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|THE MALAYSIA COAT OF ARMS|
Location of Malaysia within the continent of Asia
Map of Malaysia
Flag Description of Malaysia:The Malaysia flag was officially adopted on September 16, 1963.
Using the U.S. flag as a model, the 14 red and white stripes represent the 14 states of the country. The gold crescent and star are symbols of Islam, and the blue field represents the unity of the people.
Official name Malaysia
Form of government federal constitutional monarchy with two legislative houses (Senate ; House of Representatives )
Head of state Paramount Ruler: Tuanku Abdul Halim Muadzam Shah ibni al-Marhum Sultan Badlishah
Head of government Prime Minister: Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak
Capital Kuala Lumpur2
Administrative centre Putrajaya3
Official language Malay
Official religion Islam
Monetary unit ringgit (RM)
Population (2014 est.) 31,229,000COLLAPSE
Total area (sq mi) 127,526
Total area (sq km) 330,290
- Urban: (2011) 72.8%
- Rural: (2011) 27.2%
Life expectancy at birth
- Male: (2012) 72.3 years
- Female: (2012) 77.2 years
Literacy: percentage of population age 15 and over literate
- Male: (2010) 95.4%
- Female: (2010) 90.7%
GNI per capita (U.S.$) (2013) 10,400
1Includes 44 appointees of the Paramount Ruler; the remaining 26 are indirectly elected.
2Location of the first royal palace and both houses of parliament.
3Location of the second royal palace, the prime minister’s office, and the supreme court.
Malaysia, country of Southeast Asia, lying just north of the Equator, that is composed of two noncontiguous regions: Peninsular Malaysia (Semenanjung Malaysia), also called West Malaysia (Malaysia Barat), which is on the Malay Peninsula, and East Malaysia (Malaysia Timur), which is on the island of Borneo. The Malaysian capital, Kuala Lumpur, lies in the western part of the peninsula, about 25 miles (40 km) from the coast; the administrative centre, Putrajaya, is located about 16 miles (25 km) south of the capital.
Malaysia, a member of the Commonwealth, represents the political marriage of territories that were formerly under British rule. When it was established on Sept. 16, 1963, Malaysia comprised the territories of Malaya (now Peninsular Malaysia), the island of Singapore, and the colonies of Sarawak and Sabah in northern Borneo. In August 1965 Singapore seceded from the federation and became an independent republic.
Geography of Malaysia
- Area: 329,749 sq. km. (127,316 sq. mi.); slightly larger than New Mexico.
- Cities: Capital--Kuala Lumpur. Other cities--Penang, Ipoh, Malacca, Johor Baru, Shah Alam, Klang, *Kuching, Kota Kinabalu
- Terrain: Coastal plains and interior, jungle-covered mountains. The South China Sea separates peninsular Malaysia from East Malaysia on Borneo.
- Climate: Tropical.
Peninsular Malaysia occupies most of the southern segment of the Malay Peninsula. To the north it is bordered by Thailand, with which it shares a land boundary of some 300 miles (480 km). To the south, at the tip of the peninsula, is the island republic of Singapore, with which Malaysia is connected by a causeway and also by a separate bridge. To the southwest, across the Strait of Malacca, is the island of Sumatra in Indonesia. East Malaysia consists of the country’s two largest states, Sarawak and Sabah, and is separated from Peninsular Malaysia by some 400 miles (640 km) of the South China Sea. These two states occupy roughly the northern fourth of the large island of Borneo and share a land boundary with the Indonesian portion (Kalimantan) of the island to the south. Surrounded by Sarawak is a small coastal enclave containing the sultanate of Brunei. Of the country’s total area, which includes about 265 square miles (690 square km) of inland water, Peninsular Malaysia constitutes about 40 percent and East Malaysia about 60 percent.
The long, narrow, and rugged Malay Peninsula extends to the south and southwest from Myanmar and Thailand. The Malaysian portion of it is about 500 miles (800 km) long and—at its broadest east-west axis—about 200 miles (320 km) wide. About half of Peninsular Malaysia is covered by granite and other igneous rocks, one-third is covered by stratified rocks older than the granite, and the remainder is covered by alluvium. At least half the land area lies more than 500 feet (150 metres) above sea level.
Peninsular Malaysia is dominated by its mountainous core, which consists of a number of roughly parallel mountain ranges aligned north-south. The most prominent of these is the Main Range, which is about 300 miles (480 km) long and has peaks exceeding 7,000 feet (2,100 metres). Karst landscapes—limestone hills with characteristically steep whitish gray sides, stunted vegetation, caves created by the dissolving action of water, and subterranean passages—are distinctive landmarks in central and northern Peninsular Malaysia. Bordering the mountainous core are the coastal lowlands, 10 to 50 miles (15 to 80 km) wide along the west coast of the peninsula but narrower and discontinuous along the east coast.
East Malaysia is an elongated strip of land approximately 700 miles (1,125 km) long with a maximum width of about 170 miles (275 km). The coastline of 1,400 miles (2,250 km) is paralleled inland by a 900-mile (l,450-km) boundary with Kalimantan. For most of its length, the relief consists of three topographic features. The first is the flat coastal plain. In Sarawak, where the coastline is regular, the plain averages 20 to 40 miles (30 to 60 km) in width, while in Sabah, where the coastline is rugged and deeply indented, it is only 10 to 20 miles (15 to 30 km) wide. Inland from the coastal plain is the second topographic feature, the hill-and-valley region. Elevations there generally are less than 1,000 feet (300 metres), but isolated groups of hills reach heights of 2,500 feet (750 metres) or more. The terrain in this region is usually irregular, with steep-sided hills and narrow valleys. The third topographic feature is the mountainous backbone that forms the divide between East Malaysia and Kalimantan. This region, which is higher and nearer to the coast in Sabah than in Sarawak, is composed of an eroded and ill-defined complex of plateaus, ravines, gorges, and mountain ranges. Most of the summits of the ranges are between 4,000 and 7,000 feet (1,200 and 2,100 metres). Mount Kinabalu towers above this mountain complex; at 13,455 feet (4,101 metres), it is the highest peak in Malaysia and in the Southeast Asian archipelago as a whole.
Peninsular Malaysia is drained by an intricate system of rivers and streams. The longest river—the Pahang—is only 270 miles (434 km) long. Streams flow year-round because of the constant rains, but the volume of water transported fluctuates with the localized and torrential nature of the rainfall. Prolonged rains often cause floods, especially in areas where the natural regimes of the rivers have been disrupted by uncontrolled mining or agricultural activities.
