninsular Malaysia.

The interior ranges of Sabah bordering Indonesia are comprised of the same complex mountain masses as those of Sarawak. The only continuous mountain system in East Malaysia, the Crocker Range, stretches from 48 kilometers (30 miles) inland from the western coast and rises to Malaysia's highest peak: Mount Kinabalu (4,100 meters/13,451 feet). Mount Kinabalu is the highest point in the country and the highest summit between the Himalayas and New Guinea. The Brassey Range is parallel to, but lower than, the Crocker Range.


The Malaysian climate, with its combination of heavy rainfall and high temperatures, provides ideal conditions for the formation of limestone caves. Spectacular cave complexes can be found throughout the country. Gua Kelam (Dark Caves), located near the Thai border, traverse approximately 370 meters (1,214 feet) of limestone hills. Tempurung Cave, near the city of Ipoh, is a white marble-and-limestone formation made up of five huge domes, whose ceilings resemble coconut shells, running from east to west. A stream runs throughout its 1.5 kilometers (0.9 miles).

Gunung Mulu National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site, contains one of the most extensive and spectacular limestone cave systems on Earth. Mulu's Sarawak Chamber is the largest natural cavern in the world: 600 meters (1,968 feet) long, 415 meters (1,361 feet) wide, and 300 meters (984 feet) high. Nearby, Deer Cave has two huge entrances at either end of the mountain it penetrates. It is the largest known cave passage, at 2,160 meters (7,085 feet) long and 222 meters (728 feet) deep. Nearly one million bats live in this cave.

The Great Cave2,160 meters (7,085 feet) long and 220 meters (722 feet) deeplocated in Sarawak's Niah National Park is one of the largest in the world. The Niah Caves contain evidence of human existence in Borneo as early as forty thousand years ago. Archaeologists unearthed the fossilized skull of an ancient young homo sapiens ; some tools made out of stone, bone, and iron; and cave drawings.


There are no major plateau regions in Malaysia.


Malaysia relies on several different dams throughout the country to provide flood control, hydroelectric power, and adequate water supply. Batu Dam, Semberong Dam, Bekok Dam, and Macap Dam were built primarily for flood control. Timah Tasoh Dam and Bukit Merah Dam were constructed primarily for irrigation. Kenyir Dam, Bersia Dam, Kenering Dam, Temenggong Dam, and Sultan Abu Bakar Dam were built to generate hydroelectric power as well as to supply water.



Aiken, Robert S., et al. Development and Environment in Peninsular Malaysia. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1982.

Major, John S. The Land and People of Malaysia and Brunei. New York: HarperCollins, 1991.

Rain, Nick. Enchanting Islands and Coastal Havens: Malaysia, Thailand, Singapore. Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia: S. Abdul Majeed, 1995.

Wright, D. Malaysia. Chicago: Children's Press, 1988.

Web Sites

Fascinating Malaysia: Nature and Adventure. (accessed April 24, 2003).

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Malaysia." Junior Worldmark Encyclopedia of Physical Geography. . 9 Jul. 2018 <>.

"Malaysia." Junior Worldmark Encyclopedia of Physical Geography. . (July 9, 2018).

"Malaysia." Junior Worldmark Encyclopedia of Physical Geography. . Retrieved July 09, 2018 from

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

The Chicago Manual of Style

American Psychological Association

  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.



Since the 1960s changes in population patterns and the economy have significantly affected Malaysian families. Over those four decades, economic development, modernization, and rural-urban migration together altered family ties and contributed to a more fragmented family structure. There was a corresponding steady and noticeable decline in the average size of the family in Malaysia over the same period. A related change is the increasing life expectancy in Malaysian society (Subbiah 1994; Tey 1994). This increase is related to economic and social improvements that Malaysians in general experienced during this period.

These changes have ushered in distinct developments in the population distribution and trends in the family that distinguish the experiences of the Malays, Chinese Malaysians, and Indian Malaysians, the three dominant ethnic groups in the country. Based on the 2000 census, the Malays who are predominantly Muslims comprised 65.1 percent of the population (estimated at 23.3 million). In turn, the Chinese Malaysians (who are primarily Buddhist, although smaller proportions of them are Christian, Taoist, or followers of Confucianism) make up 26 percent, and a largely Hindu Indian Malaysian population makes up 7.7 percent of the population. These data represent a shift from 1991; the Malay proportion of the total population increased by approximately 4.5 percent as the Chinese Malaysian and Indian Malaysian proportion declined by 2.1 percent and 0.2 percent of the population, respectively. This shift in the ethnic distribution has occurred alongside a steady pattern of an average annual population growth of 2.6 percent, which dates to 1980 (Department of Statistics 2001). Along with the population growth rate, the 2000 census indicated an upward trend in the number of households that reached the 4.9 million mark, in contrast to the 1.9 million households reported in 1970. Since 1960, Malaysia has been experiencing a higher growth rate of households than of population, and this trend in part reflects the breakdown of the extended family pattern that had historically characterized the traditional rural-based Malaysian society (Tey 1994). However, household size shows a downward trend; the current household size stands at 4.5 persons, compared with 4.9 in 1991. The largely rural states such as Kelantan and Terengganu still show a large household and family size due to the high fertility rates in these states.

Marriage and Family Formation Patterns

Since the early 1970s social interaction between the three dominant ethnic groups has gradually increased, but intermarriage across ethnic lines remains very rare (Leete 1996). As such, marriage traditions and rituals and family life among the different ethnic groups have also remained distinct, reflecting the cultural and religious heritage of each of the ethnic groups (Subramaniam 1997). Compared to the Chinese Malaysian, the Malays and Indian Malaysians have historically been more inclined to marry at a younger age. For the Malays, this practice of marriage at a relatively early age reflects the strong influence of rural traditions and customs that shaped and dominated the lives of the historically rural-based Malay population. For example, in the 1950s more than 50 percent of Malay women married between the ages of fifteen and nineteen. This stands in stark contrast to an only 10 percent marriage rate for Chinese Malaysian women between those same ages during the same period. In large part, this marriage trend among Malay women was due to the fact that it was customary for Malay women to receive minimal, if any, formal education, and parents typically arranged marriages for their daughters shortly after the onset of puberty. However, increased educational and economic opportunities—particularly in urban areas—has lead to a significant shift of the Malay population to urban areas, and this shift affected the trend of marriage and family formation among Malay women. By 1991 only 5.1 percent of Malay women (and 2.5 percent of Chinese Malaysian women) married between the ages of fifteen and nineteen (Leete 1996).

Cutting across ethnic lines, Malaysians as a whole have been opting to marry later in life. Young male adults' age at marriage increased from 28.2 years in 1991 to 28.6 years in 2000, while for females the increase was from 24.7 years to 25.1 years over the same period. At marriage, there is an average of four to five years' difference in the age of the male and female. Furthermore, the proportion of never-married people aged twenty to thirty-four increased from 43.2 percent in 1991 to 48.1 percent in 2000. Among females between the ages of twenty and twenty-four, 68.5 percent were single in 2000, compared to only 60.2 percent in 1991. Similar patterns were observed for both men and women between the ages of twenty-five and thirty-four (Department of Statistics 2001; Tan and Jones 1990). This tendency to postpone marriage until later in life is most evident among men and women who are urban dwellers and have relatively high levels of education. This phenomenon of marrying later in life corresponds to the decline in the average number of children in Malaysian families as well. In 1974, for example, the average number of children born to a Malay and Chinese Malaysian household, respectively, was 4.2, while Indian households averaged 4.6 children. By 1988 the average had declined to 3.6 for Malays, 3 for Chinese Malaysian and 3.3 for Indian Malaysian (Tey 1994).

