Malaysia Country Facts - Tips

Malaysia Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs
October 2007

Background Note: Malaysia

Flag of Malaysia is 14 equal horizontal stripes of red (top) alternating with
white (bottom); there is a blue rectangle in the upper hoist-side corner
bearing a yellow crescent and a yellow 14-pointed star.



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.

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
Languages: Bahasa Melayu (official), Chinese (various dialects), English,
Tamil, indigenous.
Education: Years compulsory--6. Attendance--98.5% (primary), 82% (secondary).
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%.

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.
Branches: 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).

Economy (2005)
Nominal GDP: $130.8 billion.
Annual real GDP growth rate: 7.1% (2004); 5.2% (2005).
Per capita (GDP) income: $5,042.
Natural resources: petroleum, liquefied natural gas (LNG), tin, minerals.
Agricultural products: palm oil, rubber, timber, cocoa, rice, tropical fruit,
fish, coconut.
Industry: Types--electronics, electrical products, chemicals, food and
beverages, metal and machine products, apparel.
Trade: Merchandise exports--$145.0 billion: electronics, electrical products,
palm oil, petroleum, liquid natural gas, apparel, timber and logs, plywood
and veneer, natural rubber. Major markets--U.S. 18.8%, Singapore 15.0%, Japan
10.1%. Merchandise imports--$118.0 billion: machinery, chemicals,
manufactured goods, fuels, and lubricants. Major suppliers--Japan 16.1%, U.S.
14.6%, Singapore 11.2%.

Malaysia's multi-racial society contains many ethnic groups. Malays comprise
a majority of just over 50%. By constitutional definition, all Malays are
Muslim. About a quarter of the population is ethnic Chinese, a group which
historically played an important role in trade and business. Malaysians of
Indian descent comprise about 7% of the population and include Hindus,
Muslims, Buddhists, and Christians. Non-Malay indigenous groups combine to
make up approximately 11% of the population.

Population density is highest in peninsular Malaysia, home to some 20 million
of the country's 27 million inhabitants. The remaining 7 million live on the
Malaysian portion of the island of Borneo in the large but less
densely-populated states of Sabah and Sarawak. More than half of Sarawak's
residents and about two-thirds of Sabah's are from indigenous groups.

The early Buddhist Malay kingdom of Srivijaya, based at what is now
Palembang, Sumatra, dominated much of the Malay peninsula from the 9th to the
13th centuries AD. The powerful Hindu kingdom of Majapahit, based on Java,
gained control of the Malay peninsula in the 14th century. Conversion of the
Malays to Islam, beginning in the early 14th century, accelerated with the
rise of the state of Malacca under the rule of a Muslim prince in the 15th
century. Malacca was a major regional commercial center, where Chinese, Arab,
Malay, and Indian merchants traded precious goods.

Drawn by this rich trade, a Portuguese fleet conquered Malacca in 1511,
marking the beginning of European expansion in Southeast Asia. The Dutch
ousted the Portuguese from Malacca in 1641. The British obtained the island
of Penang in 1786 and temporarily controlled Malacca with Dutch acquiescence
from 1795 to 1818 to prevent it from falling to the French during the
Napoleonic war. The British gained lasting possession of Malacca from the
Dutch in 1824, through the Anglo-Dutch treaty, in exchange for territory on
the island of Sumatra in what is today Indonesia.

In 1826, the British settlements of Malacca, Penang, and Singapore were
combined to form the Colony of the Straits Settlements. From these
strongholds, in the 19th and early 20th centuries the British established
protectorates over the Malay sultanates on the peninsula. During their rule
the British developed large-scale rubber and tin production and established a
system of public administration. British control was interrupted by World War
II and the Japanese occupation from 1941 to 1945.

Popular sentiment for independence swelled during and after the war. The
territories of peninsular Malaysia joined together to form the Federation of
Malaya in 1948 and eventually negotiated independence from the British in
1957. Tunku Abdul Rahman became the first prime minister. In 1963 the British
colonies of Singapore, Sarawak, and Sabah joined the Federation, which was
renamed Malaysia. Singapore's membership was short-lived, however; it left in
1965 and became an independent republic.

Neighboring Indonesia objected to the formation of Malaysia and began a
program of economic, political, diplomatic, and military "confrontation"
against the new country in 1963, which ended only after the fall of
Indonesia's President Sukarno in 1966. Internally, local communists, nearly
all Chinese, carried out a long, bitter insurgency both before and after
independence, prompting the imposition of a state of emergency from 1948 to
1960. Small bands of guerrillas remained in bases along the rugged border
with southern Thailand, occasionally entering northern Malaysia. These
guerrillas finally signed a peace accord with the Malaysian Government in
December 1989. A separate, small-scale communist insurgency that began in the
mid-1960s in Sarawak also ended with the signing of a peace accord in October

Malaysia is a constitutional monarchy, nominally headed by the Yang
di-Pertuan Agong, customarily referred to as the king. Kings are elected for
5-year terms from among the nine sultans of the peninsular Malaysian states.
The king also is the leader of the Islamic faith in Malaysia.