As in Peninsular Malaysia, the drainage pattern of East Malaysia is set by the interior highlands, which also form the watershed between Malaysia and Indonesia. The rivers, also perennial because of the year-round rainfall, form a dense network covering the entire region. The longest river in Sarawak, the Rajang, is about 350 miles (563 km) long and is navigable by shallow-draft boats for about 150 miles (240 km) from its mouth; its counterpart in Sabah, the Kinabatangan, is of comparable length but is navigable only for about 120 miles (190 km) from its mouth. The rivers provide a means of communication between the coast and the interior, and historically, most settlement has taken place along the rivers.
The soils of both portions of Malaysia have been exposed for a long period of time to intense tropical weathering, with the result that most of their plant nutrients have been leached out. Soils typically are strongly acidic and coarse-textured and have low amounts of organic matter. Any organic matter is rapidly oxidized when exposed to weathering, and the soils consequently become even poorer. Soil erosion is always a danger on sloping ground, where such preventive measures as building contour embankments or planting protective cover crops are required.
Only a small proportion of the soils of Peninsular Malaysia is fertile, necessitating regular application of fertilizer to sustain crop yields. Generally, soil conditions in Sarawak and Sabah do not differ greatly from those on the peninsula. Of these three regions, only Sabah has appreciable areas of fertile soils. These are found in the southeastern coastal areas, where the parent substance from which the soil is formed is composed of chemically basic volcanic materials.
Both peninsular and insular Malaysia lie in the same tropical latitudes and are affected by similar airstreams. They have high temperatures and humidities, heavy rainfall, and a climatic year patterned around the northeast and southwest monsoons. The four seasons of the climatic year are the northeast monsoon (from November or December until March), the first intermonsoonal period (March to April or May), the southwest monsoon (May or June to September or early October), and the second intermonsoonal period (October to November). The onset and retreat of the two monsoons are not sharply defined.
Although Malaysia has an equatorial climate, the narrowness and topographic configuration of each portion—central mountainous cores with flat, flanking coastal plains—facilitate the inland penetration of maritime climatic influences. The monsoons further modify the climate. The northeast monsoon brings heavy rain and rough seas to the exposed coasts of southwestern Sarawak and northern and northeastern Sabah, and it sometimes causes flooding in the eastern part of the peninsula. The southwest monsoon affects mainly the southwestern coastal belt of Sabah, where flooding is common. Neither peninsular nor insular Malaysia is in the tropical cyclone (typhoon) belt, but their coasts occasionally are subject to the heavy rainstorms associated with squalls.
Temperatures are uniformly high throughout the year. On the peninsula, they average about 80 °F (27 °C) in most lowland areas. In coastal areas in East Malaysia, minimum temperatures range from the low to mid-70s F (about 23 °C), and maximum temperatures hover around 90 °F (32 °C); temperatures are lower in the interior highland regions. The mean annual rainfall on the peninsula is approximately 100 inches (2,540 mm); the driest location, Kuala Kelawang (in the district of Jelebu), near Kuala Lumpur, receives about 65 inches (1,650 mm) of rain per year, while the wettest, Maxwell’s Hill, northwest of Ipoh, receives some 200 inches (5,000 mm) annually. Mean annual precipitation in Sabah varies from about 80 to 140 inches (2,030 to 3,560 mm), while most parts of Sarawak receive 120 inches (3,050 mm) or more per year.
- Plant and animal life
The characteristic vegetation of Malaysia is dense evergreen rainforest. Rainforest still covers more than two-fifths of the peninsula and some two-thirds of Sarawak and Sabah; another fraction of the country is under swamp forest. Soil type, location, and elevation produce distinctive vegetation zones: tidal swamp forest on the coast, freshwater- and peat-swamp forest on the ill-drained parts of the coastal plains, lowland rainforest on the well-drained parts of the coastal plains and foothills up to an elevation of about 2,000 feet (600 metres), and submontane and montane forest (also called cloud forest) in higher areas. The highly leached and sandy soils of parts of central Sarawak and the coast support an open heathlike forest commonly called kerangas forest.
The flora of the Malaysian rainforest is among the richest in the world. There are several thousand species of vascular plants, including more than 2,000 species of trees, as well as the parasitic monster flower (Rafflesia arnoldii of the Rafflesiaceae family), which bears the world’s largest known flower, measuring nearly 3 feet (1 metre) in diameter. Numerous varieties of the carnivorous pitcher plants (Nepenthes) also grow in Malaysia’s forests. One acre (0.4 hectare) of forest may have as many as 100 different species of trees, as well as shrubs, herbs, lianas (creepers), and epiphytes (nonparasitic plants that grow on other plants and derive nourishment from the atmosphere). The forest canopy is so dense that little sunlight can penetrate it. As a result, the undergrowth usually is poorly developed and—contrary to popular belief—is not impenetrable. Much of the original rainforest has been destroyed by clearances made for agricultural or commercial purposes, by severe wind and lightning storms, and by indigenous peoples clearing it for shifting cultivation. When such cleared land is subsequently abandoned, coarse grassland, scrub, and secondary forest often develop.
The forests and scrublands are inhabited by a large variety of animal life. Mammals on the peninsula include elephants, tigers, Malayan gaurs (or seladang, massive wild oxen), Sumatran rhinoceroses, tapirs (hoofed and snouted quadrupeds), wild pigs, and many species of deer, including pelandok, or chevrotains (small, deerlike ruminants, commonly called mouse deer). Crocodiles, monitor lizards, and cobras also are indigenous to the country, while green sea turtles and giant leatherback turtles nest on the beaches of the east coast.
Animal life in East Malaysia is even more varied than it is on the peninsula. In addition to the peninsular species, East Malaysia is also the home of fast-disappearing orangutans and rhinoceroses, sun bears (also called honey bears), and unique proboscis monkeys—a reddish tree-dwelling species. There also are vast numbers of cave swifts, whose nests are regularly collected and sold as the main ingredient of Chinese bird’s nest soup.
Demography of Malaysia
- Nationality: Noun and adjective--Malaysian(s).
- Population (2006): 26.9 million.
- Annual growth rate: 1.8%.