The nuclear family—consisting of two parents and at least one unmarried child—remains the predominant family arrangement in Malaysia. Where extended family household patterns persist (that is, where at least one elderly parent resides with an adult child), it is least likely among Malays and most likely among Chinese Malaysians. In part, this difference is a reflection of a strong cultural tradition among Chinese Malaysians that emphasizes filial piety and strong respect for elders. Indian Malaysians also have a strong cultural tradition upholding a son's commitment to care for his adult parents in old age. The influence of filial piety, respect for elders, and a cultural norm of support between parent and son creates a strong bond of social and economic commitment between different generations of Chinese Malaysians and Indian Malaysians, and translates into a higher proportion of parent-adult child living arrangements within Chinese Malaysian and Indian Malaysian families. At the same time, the historically rural-based Malay population created a set of property relations where Malay parents were more inclined to own their own dwellings independent of their children. In contrast, the historically more urban Indian Malaysian and, especially, Chinese Malaysian population would be more likely to encounter higher economic costs of maintaining independent households from their adult offspring (DaVanzo and Chan 1994). With life expectancy in 2001 reaching seventy years for men and seventy-five for women, it is highly likely that elder care by family members and parents residing with an adult child will be a significant concern for Malaysian families in the near future.

If marital dissolution is any indication of the stability of the Malaysian family structure, the majority of Malaysian families tend to be stable. In 1990 more than 90 percent of all first marriages remained intact. For those married less than ten years, 98 percent of marriages were intact. This figure dropped to 75 percent for those married for twenty years or more. Comparing the three dominant ethnic groups, Chinese Malaysians had the lowest divorce/separation rate (2.2 percent), followed by Indian Malaysians (2.9 percent), and Malays (8.4 percent). Malay women are also far more likely than their Chinese Malaysian or Indian Malaysian counterparts to remarry after a divorce. In 1989 only 19.9 percent of divorced women in general remarried, but the rate was 78.7 percent for Malay women. It is widely perceived that these higher rates of divorce and remarriage in large part simply reflect the fact that divorce and remarriage tend to be far more socially acceptable among Malays than among the other ethnic groups (Tom 1993). Another significant trend that has and will continue to affect Malaysian families is the rate of female participation in the labor force, which increased from 42 percent in 1980 to 45 percent in 1994. Malay women (65 percent during the mid-1980s) tended to have a far higher rate of participation in the labor force than women from the other major ethnic groups. Upon marriage, women's participation in the labor force declines significantly, although according to one estimate from the late 1980s, more than 44 percent of Malaysian households can be classified as dual income families (Razak 1993; Tey 1994).

See also:Islam


brien, m. j., and lillard, l. a. (2001). "education, marriage, and first conception in malaysia." the journal of human resources 29:1167–1204.

chattopadhyay, a. (1997). "family migration and the economic status of women in malaysia." international migration review 31:338–352.

davanzo, j., and chan, a. (1994). "living arrangements of older malaysians: who coresides with their adult children?" demography 31:95–113.

dixon, g. (1993). "ethnicity and infant mortality in malaysia." asia pacific population journal 8:23-54.

hassan, m. k. (1994). "the influence of islam on education and family in malaysia." in the role and influence of religion in society, ed. o. alhadshi and s. o. s. agil. kuala lumpur: institute of islamic understanding malaysia.

leete, richard. (1996). malaysia's demographic transition: rapid development, culture, and politics. kuala lumpur: oxford university press.

panis, c. w. a. and lillard, l. a. (1995). "child mortality in malaysia: explaining ethnic differences and the recent decline." population studies 49:463–79.

razak, r. a. (1993). "women's labour force participation in peninsular malaysia." in proceedings of the seminar of the second malaysian family life survey, ed. j. sine, n. p. tey, and j. davanzo. santa monica, ca: rand.

subbiah, m. (1994). "demographic developments, family change and implications for social development in southeast asia." in social development under rapid industrialization: the case of southeast asia, ed. s. chong and cho kah sin. kuala lumpur: institute of strategic and international studies.

subramanian, p. (1997). malaysian family, an introduction. kuala lumpur: national population and family development board.

sudha, s. (1997). "family size, sex composition and children's education: ethnic differentials over development in peninsular malaysia." population studies 51:139–51.

tan, p. c., and jones, g. (1990). "changing patterns of marriage and household formation." sojourn 5:163–93.

tey, n. p. (1994). "demographic trends and family structure in malaysia." in social development under rapid industrialization: the case of southeast asia, ed. s. chong and cho kah sin. kuala lumpur: institute of strategic and international studies.

tom, k. m. (1993). "marriage trends among peninsular malaysian women." in proceedings of the seminar of the second malaysian family life survey, ed. j. sine, n. p. tey, and j. davanzo. santa monica, ca: rand.

Other Resources

department of statistics, malaysia. (2001). "population and housing census 2000." in distribution and basic demographic characteristics report. available from


Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Malaysia." International Encyclopedia of Marriage and Family. . 9 Jul. 2018 <>.

"Malaysia." International Encyclopedia of Marriage and Family. . (July 9, 2018).

"Malaysia." International Encyclopedia of Marriage and Family. . Retrieved July 09, 2018 from

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

The Chicago Manual of Style

American Psychological Association

  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.



Malaysia now includes the mainland of West Malaysia, sharing a land border with Thailand in the north, and East Malaysia, consisting of the states of Sarawak and Sabah (formerly North Borneo). The ethnic grouping of Malaysia includes Chinese and Indian races, but the largest population is of Malays, predominantly Muslim in faith and speaking their own Malay language.

Much of the folklore and magical tradition of the Malays concerns "sympathetic magic" (see magic ).

The traveler Hugh Clifford, writing in the nineteenth century, stated:

"The accredited intermediary between men and spirits is the Pawang; the Pawang is a functionary of great and traditional importance in a Malay village, though in places near towns the office is falling into abeyance. In the inland districts, however, the Pawang is still a power, and is regarded as part of the constituted order of Society, without whom no village community would be complete. It must be clearly understood that he had nothing whatever to do with the official Muhammadan religion of the mosque; the village has its regular staff of eldersthe Imam, Khatio, and Bilal for the mosque service. But the Pa-wang is quite outside this system and belongs to a different and much older order of ideas; he may be regarded as the legitimate representative of the primitive 'medicine-man,' or 'village-sorcerer,' and his very existence in these days is an anomaly, though it does not strike Malays as such.

"The Pawang is a person of very real significance. In all agricultural operations, such as sowing, reaping, irrigation works, and the clearing of jungle for planting, in fishing at sea, in prospecting for minerals, and in cases of sickness, his assistance is invoked. He is entitled by custom to certain small fees; thus, after a good harvest he is allowed in some villages five gantangs of padi, one gantang of rice (beras ), and two chupaks of emping (a preparation of rice and cocoa-nut made into a sort of sweet-meat) from each householder."

The Pawang used to regulate taboos, and employ a familiar spirit known as hantu pusaka a hereditary demon. He also acted as a medium and divined through trance. To become a magician,

"You must meet the ghost of a murdered man. Take the midrib of a leaf of the 'ivory' cocoa-nut palm (pelepah niyor gading), which is to be laid on the grave, and two midribs, which are intended to represent canoe-paddles, and carry them with the help of a companion to the grave of the murdered man at the time of the full moon (the 15th day of the lunar month) when it falls upon a Tuesday. Then take a cent's worth of incense, with glowing embers in a censer, and carry them to the head-post of the grave of the deceased. Fumigate the grave, going three times round it, and call upon the murdered man by name: 'Hearken, So-and-so, and assist me; I am taking (this boat) to the saints of God, and I desire to ask for a little magic.'

"Here take the first midrib, fumigate it, and lay it upon the head of the grave, repeating 'Kur Allah' ('Cluck, Cluck, God!') seven times. You and your companion must now take up a sitting posture, one at the head and the other at the foot of the grave, facing the grave post, and use the canoe-paddles which you have brought. In a little while the surrounding scenery will change and take upon itself the appearance of the sea, and finally an aged man will appear, to whom you must address the same request as before."