Executive power is vested in the cabinet led by the prime minister; the
Malaysian constitution stipulates that the prime minister must be a member of
the lower house of parliament who, in the opinion of the Yang di-Pertuan
Agong, commands a majority in parliament. The cabinet is chosen from among
members of both houses of parliament and is responsible to that body.

The bicameral parliament consists of the Senate (Dewan Negara) and the House
of Representatives (Dewan Rakyat). All 70 Senate members sit for 3-year
terms, which are normally extended for an additional 3 years; 26 are elected
by the 13 state assemblies, and 44 are appointed by the king. Representatives
of the House are elected from single-member districts by universal adult
suffrage. The 219 members of the House of Representatives are elected to
parliamentary terms lasting up to 5 years. Legislative power is divided
between federal and state legislatures.

The Malaysian legal system is based on English common law. The Federal Court
reviews decisions referred from the Court of Appeal; it has original
jurisdiction in constitutional matters and in disputes between states or
between the federal government and a state. Peninsular Malaysia and the East
Malaysian states of Sabah and Sarawak each have a high court.

The federal government has authority over external affairs, defense, internal
security, justice (except civil law cases among Malays or other Muslims and
other indigenous peoples, adjudicated under Islamic and traditional law),
federal citizenship, finance, commerce, industry, communications,
transportation, and other matters.

Principal Government Officials
Prime Minister--Datuk Seri Utama Abdullah bin Ahmad Badawi
Foreign Minister--Datuk Seri Syed Hamid Albar
Ambassador to the U.S.--Datin Paduka Rajmah Hussein
Ambassador to the UN--Datuk Hamidon bin Ali

Malaysia maintains an embassy in the U.S. at 3516 International Court NW,
Washington, DC 20008, tel. (202) 572-9700; a Consulate General at 550 South
Hope Street, Suite 400, Los Angeles, CA 90071, tel. (213) 892-1238; and a
Consulate General at 313 East 43rd Street, New York City, NY 10017, tel.
(212) 490-2722/23.

Malaysia's predominant political party, the United Malays National
Organization (UMNO), has held power in coalition with other parties since
independence in 1957. The UMNO coalition's share of the vote declined in
national elections held in May 1969, after which riots broke out in Kuala
Lumpur and elsewhere, mainly between Malays and ethnic Chinese. Several
hundred people were killed or injured. The government declared a state of
emergency and suspended all parliamentary activities.

In the years that followed, Malaysia undertook several initiatives that
became integral parts of its socioeconomic model. The New Economic Policy
(NEP), launched in 1971, contained a series of affirmative action policies
designed to benefit Malays and certain indigenous groups (together known as
bumiputera or "sons of the soil"). The Constitution was amended to limit
dissent against the specially-protected and sensitive portions of the
Constitution pertaining to the social contract. The government identified
intercommunal harmony as one of its official goals. The previous alliance of
communally based parties was replaced with a broader coalition--the Barisan
Nasional (BN) or National Front. The BN won large majorities in the 1974
federal and state elections.

Dr. Mahathir Mohamad was Prime Minister between 1981 and 2003, leading UMNO
and BN to successive election victories. Mahathir emphasized economic
development during his tenure, in particular the export sector, as well as
large scale infrastructure projects. Mahathir attributed the success of the
Asian tiger economies to the "Asian values" of its people, which he believed
were superior to those of the West. Mahathir sharply criticized the
International Monetary Fund (IMF), international financiers such as George
Soros, and Western governments during the sharp economic and financial crisis
that affected Asia in 1997-8, and denied that the downturn was due to the
failures of corruption and "crony capitalism."

The end of Mahathir's tenure was marred by a falling out with his deputy and
presumed successor, Anwar Ibrahim. In September 1998, Mahathir dismissed
Anwar and accused him of immoral and corrupt conduct. Although Anwar was
convicted on both charges in 1999 and 2000, the trials were viewed as
seriously flawed. Malaysia's Federal Court eventually freed Anwar after
overturning his immoral conduct conviction in September 2004.

Mahathir stepped down as prime minister in October 2003 after 22 years in
power, and his successor, Deputy Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, was
sworn into office. Abdullah called elections and won an overwhelming victory
in March 2004, with Barisan Nasional taking 199 of 219 seats in the lower
house of parliament. UMNO itself won 110 seats. The Islamic opposition party
(PAS), which had made electoral inroads in 1999, was reduced to six seats in
parliament and lost control of the state of Terengganu. The left of center
Democratic Action Party (DAP), with predominately urban ethnic Chinese
support, won 12 seats in parliament, and party chairman Lim Kit Siang became
Leader of the Opposition in parliament.