- Ethnic groups: Malay 50.2%, Chinese 24.5%, indigenous 11.0%, Indian 7.2%, non-Malaysian citizens 5.9%, others 1.2%.
- Religions: Islam (60.4%), Buddhism (19.2%), Christianity (9.1%), Hinduism (6.3%), Confucianism (2.6%), tribal/folk (0.8%), other (0.4%), none/unknown (1.2%).
- Languages: Bahasa Melayu (official), Chinese (various dialects), English, Tamil, indigenous.
- Education: Years compulsory--6. Attendance--98.5% (primary), 82% (secondary). Literacy--93.5%.
- Health: Infant mortality rate (2005)--5.1 /1,000. Life expectancy (2005)--female 76.2 yrs., male 71.8 yrs.
- Work force (10.55 million, 2005): Services--51%; industry--36% (manufacturing--28.4%, mining and construction--7.6%); agriculture--13%.
The people of Malaysia are unevenly distributed between Peninsular and East Malaysia, with the vast majority living in Peninsular Malaysia. The population shows great ethnic, linguistic, cultural, and religious diversity. Within this diversity, a significant distinction is made for administrative purposes between indigenous peoples (including Malays), collectively called bumiputra, and immigrant populations (primarily Chinese and South Asians), called non-bumiputra.
- Ethnic groups and languages
The Malay Peninsula and the northern coast of Borneo, both situated at the nexus of one of the major maritime trade routes of the world, have long been the meeting place of peoples from other parts of Asia. As a result, the population of Malaysia, like that of Southeast Asia as a whole, shows great ethnographic complexity. Helping to unite this diversity of peoples is the national language, a standardized form of Malay, officially called Bahasa Malaysia (formerly Bahasa Melayu). It is spoken to some degree by most communities, and it is the main medium of instruction in public primary and secondary schools.
- PENINSULAR MALAYSIA
In general, peninsular Malaysians can be divided into four groups. In the order of their appearance in the region, these include the various Orang Asli (“Original People”) aboriginal peoples, the Malays, the Chinese, and the South Asians. In addition, there are small numbers of Europeans, Americans, Eurasians, Arabs, and Thai. The Orang Asli constitute the smallest group and can be classified ethnically into the Jakun, who speak a dialect of Malay, and the Semang and Senoi, who speak languages of the Mon-Khmer language family.
The Malays originated in different parts of the peninsula and archipelagic Southeast Asia. They constitute about half of the country’s total population, they are politically the most powerful group, and, on the peninsula, they are numerically dominant. They generally share with each other a common culture, but with some regional variation, and they speak dialects of a common Austronesian language—Malay. The most obvious cultural differences occur between the Malays living near the southern tip of the peninsula and those inhabiting the eastern and western coastal areas. Unlike the other ethnic groups of Malaysia, Malays are officially defined in part by their adherence to a specific religion, Islam.
The Chinese, who make up about one-fourth of Malaysia’s population, originally migrated from southeastern China. They are linguistically more diverse than the Malays, speaking several different Chinese languages; in Peninsular Malaysia, Hokkien and Hainanese (Southern Min languages), Cantonese, and Hakka are the most prominent. Because these languages are not mutually intelligible, it is not uncommon for two Chinese to converse in a lingua franca such as Mandarin Chinese, English, or Malay. The community that is colloquially called Baba Chinese includes those Malaysians of mixed Chinese and Malay ancestry who speak a Malay patois but otherwise remain Chinese in customs, manners, and habit.
The peoples from South Asia—Indians, Pakistanis, and Sri Lankans—constitute a small but significant portion of the Malaysian population. Linguistically, they can be subdivided into speakers of Dravidian languages (Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, and others) and speakers of Indo-European languages (Punjabi, Bengali, Pashto, and Sinhalese). The Tamil speakers are the largest group.
The population of East Malaysia is ethnographically even more complex than that of Peninsular Malaysia. The government, tending to oversimplify the situation in Sarawak and Sabah, officially recognizes only some of the dozens of ethnolinguistic groups in those two states.
The main ethnic groups in Sarawak are the Iban (Sea Dayak), an indigenous group accounting for more than one-fourth of the state’s population, followed by the Chinese, Malays, Bidayuh (Land Dayak), and Melanau. An array of other peoples, many of whom are designated collectively as Orang Ulu (“Upriver People”), constitute an important minority. The various indigenous peoples of Sarawak speak distinct Austronesian languages.
The Iban, formidable warriors of the 19th and early 20th centuries, trace their origins to the Kapuas River region in what is now northern West Kalimantan, Indonesia. The traditional Iban territory in Sarawak spans the hilly southwestern interior of the state. Iban who still live in rural regions usually cultivate rice through shifting agriculture, whereby fields are cleared, planted for a short period, and then abandoned for several years to allow the soil to regenerate. The Iban language is related to, but distinct from, Malay.
The Chinese of Sarawak generally live in the region between the coast and the uplands. In the rural areas, they usually grow cash crops in smallholdings. They speak mostly Hakka and Fuzhou (a Northern Min language) rather than Cantonese, Hokkien, and Hainanese, which are predominant among peninsular Chinese.
Few Malays of Sarawak are of peninsular origin; rather, most are the descendants of various indigenous peoples who since the mid-15th century have converted to Islam. Despite their diverse ancestries, the Malays of Sarawak and those of Peninsular Malaysia share many cultural characteristics, cultivated largely through the practice of a common religion. Sarawak Malays, however, speak dialects of the Malay language that are distinct from those spoken by their peninsular counterparts.
Like the Iban, the Bidayuh originally came from regions that now lie in northwestern Indonesian Borneo; in Sarawak the Bidayuh homeland is in the far western portion of the state. Most rural Bidayuh practice shifting rice cultivation. Although they have for centuries lived in close proximity to the Iban, the Bidayuh speak a separate language, with a number of different but related dialects that to some extent are mutually intelligible.
Sarawak’s south-central coastal wetlands between the city of Bintulu and the Rajang River are the traditional territory of the Melanau. The Melanau are especially known for their production of starch from the sago palms that surround their villages. Culturally and linguistically linked to certain inland peoples to the southeast, the Melanau purportedly moved to the coast from the interior centuries ago. The dialects of the northeastern portion of the Melanau region differ so starkly from those of the southwest that some local Melanau speakers hear the dialects as separate languages.