Malay magic may be subdivided into preparatory rites, sacrifice, lustration, divination, and possession. Sacrifice took the form of a simple gift, or act of homage to the spirit or deity. Lustration was magico-religious and purificatory, principally taking place after childbirth. It might be performed by fire or water. Divination consisted for the most part of the reading of dreams, and was, as elsewhere, drawn from the acts of men or nature. Omens were strongly believed in.

"When a star is seen in apparent proximity to the moon, old people say there will be a wedding shortly.

"The entrance into a house of an animal which does not generally seek to share the abode of man is regarded by the Malays as ominous of misfortune. If a wild bird flies into a house it must be carefully caught and smeared with oil, and must then be released in the open air, a formula being recited in which it is bidden to fly away with all the ill-luck and misfortunes (sial jambalang ) of the occupier. An iguana, a tortoise, and a snake, are perhaps the most dreaded of these unnatural visitors. They are sprinkled with ashes, if possible to counteract their evil influence.

"A swarm of bees settling near a house is an unlucky omen, and prognosticates misfortune."

So, too, omens were taken either from the flight or cries of certain birds, such as the night-owl, the crow, some kinds of wild doves, and the bird called the "Rice's Husband" (laki padi ).


Divination by astrology was, however, the most common method of forecasting the future. The native practitioners possessed long tables of lucky and unlucky periods and reasons. These were mostly translations from Indian and Arabic sources.

The oldest known of these systems of propitious and unpropitious seasons was known as Katika Lima, or the Five Times. Under it the day was divided into five parts, and five days formed a cycle. To each division was given a name as follows: Maswara, Kala, S'ri, Brahma, Bisnu (Vishnu), names of Hindu deities, the last name in the series for the first day being the first in that of the second day, and so on until the five days are exhausted. Each of these had a color, and according to the color first seen or noticed on such and such a day would it be fortunate to ask a boon of a certain god.

A variation of this system, known as the "Five Moments," was similar in origin, but possessed a Muslim nomenclature. Still another scheme, Katika Tujoh, was based on the seven heavenly bodies, dividing each day into seven parts, each of which was distinguished by the Arabic name for the sun, moon, and principal planets.

The astrology proper of the Malays is purely Arabic in origin, but a system of Hindu invocation was in vogue by which the lunar month was divided into parts called Rejang, which resembles the Nacshatras or lunar houses of the Hindus. Each division had its symbol, usually an animal. Each day was propitious for something, and the whole system was committed to verse for mnemonic purposes.


The demonic form common to Malaysia was that of the jinn, 190 in number. These were sometimes subdivided into "faithful" and "infidel," and further into the jinns of the royal musical instruments, of the state, and of the royal weapons. The afrit was also known. Angels also abounded and were purely of Arabic origin. Besides these, the principal supernatural beings were as follows: the polong, or familiar; the hantu pemburu, or specter huntsman; the jadi-jadian, or wer-tiger; the hantu, or ghost of the murdered; and the jemalang, or earth-spirit. The pontianak, the Malaysian vampire, has become the most famous of the supernatural beings of folklore and the subject of many popular movies.

Minor Sorcery

The rites of minor sorcery and witchcraft, as well as those of the shaman, were widely practiced among the Malays and were practically identical in character with those in use among other peoples with similar cultures.


Clifford, Hugh. In Court and Kampong. London: Grant Richards, 1897.

. Studies in Brown Humanity. London: Grant Richards, 1898.

Skeat, W. W. Malay Magic: Being an Introduction to the Folklore and Popular Religion of the Malay Peninsula. London: Macmillan, 1900.

Swettenham, Sir Frank A. Malay Sketches. London: John Lane, 1895.

Winstedt, R. The Malays: A Cultural History. London: Rout-ledge, 1950.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Malaysia." Encyclopedia of Occultism and Parapsychology. . 9 Jul. 2018 <>.

"Malaysia." Encyclopedia of Occultism and Parapsychology. . (July 9, 2018).

"Malaysia." Encyclopedia of Occultism and Parapsychology. . Retrieved July 09, 2018 from

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

The Chicago Manual of Style

American Psychological Association

  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.



Country statistics


329,750sq km (127,316sq mi) 23,274,690

capital (population):

Kuala Lumpur (1,297,526)


Federal constitutional monarchy

ethnic groups:

Bumiptera 65%, Chinese 26%, Indian 8%


Malay (official)


Sunni Muslim 60%, Buddhist 19%, Christian 9%, Hindu 6%, Chinese 3%


Ringgit (Malaysian dollar) = 100 cents

Federation of se Asian states. The Federation of Malaysia consists of two main regions: West Malaysia is on the Malay Peninsula between the Strait of Malacca and the South China Sea. It is home to c.80% of the population and includes the capital, Kuala Lumpur. East Malaysia consists of the states of Sabah and Sarawak, in n Borneo. Within Sarawak is the independent nation of Brunei. East and West Malaysia consist of coastal lowlands with mountainous interiors. The highest peak is Kinabalu (in Sabah), at 4095m (13,435ft).

Climate and Vegetation

Malaysia has a hot and rainy climate. There are monsoon seasons in the sw and nw. Kuala Lumpur averages 200 days of rain per year. Dense rainforest covers c.60% of Malaysia.

History and Politics

(For early history, see Malay Peninsula, Sabah, and Sarawak) In 1641 the Dutch captured Malacca, and controlled much of the trade through the narrow strait. In 1795, Britain conquered Malacca. In 1819 Britain founded Singapore, and in 1826 formed the Straits Settlement, consisting of Penang, Malacca, and Singapore. In 1867, the Straits Settlement became a British colony. In 1888, Sabah and Sarawak became a British protectorate. In 1896, the states of Perak, Selangor, Pahang, and Negeri Sembilan federated. In 1909, the states of Johor, Kedah, Kelantan, Perlis, and Terengganu formed the Unfederated Malay States.

Japan occupied Malaysia throughout World War 2. After Japan's defeat, the British expanded the Federation of Malaya (1948) to include the unfederated states and Malacca and Penang. Communists (largely from the Chinese population) began a protracted guerrilla war, and many Chinese were forcibly resettled. In 1957, the Federation of Malaya became an independent state within the Commonwealth of Nations. In 1963, Singapore, Sabah, and Sarawak joined the Federation, which became known as Malaysia. In 1965 tension over Chinese representation led to the secession of Singapore. The New Economic Policy (1970–90) helped to reduce ethnic tension caused by economic inequality.

The United Malays National Organization (UMNO) has held power since independence. In 1997, choking pollution from smog and the economic crisis in se Asia led to criticism of Dr Mahathir Muhammad's premiership (1981–2003). In 1998, after publicly calling for Mahathir's resignation, Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim was arrested for sodomy and corruption. He was later sentenced to 15 years' imprisonment. In 2003, Abdullah Ahmad Badawi succeeded Mahathir Muhammad as prime minister.


Malaysia is an upper-middle-income developing country (2000 GDP per capita, US$10,300). The National Development Policy (1990–2000) was the second stage in its rapid industrialization. In the early 1990s, economic growth averaged 8% per annum. In 1997, Thailand's devaluation of its currency triggered a regional economic crisis. In 1998 Malaysia, burdened by national debt, briefly withdrew the ringgit from foreign exchange markets. Manufactured goods account for 78% of exports. Malaysia is the largest producer of palm oil, second-largest producer of tin, and third-largest producer of rubber. Agriculture is important, with rice the chief food crop.

Political map

Physical map


Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Malaysia." World Encyclopedia. . 9 Jul. 2018 <>.

"Malaysia." World Encyclopedia. . (July 9, 2018).

"Malaysia." World Encyclopedia. . Retrieved July 09, 2018 from

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

The Chicago Manual of Style

American Psychological Association

  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.