Smaller indigenous groups, such as the Orang Ulu—an ethnic category embracing the Kenyah, Kayan, Kelabit, Bisaya (Bisayah), Penan, and others—also contribute much to Sarawak’s ethnic and cultural character. The Kenyah, Kayan, and Kelabit generally trace their origins to the southern mountains on the border with East Kalimantan, Indonesia. Other Orang Ulu groups stem from lower-lying inland areas, primarily in Sarawak’s northeastern region. Many distinct languages, some with multiple dialects, are spoken by Sarawak’s indigenous peoples, often within just a few miles of each other.
Sabah also has a kaleidoscopic mixture of peoples. The largest groups, who in roughly equal numbers account for about half of the population, are the Kadazan (also called Dusun or Kadazan Dusun), the Bajau, and the Malays. Indigenous peoples, such as the Murut, Kedayan, Orang Sungei, and Bisaya, together constitute a significant portion of the state’s inhabitants as well. Chinese, Europeans, Eurasians, Indonesians, Filipinos, and South Asians make up the remainder.
Until the late 20th century, the Kadazan were generally called Dusun, an ethnic term that, like the term Orang Ulu in Sarawak, applied to a number of related peoples. Since that time, however, Kadazan has become the more common term in colloquial usage. For administrative purposes, the government has used both names together, sometimes merging them into the term Kadazandusun (especially when referring to language). The various Kadazan peoples speak related dialects that most other Kadazan can understand.
Sabah’s Chinese population is predominantly Hakka-speaking, but there are also many speakers of Cantonese, Hokkien, Chaozhou (Chaoshan), and Hainanese. The Bajau are a diverse community split into two main groups: sedentary agriculturists of the north coast and seafaring people of the east coast. Their languages, which are related to those of the southern Philippines, are not all mutually intelligible. The Murut of Sabah inhabit an area from the western lowland south through the hills into East Kalimantan, Indonesia. The lowland-dwelling Murut generally call themselves Timugon, while their upland counterparts are known as Tagal. Both communities engage in shifting agriculture. Murut languages are, for the most part, mutually intelligible.
Islam, Malaysia’s official religion, is followed by about three-fifths of the population. With adherence to Islam as one of the most important factors distinguishing a Malay from a non-Malay, Malays are overwhelmingly Muslim, both in Peninsular and East Malaysia. The Chinese do not have a dominant religion; many, while subscribing to the moral precepts of Confucianism, follow Buddhism or Daoism; a small minority adheres to various denominations of Christianity. Most of the Indians and Sri Lankans practice Hinduism, while the Pakistanis are predominantly Muslim. Some Indians are Christian. The Sikhs, originally from the Indian state of Punjab, largely adhere to their own religion, Sikhism.
Among the non-Malay indigenous peoples, many of the peninsula’s Orang Asli have adopted Islam, but some communities maintain local religions. In Sarawak, the Iban, the Bidayuh, and most others tend to follow Anglicanism, various other Protestant Christian denominations, or Roman Catholicism. The Melanau, however, are primarily Muslim, with a Christian minority. Local religions have been maintained by only small segments of Sarawak’s population. Local religions also are practiced by a minority of the non-Malay indigenous populations of Sabah. The Kadazan and Murut are primarily Christian, although there is also a significant Muslim community. Most Bajau follow Islam.
- Settlement patterns
- RURAL SETTLEMENT
About one-third of Malaysia’s population is rural. The basic administrative unit in both East and Peninsular Malaysia is the kampung (village, or community of houses).
In Peninsular Malaysia rural houses usually are built of wood and raised on stilts. Some still feature a thatched roof, called an atap, woven from the leaves of the nipa palm (Nypa fruticans; a species also used for basketry). In the 21st century, however, roofs of corrugated metal are much more common. Each house is typically surrounded by a grove of coconut palms and scattered banana, papaya, and other fruit trees. The four main types of rural Malay settlement—fishing villages, paddy or wet-rice (irrigated) villages, cash-crop villages, and mixed-crop villages—all conform to this basic structural pattern on the peninsula.
Most other villages in Peninsular Malaysia are associated with peoples who have settled in the country since the early 19th century. The first of these immigrant settlements were mining camps, established primarily by Chinese around tin fields in the west. Some of the camps have since grown into large towns, but others—especially in the Kinta River valley—have remained small. In the mid-1800s the British introduced the plantation system of agriculture, and the subsequent cultivation of rubber (Hevea brasiliensis) and oil palm trees (Elaeis guineensis) changed the face of rural Peninsular Malaysia. Added to the landscape was the plantation (estate) settlement, typically a group of buildings consisting of the processing factory and storehouse, the labourers’ quarters, and the manager’s house. Many of the workers on these plantations were from southern India, brought to Malaysia by the British colonial government, especially during the rubber boom of the early 20th century; plantation housing has continued to be occupied largely by Indian Malaysians.
New Villages represent a type of settlement that is unique to Peninsular Malaysia. They were originally established by the government as roadside relocation settlements for rural Chinese during the Malayan Emergency (1948–60), a period of intense conflict between the British administration and a (largely Chinese) communist guerrilla insurgency that arose after World War II. With the end of the emergency in 1960, some of the New Villages were abandoned, but most of them became permanent settlements.
A more recent and significant government program has involved the resettlement of poor Malays into forest areas, which are cleared and planted in rubber trees and oil palms. Since the mid-20th century, hundreds of thousands of families have been resettled.
Much of the population of East Malaysia still lives in rural areas, where a great variety of settlement types is encountered. This variety is a direct reflection of the considerable ethnic diversity of the population and of the mixture of indigenous and immigrant groups that have settled in the rural areas. The non-Malay indigenous ethnic groups are thinly scattered in the foothill country, the mountains, and, to some extent, in the coastal lowlands as well. They are primarily shifting cultivators and live in locations on or near riverbanks. The traditional dwelling of most of these peoples is the longhouse. Each longhouse is raised on piles and is composed of a number of rooms, known (in both Iban and Malay) as bilik; each bilik houses a family. A longhouse can grow by accretions of related families, and an Iban longhouse, for example, may in time reach a length of dozens of bilik. Many groups, especially the Melanau of Sarawak and the Kadazan of Sabah, have abandoned the longhouse settlement form in favour of single-family dwellings. Some, however, particularly in Sarawak, have chosen to maintain old longhouses or to build new ones, often using an upgraded design.