The people of Malaysia are called Malays. The native-born Malays, known as Bumiputras ("sons of the soil") make up about 60 percent of the total population; people of Chinese descent make up about 30 percent; people of Indian, Pakistani, and Bangladeshi descent are about 10 percent. Hostility between the Malays and Chinese has occasionally erupted into violence. Native groups in Malaysia, known as the Orang Asli (aborigines), number about 50,000. For more information on the Chinese, see the chapter on China in Volume 2; on the Indians, the chapter on India in Volume 4; on the Pakistanis, the chapter on Pakistan in Volume 7; and the Bangladeshis, the chapter on Bangladesh in Volume 1.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Malaysia." Junior Worldmark Encyclopedia of World Cultures. . 9 Jul. 2018 <>.

"Malaysia." Junior Worldmark Encyclopedia of World Cultures. . (July 9, 2018).

"Malaysia." Junior Worldmark Encyclopedia of World Cultures. . Retrieved July 09, 2018 from

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

The Chicago Manual of Style

American Psychological Association

  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.



Culture Name


Alternative Names

Outsiders often mistakenly refer to things Malaysian as simply "Malay," reflecting only one of the ethnic groups in the society. Malaysians refer to their national culture as kebudayaan Malaysia in the national language.


Identification. Within Malaysian society there is a Malay culture, a Chinese culture, an Indian culture, a Eurasian culture, along with the cultures of the indigenous groups of the peninsula and north Borneo. A unified Malaysian culture is something only emerging in the country. The important social distinction in the emergent national culture is between Malay and non-Malay, represented by two groups: the Malay elite that dominates the country's politics, and the largely Chinese middle class whose prosperous lifestyle leads Malaysia's shift to a consumer society. The two groups mostly live in the urban areas of the Malay Peninsula's west coast, and their sometimes competing, sometimes parallel influences shape the shared life of Malaysia's citizens. Sarawak and Sabah, the two Malaysian states located in north Borneo, tend to be less a influential part of the national culture, and their vibrant local cultures are shrouded by the bigger, wealthier peninsular society.

Location and Geography. Malaysia is physically split between west and east, parts united into one country in 1963. Western Malaysia is on the southern tip of the Malay peninsula, and stretches from the Thai border to the island of Singapore. Eastern Malaysia includes the territories of Sabah and Sarawak on the north end of Borneo, separated by the country of Brunei. Peninsular Malaysia is divided into west and east by a central mountain range called the Banjaran Titiwangsa. Most large cities, heavy industry, and immigrant groups are concentrated on the west coast; the east coast is less populated, more agrarian, and demographically more Malay. The federal capital is in the old tinmining center of Kuala Lumpur, located in the middle of the western immigrant belt, but its move to the new Kuala Lumpur suburb of Putra Jaya will soon be complete.

Demography. Malaysia's population comprises twenty-three million people, and throughout its history the territory has been sparsely populated relative to its land area. The government aims for increasing the national population to seventy million by the year 2100. Eighty percent of the population lives on the peninsula. The most important Malaysian demographic statistics are of ethnicity: 60 percent are classified as Malay, 25 percent as of Chinese descent, 10 percent of Indian descent, and 5 percent as others. These population figures have an important place in peninsular history, because Malaysia as a country was created with demography in mind. Malay leaders in the 1930s and 1940s organized their community around the issue of curbing immigration. After independence, Malaysia was created when the Borneo territories with their substantial indigenous populations were added to Malaya as a means of exceeding the great number of Chinese and Indians in the country.

Linguistic Affiliation. Malay became Malaysia's sole national language in 1967 and has been institutionalized with a modest degree of success. The Austronesian language has an illustrious history as a lingua franca throughout the region, though English is also widely spoken because it was the administrative language of the British colonizers. Along with Malay and English other languages are popular: many Chinese Malaysians speak some combination of Cantonese, Hokkien, and/or Mandarin; most Indian Malaysians speak Tamil; and numerous languages flourish among aboriginal groups in the peninsula, especially in Sarawak and Sabah. The Malaysian government acknowledges this multilingualism through such things as television news broadcasts in Malay, English, Mandarin, and Tamil. Given their country's linguistic heterogeneity, Malaysians are adept at learning languages, and knowing multiple languages is commonplace. Rapid industrialization has sustained the importance of English and solidified it as the language of business.

Symbolism. The selection of official cultural symbols is a source of tension. In such a diverse society, any national emblem risks privileging one group over another. For example, the king is the symbol of the state, as well as a sign of Malay political hegemony. Since ethnic diversity rules out the use of kin or blood metaphors to stand for Malaysia, the society often emphasizes natural symbols, including the sea turtle, the hibiscus flower, and the orangutan. The country's economic products and infrastructure also provide national logos for Malaysia; the national car (Proton), Malaysia Airlines, and the Petronas Towers (the world's tallest buildings) have all come to symbolize modern Malaysia. The government slogan "Malaysia Boleh!" (Malaysia Can!) is meant to encourage even greater accomplishments. A more humble, informal symbol for society is a salad called rojak, a favorite Malaysian snack, whose eclectic mix of ingredients evokes the population's diversity.

History and Ethnic Relations

Emergence of the Nation. The name Malaysia comes from an old term for the entire Malay archipelago. A geographically truncated Malaysia emerged out of the territories colonized by Britain in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Britain's representatives gained varying degrees of control through agreements with the Malay rulers of the peninsular states, often made by deceit or force. Britain was attracted to the Malay peninsula by its vast reserves of tin, and later found that the rich soil was also highly productive for growing rubber trees. Immigrants from south China and south India came to British Malaya as labor, while the Malay population worked in small holdings and rice cultivation. What was to become East Malaysia had different colonial administrations: Sarawak was governed by a British family, the Brookes (styled as the "White Rajas"), and Sabah was run by the British North Borneo Company. Together the cosmopolitan hub of British interests was Singapore, the central port and center of publishing, commerce, education, and administration. The climactic event in forming Malaysia was the Japanese occupation of Southeast Asia from 1942-1945. Japanese rule helped to invigorate a growing anti-colonial movement, which flourished following the British return after the war. When the British attempted to organize their administration of Malaya into one unit to be called the Malayan Union, strong Malay protests to what seemed to usurp their historical claim to the territory forced the British to modify the plan. The other crucial event was the largely Chinese communist rebellion in 1948 that remained strong to the mid-1950s. To address Malay criticisms and to promote counter-insurgency, the British undertook a vast range of nation-building efforts. Local conservatives and radicals alike developed their own attempts to foster unity among the disparate Malayan population. These grew into the Federation of Malaya, which gained independence in 1957. In 1963, with the addition of Singapore and the north Borneo territories, this federation became Malaysia. Difficulties of integrating the predominately Chinese population of Singapore into Malaysia remained, and under Malaysian directive Singapore became an independent republic in 1965.

National Identity. Throughout Malaysia's brief history, the shape of its national identity has been a crucial question: should the national culture be essentially Malay, a hybrid, or separate ethnic entities? The question reflects the tension between the indigenous claims of the Malay population and the cultural and citizenship rights of the immigrant groups. A tentative solution came when the Malay, Chinese, and Indian elites who negotiated independence struck what has been called "the bargain." Their informal deal exchanged Malay political dominance for immigrant citizenship and unfettered economic pursuit. Some provisions of independence were more formal, and the constitution granted several Malay "special rights" concerning land, language, the place of the Malay Rulers, and Islam, based on their indigenous status. Including the Borneo territories and Singapore in Malaysia revealed the fragility of "the bargain." Many Malays remained poor; some Chinese politicians wanted greater political power. These fractures in Malaysian society prompted Singapore's expulsion and produced the watershed of contemporary Malaysian life, the May 1969 urban unrest in Kuala Lumpur. Violence left hundreds dead; parliament was suspended for two years. As a result of this experience the government placed tight curbs on political debate of national cultural issues and began a comprehensive program of affirmative action for the Malay population. This history hangs over all subsequent attempts to encourage official integration of Malaysian society. In the 1990s a government plan to blend the population into a single group called "Bangsa Malaysia" has generated excitement and criticism from different constituencies of the population. Continuing debates demonstrate that Malaysian national identity remains unsettled.