The Malays and the Melanau of East Malaysia share many characteristics with their rural counterparts on the peninsula. They tend to be riverine and coastal peoples, with an economy based on agriculture and fishing. Many live in villages in the midst of coconut palms, mangroves, or other swamp trees. Their houses generally are built on stilts. The rural Chinese, by contrast, typically live in homesteads strung along both sides of the roads. Their houses are commonly built at ground level and thus are easily distinguishable from the stilt-raised dwellings of the indigenous peoples.
- URBAN SETTLEMENT
The cities and large towns of Peninsular Malaysia were built up during the colonial and postcolonial periods and are distributed mainly in the tin and rubber belt along the west side of the peninsula. The towns are associated with mining, manufacturing and industry, trade, and administrative functions, although each town usually functions in several of these areas. Some towns are located at coastal or riverine sites, reflecting the early importance of water transport, while more recently developed towns have been built in inland areas that rely on road, rail, and air transport.
Urbanization in Peninsular Malaysia has been especially rapid since the 1970s. Planned satellite towns, such as Petaling Jaya and Shah Alam (made the state capital of Selangor in 1978), outside Kuala Lumpur, have emerged as cities, while new settlements have sprouted alongside them. Most of the towns of Peninsular Malaysia, however, are unplanned, having grown up around small nuclei. Urban land use generally is mixed, and buildings are put to multiple uses. Many streets that were built for a more leisurely era are now too narrow and often congested. In the larger cities, such as Kuala Lumpur, Ipoh, and George Town (on the island of Penang), distinct central business districts have arisen. These areas are densely populated and characterized by heavy street traffic, high land values, and a concentration of shopping, banking, insurance, entertainment, and other facilities.
Urbanization in Sarawak and Sabah also has proceeded at a quick pace, indeed surpassing that of some of the states of Peninsular Malaysia by the early 21st century. The largest towns are Kuching, Miri, and Sibu in Sarawak and Kota Kinabalu, Sandakan, and Tawau in Sabah. The large towns invariably are located on coastal or riverine sites. The layout and appearance of these towns are markedly similar: a wharf area, rows of Chinese shop-houses in the central business districts, more-substantial buildings in the governmental administrative area, and one or more villages of timber and thatch (or corrugated metal) built on the riverbanks.
- Demographic trends
Before World War II, there was a free flow of people to and from both Peninsular and East Malaysia, and the rate of population growth was greatly influenced by a net surplus from immigration. However, a series of laws passed since 1945, particularly after the political separation of Singapore in 1963, restricted the entry of immigrants from all countries. Thus, legal immigration has long ceased to be a major cause of population growth.
The major area of population concentration in Peninsular Malaysia is an axis of economic development on the west side of the peninsula. Smaller concentrations are found in the Kelantan and Terengganu river deltas in the northeast. Most of the remainder of the peninsula—the interior uplands and most of the east—is sparsely populated. The bulk of the population of the peninsula’s urban centres is Chinese and Malay, with Indians and Pakistanis forming a small but salient minority.
The population density of East Malaysia is considerably less than that of the rest of the country. As on the peninsula, settlements are concentrated along the coasts and rivers. In Sarawak the density of people in the southwest makes this region the most important in East Malaysia. In Sabah the population is similarly clustered on the coast, but riverine settlements are less important there than they are in Sarawak. Malays are less prominent in Sabah’s cities than on the peninsula; Chinese, various non-Malay indigenous peoples, and, in some areas, Indonesians account for the vast majority of the urban population.
Economy of Malaysia
Malaysia’s economy has been transformed since 1970 from one based primarily on the export of raw materials (rubber and tin) to one that is among the strongest, most diversified, and fastest-growing in Southeast Asia. Primary production remains important: the country is a major producer of rubber and palm oil, exports considerable quantities of petroleum and natural gas, and is one of the world’s largest sources of commercial hardwoods. Increasingly, however, Malaysia has emphasized export-oriented manufacturing to fuel its economic growth. Using the comparative advantages of a relatively inexpensive but educated labour force, well-developed infrastructure, political stability, and an undervalued currency, Malaysia has attracted considerable foreign investment, especially from Japan and Taiwan.
Since the early 1970s the government has championed a social and economic restructuring strategy, first known as the New Economic Policy (NEP) and later as the New Development Policy (NDP), that has sought to strike a balance between the goals of economic growth and the redistribution of wealth. The Malaysian economy has long been dominated by the country’s Chinese and South Asian minorities. The goal of the NEP and the NDP has been to endow the Malays and other indigenous groups with greater economic opportunities and to develop their management and entrepreneurial skills. Official economic policy also has encouraged the private sector to assume a greater role in the restructuring process. A major component of this policy has been the privatization of many public-sector activities, including the national railway, airline, automobile manufacturer, telecommunications, and electricity companies.
- Agriculture, forestry, and fishing
Agriculture, forestry, and fishing once formed the basis of the Malaysian economy, but between 1970 and the early 21st century their contribution to the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) declined from roughly one-third to less than one-tenth. Similarly, the proportion of the labour force engaged in agriculture decreased from about one-half to less than one-eighth over the same time span, and the trend has continued.
The main food crop, rice, is grown on small farms. Despite the widespread advances brought about by the introduction of improved plant varieties and chemical fertilizers and pesticides (the so-called Green Revolution of the 1960s and ’70s), rice production declined steadily during the second half of the 20th century. The main causes of this decline were unfavourable weather conditions and the loss of farm labour to urban manufacturing jobs. Increasingly deficient in rice production, the country has been forced to make up the shortfall with imports, chiefly from Thailand. Consequently, the government has taken measures to raise its self-sufficiency in rice, largely by implementing programs to consolidate smallholdings and to increase labour productivity through group farming schemes; by 2000 production had begun to rise, despite the continued labour shortage.
Rubber and palm oil are the dominant cash crops. Although the contribution of rubber to GDP has declined significantly since the mid-20th century, rubber production remains important and closely tied to domestic manufacturing. Palm oil plantations have proliferated since the 1970s, to some degree at the expense of rubber plantations. By the early 21st century, Malaysia had become one of the world’s top producers of palm oil. Other common cash crops include cocoa, pepper, coffee, tea, various fruits, and coconuts.