Ethnic Relations. Malaysia's ethnic diversity is both a blessing and a source of stress. The melange makes Malaysia one of the most cosmopolitan places on earth, as it helps sustain international relationships with the many societies represented in Malaysia: the Indonesian archipelago, the Islamic world, India, China, and Europe. Malaysians easily exchange ideas and techniques with the rest of the world, and have an influence in global affairs. The same diversity presents seemingly intractable problems of social cohesion, and the threat of ethnic violence adds considerable tension to Malaysian politics.

Urbanism, Architecture, and the Use of Space

Urban and rural divisions are reinforced by ethnic diversity with agricultural areas populated primarily by indigenous Malays and immigrants mostly in cities. Chinese dominance of commerce means that most towns, especially on the west coast of the peninsula, have a central road lined by Chinese shops. Other ethnic features influence geography: a substantial part of the Indian population was brought in to work on the rubber plantations, and many are still on the rural estates; some Chinese, as a part of counter-insurgency, were rounded up into what were called "new villages." A key part of the 1970s affirmative action policy has been to increase the number of Malays living in the urban areas, especially Kuala Lumpur. Governmental use of Malay and Islamic architectural aesthetics in new buildings also adds to the Malay urban presence. Given the tensions of ethnicity, the social use of space carries strong political dimensions. Public gatherings of five or more people require a police permit, and a ban on political rallies successfully limits the appearance of crowds in Malaysia. It is therefore understandable that Malaysians mark a sharp difference between space inside the home and outside the home, with domestic space carefully managed to receive outsiders: even many modest dwellings have a set of chairs for guests in a front room of the house.

Food and Economy

Food in Daily Life. Malaysia's diversity has blessed the country with one of the most exquisite cuisines in the world, and elements of Malay, Chinese, and Indian cooking are both distinct and blended together. Rice and noodles are common to all cuisine; spicy dishes are also favorites. Tropical fruits grow in abundance, and a local favorite is the durian, known by its spiked shell and fermented flesh whose pungent aroma and taste often separates locals from foreigners. Malaysia's affluence means that increasing amounts of meat and processed foods supplement the country's diet, and concerns about the health risks of their high-fat content are prominent in the press. This increased affluence also allows Malaysians to eat outside the home more often; small hawker stalls offer prepared food twenty-four hours a day in urban areas. Malaysia's ethnic diversity is apparent in food prohibitions: Muslims are forbidden to eat pork which is a favorite of the Chinese population; Hindus do not eat beef; some Buddhists are vegetarian. Alcohol consumption also separates non-Muslims from Muslims.

Food Customs at Ceremonial Occasions. When Malaysians have guests they tend to be very fastidious about hospitality, and an offer of food is a critical etiquette requirement. Tea or coffee is usually prepared along with small snacks for visitors. These refreshments sit in front of the guest until the host signals for them to be eaten. As a sign of accepting the host's hospitality the guest must at least sip the beverage and taste the food offered. These dynamics occur on a grander scale during a holiday open house. At celebrations marking important ethnic and religious holidays, many Malaysian families host friends and neighbors to visit and eat holiday delicacies. The visits of people from other ethnic groups and religions on these occasions are taken as evidence of Malaysian national amity.

Basic Economy. Malaysia has long been integrated into the global economy. Through the early decades of the twentieth century, the Malay peninsula was a world leader in the production of tin (sparked by the Western demand for canned food) and natural rubber (needed to make automobile tires). The expansion of Malaysia's industrialization heightened its dependence on imports for food and other necessities.

Land Tenure and Property. Land ownership is a controversial issue in Malaysia. Following the rubber boom the British colonial government, eager to placate the Malay population, designated portions of land as Malay reservations. Since this land could only be sold to other Malays, planters and speculators were limited in what they could purchase. Malay reserve land made ethnicity a state concern because land disputes could only be settled with a legal definition of who was considered Malay. These land tenure arrangements are still in effect and are crucial to Malay identity. In fact the Malay claim to political dominance is that they are bumiputera (sons of the soil). Similar struggles exist in east Malaysia, where the land rights of indigenous groups are bitterly disputed with loggers eager to harvest the timber for export. Due to their different colonial heritage, indigenous groups in Sarawak and Sabah have been less successful in maintaining their territorial claims.

Commercial Activities. Basic necessities in Malaysia have fixed prices and, like many developing countries, banking, retail, and other services are tightly regulated. The country's commerce correlates with ethnicity, and government involvement has helped Malays to compete in commercial activities long dominated by ethnic Chinese. Liberalization of business and finance proceeds with these ethnic dynamics in mind.

Major Industries. The boom and bust in primary commodities such as rubber and tin have given Malaysian society a cyclical rhythm tied to fickle external demand. In the 1970s the government began to diversify the economy (helped by an increase in oil exports) and Malaysia is now well on its way to becoming an industrial country. The country has a growing automotive industry, a substantial light-manufacturing sector (textiles, air conditioners, televisions, and VCRs), and an expanding high technology capacity (especially semi-conductors).

Trade. Malaysia's prominent place in the global economy as one of the world's twenty largest trading nations is an important part of its identity as a society. Primary trading partners include Japan, Singapore, and the United States, with Malaysia importing industrial components and exporting finished products. Palm oil, rubber, tropical hardwoods, and petroleum products are important commodities.

Division of Labor. The old ethnic division of labor (Malays in agriculture, Indians in the professions and plantations, and Chinese in mining and commerce) has steadily eroded. In its place, the Malaysian workforce is increasingly divided by class and citizenship. Educated urban professionals fill the offices of large companies in a multi-ethnic blend. Those without educational qualifications work in factories, petty trade, and agricultural small holdings. As much as 20 percent of the workforce is foreign, many from Indonesia and the Philippines, and dominate sectors such as construction work and domestic service.

Social Stratification

Classes and Castes. Class position in Malaysia depends on a combination of political connections, specialized skills, ability in English, and family money. The Malaysian elite, trained in overseas universities, is highly cosmopolitan and continues to grow in dominance as Malaysia's middle class expands. Even with the substantial stratification of society by ethnicity, similar class experiences in business and lifestyle are bridging old barriers.

Symbols of Social Stratification. In Malaysia's market economy, consumption provides the primary symbols of stratification. Newly wealthy Malaysians learn how to consume by following the lead of the Malay royalty and the prosperous business families of Chinese descent. A mobile phone, gold jewelry, and fashionable clothing all indicate one's high rank in the Malaysian social order. Given the striking mobility of Malaysian society, one's vehicle marks class position even more than home ownership. Most Malaysians can distinguish the difference between makes of cars, and access to at least a motor scooter is a requirement for participation in contemporary Malaysian social life. Kuala Lumpur has more motor vehicles than people. Skin color, often indicative of less or more time working in the hot tropical sun, further marks class position. Distinct class differences also appear in speech. Knowledge of English is vital to elevated class status, and a person's fluency in that language indexes their social background.

Political Life

Government. Malaysia's government is nominally headed by the king whose position rotates among the nine hereditary Malay rulers every five years. The king selects the prime minister from the leading coalition in parliament, a body which is further divided into the elected representatives of the Dewan Rakyat and the appointed senators of the Dewan Negara. Since independence Malaysian national elections have been won by a coalition of ethnic-based political parties. Known first as the Alliance, and, following the 1969 unrest, as the National Front, this coalition is itself dominated by the United Malays National Organization (UMNO), a party composed of Malay moderates. UMNO rule is aided by the gerrymandered parliamentary districts that over-represent rural Malay constituencies. The UMNO president has always become Malaysia's prime minister, so the two thousand delegates at the biannual UMNO General Assembly are the real electoral force in the country, choosing the party leadership that in turn leads the country.

Leadership and Political Officials. Malaysian political leaders demand a great deal of deference from the public. The Malay term for government, kerajaan, refers to the raja who ruled from the precolonial courts. High-ranking politicians are referred to as yang berhormat (he who is honored), and sustain remarkable resiliency in office. Their longevity is due to the fact that successful politicians are great patrons, with considerable influence over the allocation of social benefits such as scholarships, tenders, and permits. Clients, in return, show deference and give appropriate electoral support. The mainstream press are also among the most consistent and most important boosters of the ruling coalition's politicians. Even with the substantial power of the political elite, corruption remains informal, and one can negotiate the lower levels of the state bureaucracy without paying bribes. However, endless stories circulate of how appropriate payments can oil a sometimes creaky process.

Social Problems and Control. Through its colonial history, British Malaya had one of the largest per capita police forces of all British colonies. Police power increased during the communist rebellion (the "Emergency") begun in 1948, which was fought primarily as a police action. The Emergency also expanded the influence of the police Special Branch intelligence division. Malaysia retains aspects of a police state. Emergency regulations for such things as detention without trial (called the Internal Security Act) remain in use; the police are a federal rather than local institution; and police quarters (especially in more isolated rural areas) still have the bunker-like design necessary for confronting an armed insurgency. Even in urban areas police carry considerable firepower. Officers with M-16s are not a rarity and guards at jewelry shops often have long-barrel shotguns. Criminals tend to be audacious given the fact that possession of an illegal firearm carries a mandatory death sentence. Since the police focus more on protecting commercial than residential property, people in housing estates and rural areas will sometimes apprehend criminals themselves. The most elaborate crime network is composed of Chinese triads who extend back in lineage to the colonial period. Malaysia is close to the opium producing areas of the "Golden Triangle" where Burma, Thailand, and Laos meet. Drug possession carries a mandatory death sentence.

Military Activity. The Malaysian military's most striking characteristic is that, unlike its neighbors, there has never been a military coup in the country. One reason is the important social function of the military to insure Malay political dominance. The highest ranks of the military are composed of ethnic Malays, as are a majority of those who serve under them. The military's controversial role in establishing order following the May 1969 urban rebellion further emphasizes the political function of the institution as one supporting the Malay-dominated ruling coalition. The Malaysian armed forces, though small in number, have been very active in United Nations peace-keeping, including the Congo, Namibia, Somalia, and Bosnia.

Social Welfare and Change Programs

The Malaysian government has promoted rapid social change to integrate a national society from its ethnic divisions. Its grandest program was originally called the New Economic Policy (NEP), implemented between 1971 and 1990 and continued in modified form as the National Development Policy (NDP). Since poverty eradication was an aim of the NEP a considerable amount of energy has gone to social welfare efforts. The consequences of these programs disseminate across the social landscape: home mortgages feature two rates, a lower one for Malays and a higher one for others; university admissions promote Malay enrollment; mundane government functions such as allocating hawker licenses have an ethnic component. But the government has also tried to ethnically integrate Malaysia's wealthy class; therefore many NEP-inspired ethnic preferences have allowed prosperous Malays to accrue even greater wealth. The dream of creating an affluent Malaysia continues in the government's 1991 plan of Vision 2020, which projects that the country will be "fully developed" by the year 2020. This new vision places faith in high technology, including the creation of a "Multi-Media Super Corridor" outside of Kuala Lumpur, as the means for Malaysia to join the ranks of wealthy industrialized countries, and to develop a more unified society.

Nongovernmental Organizations and Other Associations

Through its welfare policies the government jealously guards its stewardship over social issues, and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) work under its close surveillance. The state requires that all associations be registered, and failure to register can effectively cripple an organization. NGO life is especially active in urban areas, addressing problems peripheral to the state's priorities of ethnic redistribution and rapid industrialization. Many prominent NGOs are affiliated with religious organizations, and others congregate around issues of the environment, gender and sexuality, worker's rights, and consumers' interests.

Gender Roles and Statuses

Division of Labor by Gender. Malaysia's affluence has changed the gender divide in the public sphere of work while maintaining the gendered division of labor in the household. Most conspicuous among the new developments are the burgeoning factories that employ legions of women workers on the assembly lines. Domestic labor is a different matter, with cooking and cleaning still deemed to be female responsibilities. In wealthier families where both men and women work outside the home there has been an increase in hiring domestic servants. Since Malaysian women have other opportunities, nearly all of this domestic work goes to female foreign maids.

The Relative Status of Women and Men. Generally men have more power than women in Malaysian society. Male dominance is codified in laws over such things as the guardianship of children. The top politicians, business leaders, and religious practitioners are predominately male. Yet Malaysian society shows considerable suppleness in its gender divisions with prominent women emerging in many different fields. Most of the major political parties have an active women's wing which provides access to political power. Though opportunities for men and women differ by ethnic group and social class, strict gender segregation has not been a part of modern Malaysian life.

Marriage, Family, and Kinship

Marriage. Even with significant changes in marriage practices, weddings reveal the sharp differences in Malaysian society. There are two ways to marry: registering the union with the government; and joining in marriage before a religious authority. Christian Malaysians may marry Buddhists or Hindus answering only to their families and beliefs; Muslim Malaysians who marry non-Muslims risk government sanction unless their partner converts to Islam. Marriage practices emphasize Malaysia's separate ethnic customs. Indians and Chinese undertake divination rites in search of compatibility and auspicious dates, while Malays have elaborate gift exchanges. Malay wedding feasts are often held in the home, and feature a large banquet with several dishes eaten over rice prepared in oil (to say one is going to eat oiled rice means that a wedding is imminent). Many Chinese weddings feature a multiple-course meal in a restaurant or public hall, and most Indian ceremonies include intricate rituals. Since married partners join families as well as individuals, the meeting between prospective in-laws is crucial to the success of the union. For most Malaysians marriage is a crucial step toward adulthood. Although the average age for marriage continues to increase, being single into one's thirties generates concern for families and individuals alike. The social importance of the institution makes interethnic marriage an issue of considerable stress.

Domestic Unit. Malaysian households have undergone a tremendous transformation following the changes in the economy. The shift from agricultural commodities to industrial production has made it difficult for extended families to live together. Yet as family mobility expands, as a result of modern schedules, efforts to maintain kin ties also increase. Improved telecommunications keep distant kin in contact, as does the efficient transportation network. A dramatic example of this occurs on the major holidays when millions return to hometowns for kin reunions.

Inheritance. The critical issue of inheritance is land. With the importance Malays place on land ownership, it is rarely viewed as a commodity for sale, and the numerous empty houses that dot the Malaysian landscape are testament to their absentee-owners unwillingness to sell. Gold is also a valuable inheritance; Malaysians from all groups readily turn extra cash into gold as a form of insurance for the future.

Kin Groups. The crucial kin distinctions in Malaysian culture are between ethnic groups, which tend to limit intermarriage. Among the majority of Malays, kin groups are more horizontal than vertical, meaning that siblings are more important than ancestors. Those considered Malay make appropriate marriage partners; non-Malays do not. These distinctions are somewhat flexible, however, and those that embrace Islam and follow Malay customs are admitted as potential Malay marriage partners. Greater flexibility in kinship practices also appears among immigrant groups amid the fresh possibilities created by diasporic life. A striking example is the Baba community, Chinese who immigrated prior to British rule and intermarried with locals, developing their own hybrid language and cultural style. These dynamics point to the varied kinship arrangements possible between the different ethnic communities in Malaysian society.


Infant Care. Malaysian babies are lavished with considerable care. Most are born in hospitals, though midwives still provide their services in more remote areas. Careful prohibitions are rigidly followed for both the infant and the mother, according to the various cultural customs. New mothers wear special clothes, eat foods to supplement their strength, and refrain from performing tasks that might bring bad luck to their babies. Grandmothers often live with their new grandchildren for the first few months of their new life.