The extensive forests of both Peninsular Malaysia and East Malaysia are heavily exploited for their timber. The lowland evergreen tropical rain forest, rich in species of the economically valuable Dipterocarpaceae family, is the principal forest formation of commercial importance. Sarawak and Sabah account for the greater part of all timber production. Concern has been raised, however, about the pace of deforestation caused by the combination of shifting agriculture and intensive logging operations in East Malaysia. Attempts have been made to curtail log exports from the region and to substitute wood-based industries, such as the manufacture of plywood and furniture. Logging remains important in Peninsular Malaysia, although much of the easily accessible timber has been cut. The region also has a long history of careful forest management and conservation. The government in 2005 launched a forest plantation scheme—part of a sustainability initiative pitched to the private sector—to plant lands primarily with rubberwood but also with acacia, teak, and an easily workable hardwood called sentang.
Historically, most of Malaysia’s fish catch has been from the shallow seas off its coasts, where the water’s nutrient levels—and hence its productivity—generally have been low. In the 1970s the country’s fishing industry was improved and expanded, notably by the addition of trawlers and mechanized fishing boats. This allowed the more abundant offshore fish resources to be tapped, leading to a dramatic increase in catches. Malaysia has become a major fishing country, even though production peaked in about 1980 and much of the fishing industry has remained confined to the overexploited shallow onshore waters. As a result, the government has actively promoted deep-sea fishing and aquaculture production. Although the latter industry has been rather slow to develop, by the early 21st century more than one-tenth of Malaysia’s fish yield came from aquaculture.
- Resources and power
Malaysia is rich in mineral resources, and mining (including petroleum extraction) accounts for a significant portion of GDP, although it employs only a tiny fraction of the workforce. The major metallic ores are tin, bauxite (aluminum), copper, and iron. A host of minor ores found within the country include manganese, antimony, mercury, and gold. Tin is found largely in alluvial deposits along the western slopes of the Main Range in Peninsular Malaysia, with smaller deposits on the east coast of the peninsula; its production formed one of the pillars of the country’s economic development in the mid-20th century. Malaysia’s bauxite production is centred near Johor at the south end of the peninsula, while the country’s copper comes from western Sabah.
Since the 1970s, tin output has declined dramatically because of the depletion of readily accessible alluvial deposits, rising mining costs, and fluctuating demand in the world tin market. Nevertheless, the country has remained among the world’s top suppliers of tin. Production of other minerals (except petroleum) similarly decreased during the last decades of the 20th century, although the mining of iron ore began to rebound in the mid-1990s.
Malaysia’s most valuable mineral resources are its reserves of petroleum and natural gas. Crude oil, refined petroleum, and, more recently, liquefied natural gas together account for a major portion of the country’s commodity export earnings. Almost all the major oil and gas fields are offshore—off the east coast of the peninsula, the northeast coast of Sarawak, and the west coast of Sabah.
Malaysia is self-sufficient in energy production, and petroleum resources constitute the major energy source for power generation. The country’s proven reserves of coal and peat are not economical to mine and have remained largely unexploited. Wood and charcoal were once common domestic fuels, but in the urban areas they have been replaced by bottled gas. A small portion of Malaysia’s power is generated by hydroelectric plants, mostly on the peninsula. The abundant rainfall and steep gradients of the rivers in the interior highlands of both Peninsular and East Malaysia hold great potential for further hydroelectric development; in Sarawak, construction of a large hydroelectric dam on the Balui River began in the 1990s and continued into the 21st century. Malaysia also has begun to produce biofuel from palm oil.
Manufacturing has undergone rapid expansion since the 1970s, with the aim of producing goods for export, while shifting away from import substitution (a policy of replacing imported products with those made domestically). By the early 21st century the sector had become the backbone of Malaysia’s economic growth, constituting the largest share (nearly one-third) of the country’s GDP and employing more of the workforce than all the primary activities (e.g., agriculture and mining) combined.
Growth has been especially notable in the assembly of electronic equipment, electrical machinery, and appliances, as well as in the production of chemicals and textiles. There also has been substantial development of a variety of heavy industries, including steelmaking and automobile production—the latter implemented through a Malaysian-Japanese joint venture. Peninsular Malaysia, especially the urban area of Kuala Lumpur and the rest of the developed zone along the western side of the peninsula, is responsible for the bulk of the country’s manufacturing output.
One strategy designed to promote manufactured exports has been the establishment of a number of free-trade zones, which have provided duty-free access to imported raw materials and semifinished parts in addition to numerous investment and export incentives. Industrial estates also have been established in less-developed parts of the country to stimulate manufacturing and to balance industrial growth, but manufacturing capacity has remained highly concentrated. The country’s heavy industries—more important politically than economically—generally have been saddled with excess capacity and high production costs. Increasingly, development strategy has shifted to the promotion of small and medium industries that manufacture their own parts and acquire technology from more economically developed countries, the aim being to move beyond the stage of assembly-only manufacturing. Such initiatives have enabled Malaysian industries such as automobile manufacturing to move from assembly-only production in the mid-1980s to full-fledged production—with minimal reliance on imported components—in the 21st century.
Malaysia has an active and growing financial sector, which has been encouraged by government policies that promote foreign investment, market competition, and the privatization of publicly held enterprises. Banking and insurance are regulated by the state-run Bank Negara Malaysia, which issues the national currency, the ringgit. The state permits a variety of banking activities, including semipublic banks that operate on Islamic financial principles. Since 1990 the island of Labuan, off the southwest coast of Sabah, has served as an international financial centre; a regulatory authority there issues offshore banking licenses. Kuala Lumpur has a commodity exchange and a stock exchange.
Malaysia’s export structure shifted dramatically during the last decades of the 20th century, from one dominated by rubber and tin to one in which manufactured goods accounted for well over half of all export earnings by the early 21st century. Electrical and electronic products constitute the largest proportion of exported manufactures. Commodities exports, however, especially palm oil and rubber, remain important. Imports are dominated by electronics parts, machinery, and other manufactured goods. Malaysia’s chief trading partners are Japan, Singapore (because of its status as an entrepôt port in the region), the United States, and mainland China. Other prominent partners include Thailand, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and South Korea. Malaysia belongs to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), and trade with member countries has been increasing.
- Labour and taxation
Malaysia’s rapid economic expansion has created a great demand for additional labour for the manufacturing, construction, and service sectors. Although the labour shortage has tended to increase wages—attracting many workers from rural regions—companies nevertheless have found it necessary to recruit foreign labour, primarily from Indonesia, the Philippines, Bangladesh, and Thailand. The presence of foreign workers in large numbers has become a source of social and political tension within Malaysia. Moreover, the rural-to-urban migration prompted by industrialization has led to severe labour shortages in the rural economy.