Child Rearing and Education. Malaysian child rearing practices and educational experiences sustain the differences among the population. Most Malaysian children learn the importance of age hierarchy, especially the proper use of titles to address their elders. The family also teaches that kin are the appropriate source of friendly companionship. The frequent presence of siblings and cousins provides familiarity with the extended family and a preferred source of playmates. In turn, many families teach that strangers are a source of suspicion. The school experience reinforces the ethnic differences in the population, since the schools are divided into separate systems with Malay-medium, Mandarin-medium, and Tamil-medium instruction. Yet the schools do provide common experiences, the most important of which is measuring progress by examination, which helps to emphasize mastery of accumulated knowledge as the point of education. Outside of school, adolescents who mix freely with others or spend significant time away from home are considered "social," a disparaging remark that suggests involvement in illicit activity. A good Malaysian child respects hierarchy, stays close to kin, follows past examples, and is demure among strangers. These lessons teach Malaysian children how to fit into a diverse society.

Higher Education. Higher education is a vital part of Malaysian life, though the universities that are the most influential in the society are located outside the country. Hundreds of thousands of students have been educated in Britain, Australia, and the United States; the experience of leaving Malaysia for training abroad is an important rite of passage for many of the elite. Malaysia boasts a growing local university system that supplements the foreign universities. The quality of local faculty, often higher than that of the second- and third-tier foreign universities that many Malaysians attend, is rarely sufficient to offset the cachet of gaining one's degree abroad.


Malaysian society is remarkable due to its openness to diversity. The blunders of an outsider are tolerated, a charming dividend of Malaysia's cosmopolitan heritage. Yet this same diversity can present challenges for Malaysians when interacting in public. Because there is no single dominant cultural paradigm, social sanctions for transgressing the rights of others are reduced. Maintaining public facilities is a source of constant public concern, as is the proper etiquette for driving a motor vehicle. Malaysian sociability instead works through finding points of connection. When Malaysians meet strangers, they seek to fit them into a hierarchy via guesses about one's religion (Muslims use the familiar Arabic greetings only to other Muslims); inquiries into one's organization (as an initial question many Malaysians will ask, "who are you attached to?"); and estimations of age (unknown older men are addressed by the honorific "uncle," women as "auntie" in the appropriate language). Strangers shake hands, and handshaking continues after the first meeting (Malays often raise the hand to their heart after shaking), though it is sometimes frowned upon between men and women. Greetings are always expressed with the right hand, which is the dominant hand in Malaysian life. Since the left hand is used to cleanse the body, it is considered inappropriate for use in receiving gifts, giving money, pointing directions, or passing objects.


Religious Beliefs. Nearly all the world religions, including Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, and Christianity are present in Malaysia. Religion correlates strongly with ethnicity, with most Muslims Malay, most Hindus Indian, and most Buddhists Chinese. The presence of such diversity heightens the importance of religious identity, and most Malaysians have a strong sense of how their religious practice differs from that of others (therefore a Malaysian Christian also identifies as a non-Muslim). Religious holidays, especially those celebrated with open houses, further blend the interreligious experience of the population. Tension between religious communities is modest. The government is most concerned with the practices of the Muslim majority, since Islam is the official religion (60 percent of the population is Muslim). Debates form most often over the government's role in religious life, such as whether the state should further promote Islam and Muslim practices (limits on gambling, pork-rearing, availability of alcohol, and the use of state funds for building mosques) or whether greater religious expression for non-Muslims should be allowed.

Religious Practitioners. The government regulates religious policy for Malaysia's Muslims, while the local mosque organizes opportunities for religious instruction and expression. Outside these institutions, Islam has an important part in electoral politics as Malay parties promote their Muslim credentials. Hindu, Christian, and Buddhist clergy often have a presence in Malaysian life through cooperative ventures, and their joint work helps to ameliorate their minority status. Religious missionaries work freely proselytizing to non-Muslims, but evangelists interested in converting Muslims are strictly forbidden by the state.

Rituals and Holy Places. Malaysia's most prominent holy place is the National Mosque, built in the heart of Kuala Lumpur in 1965. Its strategic position emphasizes the country's Islamic identity. Countrywide, the daily call to prayer from the mosques amplifies the rhythm of Islamic rituals in the country, as does the procession of the faithful to fulfill their prayers. Reminders of prayer times are included in television programs and further highlight the centrality of Islam in Malaysia. Important holidays include the birth of the Prophet and the pilgrimage to Mecca, all of which hold a conspicuous place in the media. The month of fasting, Ramadan, includes acts of piety beyond the customary refraining from food and drink during daylight hours and is followed by a great celebration. Non-Muslim religious buildings, practices, and holidays have a smaller public life in Malaysia. Part of this is due to fewer believers in the country, and part is due to public policy which limits the building of churches and temples along with the broadcasting of non-Muslim religious services. The important non-Muslim holidays include Christmas, Deepavali (the Hindu festival of light), and Wesak day (which celebrates the life of the Buddha). The Hindu holiday of Thaipussam merits special attention, because devotees undergo spectacular rites of penance before vast numbers of spectators, most dramatically at the famous Batu Caves, located in the bluffs outside of Kuala Lumpur.

Death and the Afterlife. Malaysians have a strong interest in the metaphysical, and stories about spirits and ghosts whether told in conversation, read in books, or seen on television gain rapt attention. Many of these stories sustain a relationship with people who have passed away, whether as a form of comfort or of fear. Cemeteries, including vast fields of Chinese tombs marked with family characters and Muslim graves with the distinctive twin stones, are sites of mystery. The real estate that surrounds them carries only a modest price due to the reputed dangers of living nearby. Muslim funerals tend to be community events, and an entire neighborhood will gather at the home of the deceased to prepare the body for burial and say the requisite prayers. Corpses are buried soon after death, following Muslim custom, and mourners display a minimum of emotion lest they appear to reject the divine's decision. The ancestor memorials maintained by Chinese clans are a common site in Malaysia, and the familiar small red shrines containing offerings of oranges and joss sticks appear on neighborhood street corners and in the rear of Chinese-owned shops. Faith in the efficacy of the afterlife generates considerable public respect for religious graves and shrines even from non-adherents.

Medicine and Health Care

Malaysia boasts a sophisticated system of modern health care with doctors trained in advanced biomedicine. These services are concentrated in the large cities and radiate out in decreasing availability. Customary practitioners, including Chinese herbalists and Malay healers, supplement the services offered in clinics and hospitals and boast diverse clientele.

Secular Celebrations

Given the large number of local and religious holidays observed in Malaysia, few national secular celebrations fit into the calendar. Two important ones include the king's birthday, and the nation's independence day, 31 August. The strong Malaysian interest in sports makes victories for the national team, especially in badminton, a cause for revelry.

The Arts and the Humanities

Support for the Arts. Public support for the arts is meager. Malaysian society for the past century has been so heavily geared toward economic development that the arts have suffered, and many practitioners of Malaysia's aesthetic traditions mourn the lack of apprentices to carry them on. The possibility exists for a Malaysian arts renaissance amid the country's growing affluence.

Literature. The pre-colonial Malay rulers supported a rich variety of literary figures who produced court chronicles, fables, and legends that form a prominent part of the contemporary Malaysian cultural imagination. Developing a more contemporary national literature has been a struggle because of language, with controversies over whether Malaysian fiction should be composed solely in Malay or in other languages as well. Though adult literacy is nearly 90 percent, the well-read newspapers lament that the national belief in the importance of reading is stronger than the practice.

Graphic Arts. A small but vibrant group of graphic artists are productive in Malaysia. Practitioners of batik, the art of painting textiles with wax followed by dying to bring out the pattern, still work in northern peninsular Malaysia. Batik-inspired designs are often produced in factories on shirts, sarongs, table cloths, or dresses forming an iconic Malaysian aesthetic.