The primary role of the country’s fiscal system is to raise revenue for governmental expenditure, and the greater part of its revenue is raised through taxation. Direct (income) taxes on companies (including petroleum companies) and individuals constitute the primary source of tax revenue. Indirect taxes (e.g., customs and excise duties), however, also contribute significantly to the national budget.
Although Malaysia’s transportation systems improved considerably in the second half of the 20th century, demand generally has continued to outstrip capacity. In addition, much more attention has been given to developing the infrastructure of Peninsular Malaysia than that of East Malaysia. The peninsula’s road network includes high-speed express highways and numerous hard-surfaced secondary roads; it is especially well developed in the major industrial states of the western region. The road network in Sarawak and Sabah is less extensive, with fewer paved roads. Malaysia’s small railway system is of much less significance than its roads and is confined primarily to the peninsula, where it runs from the southern tip (where it is connected to Singapore) northward to the border with Thailand. The country’s first light-rail transport was inaugurated in Kuala Lumpur in 1996. Since then, several monorail and express lines have opened in the Kuala Lumpur metropolitan area, and a private company has established regular and rapid commuter service on double-tracked, electrified lines between Kuala Lumpur, Port Kelang on the western coast, and several other cities nearby.
River transport is of great importance in East Malaysia, especially in Sarawak. In addition, Malaysia’s long and accessible coastlines have fostered maritime trade for more than a millennium. Several ports, notably Port Kelang (the principal port) and Penang on the Strait of Malacca, have become major container-handling facilities. Numerous other ports have been developed, including Tanjung Pelepas and Pasir Gudang in the southern state of Johor, Kuantan on the eastern coast of the peninsula, Kuching in Sarawak, and Kota Kinabalu in Sabah.
Air transport has grown rapidly, with passenger traffic increasing especially on the peninsula. An internal air network connects almost all Malaysian states. Airports in Penang, Kota Kinabalu, and Kuching have limited international service. In 1998 a new international airport opened in Sepang, about 30 miles (50 km) south of Kuala Lumpur, replacing the old international airport in Subang, about 15 miles (25 km) west of the capital city. The airport in Subang has continued to offer some domestic and specialized service.
Government of Malaysia
- Type: Federal parliamentary democracy with a constitutional monarch.
- Independence: August 31, 1957. (Malaya, which is now peninsular Malaysia, became independent in 1957. In 1963 Malaya, Sabah, Sarawak, and Singapore formed Malaysia. Singapore became an independent country in 1965.)
- Constitution: 1957.
- Subdivisions: 13 states and three federal territories (Kuala Lumpur, Labuan Island, Putrajaya federal administrative territory). Each state has an assembly and government headed by a chief minister. Nine of these states have hereditary rulers, generally titled "sultans," while the remaining four have appointed governors in counterpart positions.
- Executive--Yang di-Pertuan Agong (head of state and customarily referred to as the king; has ceremonial duties), prime minister (head of government), cabinet.
- Legislative--bicameral parliament, comprising 70-member Senate (26 elected by the 13 state assemblies, 44 appointed by the king on the prime minister's recommendation) and 219-member House of Representatives (elected from single-member districts).
- Judicial--Federal Court, Court of Appeals, high courts, session's courts, magistrate's courts, and juvenile courts. Sharia courts hear cases on certain matters involving Muslims only.
- Political parties: Barisan Nasional (National Front)--a coalition comprising the United Malays National Organization (UMNO) and 13 other parties, most of which are ethnically based; Democratic Action Party (DAP); Parti Islam se Malaysia (PAS); Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR). There are more than 30 registered political parties, including the foregoing, not all of which are represented in the federal parliament.
- Suffrage: Universal adult (voting age 21).
Culture Life of Malaysia
Malaysia is a federal constitutional monarchy with a ceremonial head of state—a monarch—who bears the title Yang di-Pertuan Agong (“paramount ruler”) and who is elected from among nine hereditary state rulers for a five-year term. The Malaysian constitution, drafted in 1957 following the declaration of independence (from the British) by the states of what is now Peninsular Malaysia, provides for a bicameral federal legislature, consisting of the Senate (Dewan Negara) as the upper house and the House of Representatives (Dewan Rakyat) as the lower. The paramount ruler appoints a prime minister from among the members of the House of Representatives. On the advice of the prime minister, the monarch then appoints the other ministers who make up the cabinet. The number of ministers is not fixed, but all must be members of the federal parliament. The federal government also includes an independent judiciary and a politically neutral civil service.
The powers of the federal parliament are relatively broad and include the authority to legislate in matters concerning government finances, defense, foreign policy, internal security, the administration of justice, and citizenship. The constitution also provides that some issues may be addressed by either the federal legislature or a state legislature. Of the roughly 200 members of the House of Representatives, about two-thirds are from Peninsular Malaysia, one is from the federal territory of Labuan, and the remaining seats are divided fairly evenly between Sarawak and Sabah. Members are elected to office from single-member constituencies to terms of five years. The Senate consists of about six dozen members; of these, nearly two-thirds (including those from the federal territories of Kuala Lumpur and Labuan) are appointed by the paramount ruler on the recommendation of the prime minister, and the others are elected by the state legislative assemblies. Election to either house is by a simple majority, but amendments to the constitution require a two-thirds majority. A bill passed by both houses and sanctioned by the Yang di-Pertuan Agong becomes a federal law.
Local government Malaysia comprises 13 states and 3 federal territories. Each state has its own written constitution, legislative assembly, and executive council, which is responsible to the legislative assembly and headed by a chief minister. The federal territories, which include the capital city region of Kuala Lumpur, the administrative capital of Putrajaya, and the island of Labuan off the coast of East Malaysia, carry the same status as states, but they do not have separate legislatures or heads of state.
Most of the peninsular states are led by hereditary rulers. Johor, Kedah, Kelantan, Pahang, Perak, Selangor, and Terengganu have sultans, while Perlis has a raja (“king”), and Negeri Sembilan is ruled by the Yang di-Pertuan Besar (“chief ruler”). The heads of state of Melaka, Penang Island (Pulau Pinang; also Penang), Sarawak, and Sabah—known as Yang di-Pertuan Negeri (“state ruler”)—are appointed to office. The ruler of a state acts on the advice of the state government. The constitution provides for federal parliamentary elections and for elections to state legislatures, to be held at least every five years.
All states in Malaysia are subdivided into districts. In Sarawak and Sabah, however, these districts are grouped into larger administrative units called divisions. The village, headed by a tua kampung (“village leader”), is the smallest unit of government.
Justice Sultan Abdul Samad Building [Credit: Bernard Pierre Wolff/Photo Researchers]The constitution of Malaysia, which is the supreme law of the country, provides that the judicial power of the federation shall be vested in two High Courts—one in Peninsular Malaysia, called the High Court in Malaya, and the other in East Malaysia, called the High Court in Sarawak and Sabah—and also in subordinate courts. Appeals from the High Courts are heard first by the Court of Appeal; they may then be appealed to the highest court in Malaysia, the Federal Court (formerly called the Supreme Court), which is headed by a chief justice. A separate Special Court handles cases involving charges against the paramount ruler or the heads of states.
Each High Court consists of a chief judge and a number of other justices. The High Court has criminal and civil jurisdiction and may pass any sentence allowed by law. Below each High Court are three subordinate courts: the Sessions Court, the Magistrates’ Court, and the Court for Children. These lower courts have criminal and civil jurisdiction—criminal cases come before one or the other court depending on the seriousness of the offense and civil cases depending on the sum involved. In addition, there are religious courts in those Malay states that are established under Islamic law (syariah, or Sharīʿah). These Islamic courts are governed by state—not federal—legislation.
Political process Malaysia has a multiparty political system; the country has held free elections and generally has changed prime ministers peacefully. All citizens who are at least 21 years old are permitted to vote. Although their numbers in political positions have been increasing since the late 20th century, women have remained underrepresented in the political process. Most ministerial appointments are held by Malays, but a few posts are filled by indigenous and nonindigenous minorities.
Party affiliation generally is based on ethnicity, although this tendency has diminished somewhat since the mid-20th century. Malaysian political life and government has been dominated since the early 1970s by the National Front (Barisan Nasional), a broad coalition of ethnically oriented parties. Among the oldest and strongest of these parties are the United Malays National Organization (UMNO; long the driving force of the National Front), the Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA), the Malaysian Indian Congress (MIC), and several parties from Sarawak and Sabah, including Sarawak United Peoples’ Party (SUPP) and the Sabah United Party (Parti Bersatu Sabah; PBS). The main opposition parties are the Democratic Action Party (DAP), which consists primarily of Chinese; the Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party (Parti Islam SeMalaysia; Pas); and, since the early 21st century, the People’s Justice Party (Parti Keadilan Rakyat; PKR). There are also a number of smaller parties based mainly in Sarawak and Sabah.
Security The Malaysian armed forces have increased in strength and capability since the formation of Malaysia in 1963. After the withdrawal of British military forces from Malaysia and Singapore at the end of 1971, a five-country agreement between Malaysia, Singapore, New Zealand, Australia, and the United Kingdom was concluded to ensure defense against external aggression. Additional regional security is provided by ASEAN.
The armed forces consist of an army, a navy, and an air force. The army is the most experienced and the largest of the three units, constituting roughly three-fourths of all military personnel. The Royal Malaysian Navy concentrates mainly on defending the long indented coastlines and narrow waters of the country. The Royal Malaysian Air Force has combat aircraft as well as many transport aircraft and helicopters. Military service is voluntary, with a minimum age requirement of 18 years.
The states of Malaysia inherited from their common colonial past an internal security system based on the British model. The police force is well trained and combats not only crime but also armed insurrections. As a paramilitary unit, the police are separate from the armed forces.
Health and welfare The general level of health improved considerably in the second half of the 20th century. This improvement not only contributed significantly to a decline in death and infant-mortality rates but also, by the 21st century, largely freed Malaysia from many of the diseases that plague tropical countries. Such diseases as malaria remain a problem in some rural areas, however. Health conditions and health facilities vary among the states, but facilities are generally better equipped and staffed in Peninsular Malaysia than in Sabah and Sarawak. Health services generally are more extensive in the towns and cities than in the rural areas. Segments of the rural population often rely to some extent on traditional treatments rather than on doctors and medicines that are the product of formal research and academic training. Most health services are provided by the government. Welfare services, however, are provided by both government and private agencies and include relief programs for senior citizens, for the economically disadvantaged, and for people with disabilities.
Housing The multicultural character of the population of Malaysia is visibly reflected in the wide variety of houses, which range from the traditional longhouses and stilt houses of the rural peoples to examples of modern high-rise architecture in the cities. Housing shortages are rare in rural areas, but squatter settlements are common in the larger towns and cities. A governmental housing authority has had success in establishing low-cost housing in urban areas.
- A group of girls from a Muslim school in Kuala Lumpur, Malay.
>Paul Chesley—Stone/Getty Images
The federal government allocates a significant portion of its budget to education, and it provides free public schooling at the primary and secondary levels. Although only six years of primary education (from age six) are compulsory, most children receive at least some secondary education. Secondary school consists of one three-year segment followed by a four-year segment; students may enroll in a technical or vocational school (in lieu of pursuing a strictly academic curriculum) for their second segment of secondary study.
The number of students advancing to the postsecondary level rose rapidly in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. The country offers dozens of tertiary institutions, including universities, teacher-training colleges, and other public and private institutions with assorted specializations. Among the most prominent institutions of higher learning are the University of Malaya (1962) in Kuala Lumpur, the University of Science, Malaysia (1969) in Penang, the National University of Malaysia (1970) in Bangi, and the International Islamic University (1983) in Kuala Lumpur. Major state universities were established in Sarawak and Sabah in the mid-1990s.
History of Malaysia
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; he ultimately (Jan., 2012) was acquitted for questionable evidence. 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. 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 Oct., 2013.
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.
Malaysia Area: 329,847 sq km (127,355 sq mi) Population (2005 est.): 26,130,000 Capital: Kuala Lumpur; some government offices have moved to Putrajaya (the new planned capital) Chief of state: Yang ...>>>Read On<<<
Malaysia Area: 329,847 sq km (127,355 sq mi) Population (2004 est.): 25,584,000 Capital: Kuala Lumpur; some government offices have moved to Putrajaya (the new planned capital) Chief of state: Yang ...>>>Read On<<<
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