Performance Arts. Artistic performance in Malaysia is limited by the state's controls over public assembly and expression. The requirement that the government approve all scripts effectively limits what might be said in plays, films, and television. The preferred performance genre in Malaysia is popular music, and concerts of the top Malay pop singers have great followings in person and on television. Musical stars from Bombay and Hong Kong also have substantial numbers of very committed fans, whose devotion makes Malaysia an overseas stop on the tours of many performers. The favorite Malaysian entertainment medium is television, as most homes have television sets. Malaysians watch diverse programming: the standard export American fare, Japanese animation, Hong Kong martial arts, Hindi musicals, and Malay drama. The advent of the video cassette and the Internet was made for Malaysia's diverse society, allowing Malaysians to make expressive choices that often defeat the state's censorship.

The State of the Physical and Social Sciences

Given the Malaysian government's considerable support for rapid industrialization, scientific research is high on the list of its priorities. Malaysian universities produce sophisticated research, though they are sapped for funds by the huge expenditure of sending students overseas for their degrees. Malaysian scientists have made substantial contributions in rubber and palm oil research, and this work will likely continue to increase the productivity of these sectors. Government monitoring of social science research increases the risks of critical scholarship though some academicians are quite outspoken and carry considerable prestige in society.


Alwi Bin Sheikh Alhady. Malay Customs and Traditions, 1962.

Amir Muhammad, Kam Raslan, and Sheryll Stothard. Generation: A Collection of Contemporary Malaysian Ideas, 1998.

Andaya, Barbara Watson, and Leonard Y. Andaya. A History of Malaysia, 1982.

Ariffin Omar. Bangsa Melayu: Malay Concepts of Democracy and Community 1945-1950, 1993.

Carsten, Janet. The Heat of the Hearth, 1997.

Chandra Muzaffar. Protector? An Analysis of the Concept and Practice of Loyalty in Leader-Led Relationships within Malay Society, 1979.

Cheah Boon Kheng. Red Star Over Malaya, 1983.

Collins, Elizabeth. Pierced by Murugan's Lance: Ritual, Power, and Moral Redemption Among Malaysian Hindus, 1997.

Crouch, Harold. Government and Society in Malaysia, 1996.

Gomez, Edmund Terence and K. S. Jomo. Malaysia's Political Economy: Politics, Patronage, and Profits, 1997.

Gullick, John. Indigenous Political Systems of Western Malaya, 1958.

Harper, Timothy. The End of Empire and the Making of Modern Malaya, 1999.

Jomo, K. S. A Question of Class: Capital, the State, and Uneven Development in Malaya, 1986.

Kahn, Joel S., and Francis Loh Kok Wah, ed. Fragmented Vision: Culture and Politics in Contemporary Malaysia, 1992.

Kaur, Amarjit. Economic Change in East Malaysia: Sabah and Sarawak Since 1850, 1998.

Khoo Boo Teik. Paradoxes of Mahathirism: An Intellectual Biography of Mahathir Mohamad, 1995.

Kratoska, Paul. The Japanese Occupation of Malaya: A Social and Economic History, 1998.

Loh, Francis K. W. Beyond the Tin Mines: Coolies, Squatters and New Villagers in the Kinta Valley, c. 18801980, 1980.

Means, Gordon. Malaysian Politics: The Second Generation, 1991.

Milner, Anthony. The Invention of Politics in Colonial Malaya: Contesting Nationalism and the Expansion of the Public Sphere, 1995.

Mohamed Noordin Sopiee. From Malayan Union to Singapore Separation, 1974.

Nagata, Judith. Malaysian Mosaic: Perspectives from a Poly-Ethnic Society, 1979.

Ong, Aihwa. Spirits of Resistance and Capitalist Discipline: Factory Women in Malaysia, 1987.

Rehman Rashid. A Malaysian Journey, 1993.

Roff, William. The Origins of Malay Nationalism, 1967.

Shamsul, A. B. From British to Bumiputera Rule: Local Politics and Rural Development in Peninsular Malaysia, 1986.

Stenson, Michael. Class, Race, and Colonialism in West Malaysia: The Indian Case, 1980.

Strauch, Judith. Chinese Village Politics in the Malaysian State, 1981.

Sweeney, Amin. A Full Hearing: Orality and Literacy in the Malay World, 1987.

Tan Chee Beng. The Baba of Melaka: Culture and Identity of a Chinese Peranakan Community in Malaysia, 1988.

Winzeler, Robert L., ed. Indigenous Peoples and the State: Politics, Land, and Ethnicity in the Malayan Peninsula and Borneo, 1997.

Thomas Williamson

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Malaysia." Countries and Their Cultures. . 9 Jul. 2018 <>.

"Malaysia." Countries and Their Cultures. . (July 9, 2018).

"Malaysia." Countries and Their Cultures. . Retrieved July 09, 2018 from

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

The Chicago Manual of Style

American Psychological Association

  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.


Malaysia, or the Malay archipelago, was long famous for its trade. In the 15th cent., an important sultanate arose at Malacca and the region was subject to Islamic conversion. The Portuguese took Malacca in 1511 and, subsequently, the Dutch exercised a pervasive hegemony. English interest began in 1786 with the foundation of Penang and increased in the 1820s with the development of the Straits Settlement. The settlement became a crown colony in 1867. It was amalgamated with other sultanates, previously held as protectorates, to form the Federation of Malaya in 1948. In 1957 the Malaysian Federation became independent.

David Anthony Washbrook

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Malaysia." The Oxford Companion to British History. . 9 Jul. 2018 <>.

"Malaysia." The Oxford Companion to British History. . (July 9, 2018).

"Malaysia." The Oxford Companion to British History. . Retrieved July 09, 2018 from

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

The Chicago Manual of Style

American Psychological Association

  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.


Malaya: see Malaysia.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Malaya." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . 9 Jul. 2018 <>.

"Malaya." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . (July 9, 2018).

"Malaya." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved July 09, 2018 from

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

The Chicago Manual of Style

American Psychological Association

  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.


Malayaabaya, betrayer, conveyor, Eritrea, flayer, Freya, gainsayer, layer, Malaya, Marbella, Maya, Mayer, Nouméa, obeyer, payer, player, portrayer, prayer, preyer, purveyor, slayer, sprayer, stayer, strayer, surveyor, waylayer, weigher •tracklayer • bricklayer • minelayer •record-player • taxpayer • ratepayer •naysayer • soothsayer • crocheter

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Malaya." Oxford Dictionary of Rhymes. . 9 Jul. 2018 <>.

"Malaya." Oxford Dictionary of Rhymes. . (July 9, 2018).

"Malaya." Oxford Dictionary of Rhymes. . Retrieved July 09, 2018 from

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

The Chicago Manual of Style

American Psychological Association

  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.


Malaysia •astrantia • Bastia •Dei gratia, hamartia •poinsettia •in absentia, Parmentier •Izvestia •meteor, wheatear •Whittier • cottier • Ostia •consortia, courtier •protea • Yakutia • frontier • Althea •Anthea • Parthia •Pythia, stichomythia •Carinthia, Cynthia •forsythia • Scythia • clothier • salvia •Latvia • Yugoslavia • envier •Flavia, Moldavia, Moravia, Octavia, paviour (US pavior), Scandinavia, Xavier •Bolivia, Livia, Olivia, trivia •Sylvia • Guinevere • Elzevir •Monrovia, Segovia •Retrovir • effluvia • colloquia •Goodyear • yesteryear • brassiere •Abkhazia •Anastasia, aphasia, brazier, dysphasia, dysplasia, euthanasia, fantasia, Frazier, glazier, grazier, gymnasia, Malaysia •amnesia, anaesthesia (US anesthesia), analgesia, freesia, Indonesia, Silesia, synaesthesia •artemisia, Kirghizia, Tunisiaambrosia, crozier, hosier, osier, symposia

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Malaysia." Oxford Dictionary of Rhymes. . 9 Jul. 2018 <>.

"Malaysia." Oxford Dictionary of Rhymes. . (July 9, 2018).

"Malaysia." Oxford Dictionary of Rhymes. . Retrieved July 09, 2018 from

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

The Chicago Manual of Style

American Psychological Association

  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.