Since taking office, Abdullah, an Islamic scholar, has promoted the concept
of "Islam Hadhari" or "civilizational Islam," emphasizing the importance of
education, social harmony, and economic progress. His relationship with
Mahathir eventually soured, and the former prime minister now expresses
regret at supporting Abdullah to be his successor. Under the terms of the
constitution the government must next call elections no later than May 2009.

Since it became independent, Malaysia's economic record has been one of
Asia's best. Real gross domestic product (GDP) grew by an average of 6.5% per
year from 1957 to 2005. Performance peaked in the early 1980s through the
mid-1990s, as the economy experienced sustained rapid growth averaging almost
8% annually. High levels of foreign and domestic investment played a
significant role as the economy diversified and modernized. Once heavily
dependent on primary products such as rubber and tin, Malaysia today is a
middle-income country with a multi-sector economy based on services and
manufacturing. Malaysia is one of the world's largest exporters of
semiconductor devices, electrical goods, and information and communication
technology (ICT) products.

The government has taken an active role in guiding the nation's economic
development. Malaysia's New Economic Policy (NEP), first established in 1971,
sought to eradicate poverty and to enhance the economic standing of ethnic
Malays and other indigenous peoples (collectively known as "bumiputeras").
One NEP goal was to expand the share of corporate equity owned by ethnic
Malays. In June 1991, after the NEP expired, the government unveiled its
National Development Policy, which contained many of the NEP's goals. In
April 2001, the government released a new plan, the "National Vision Policy,"
to guide development over the period 2001-2010. The National Vision Policy
targets education for budget increases and seeks to refocus the economy
toward higher-technology production. The stated goal is for Malaysia to be a
fully developed economy by 2020.

The Malaysian economy went into sharp recession in 1997-1998 during the Asian
financial crisis, which affected countries throughout the region, including
South Korea, Indonesia, and Thailand. Malaysia's GDP contracted by more than
7% in 1998. Malaysia narrowly avoided a return to recession in 2001 when its
economy was negatively impacted by the bursting of the dot-com bubble (which
hurt the ICT sector) and slow growth or recession in many of its important
export markets.

In July 2005, the government removed the 7-year old peg linking the ringgit's
value to the U.S. dollar at an exchange rate of RM 3.8/U.S.$1.0. The dollar
peg was replaced by a managed float against an undisclosed basket of
currencies. The new exchange rate policy was designed to keep the ringgit
more broadly stable and to avoid uncertain currency swings which could harm

Regional cooperation is a cornerstone of Malaysia's foreign policy. It was a
founding member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and
served as the group's chair most recently in 2005-2006. It hosted the ASEAN
Summit and East Asia Summit in December 2005, as well as the ASEAN
Ministerial and the ASEAN Regional Forum in July 2006.

Malaysia is an active member of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC),
the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), the Non-Aligned Movement
(NAM), and the United Nations. It is the current chair of the OIC and has
also chaired the NAM. Malaysia hosted the APEC Leaders' Meeting in 1998.

Malaysia is a frequent contributor to UN and other peacekeeping missions,
including recent deployments to East Timor, Indonesia, Pakistan, Sierra
Leone, Kosovo, and Lebanon.

The United States and Malaysia share a diverse and expanding partnership.
Economic ties are robust. The United States is Malaysia's largest trading
partner and Malaysia is the tenth-largest trading partner of the U.S. Annual
two-way trade amounts to $49 billion. The United States and Malaysia launched
negotiations for a bilateral free trade agreement (FTA) in June 2006.

The United States is the largest foreign investor in Malaysia. American
companies are particularly active in the energy, electronics, and
manufacturing sectors. The cumulative value of U.S. private investment in
Malaysia exceeds $10 billion.

The United States and Malaysia enjoy strong security cooperation. Malaysia
hosts the Southeast Asia Regional Center for Counterterrorism (SEARCCT),
where over 1,100 officials from multiple countries have received training.
The United States is the largest foreign provider of training courses at the
center. The U.S. and Malaysia share a strong military-to-military
relationship with numerous exchanges, training, joint exercises, and visits.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice visited Kuala Lumpur in July 2006.

Principal U.S. Embassy Officials
Ambassador--James R. Keith
Deputy Chief of Mission--David B. Shear
Political Counselor--Mark D. Clark
Economic Counselor--Matt J. Matthews
Commercial Counselor--Joseph B. Kaesshaefer
Public Affairs Officer--Phillip Hoffmann
Agricultural Counselor--Jonathan P. Gressel
Consul--Andrew T. Miller

The U.S. Embassy in Malaysia is located at 376 Jalan Tun Razak, 50400 Kuala
Lumpur (tel. 60-3-2168-5000, fax 60-3-2142-2207).

The U.S. Department of State's Consular Information Program advises Americans
traveling and residing abroad through Consular Information Sheets, Public
Announcements, and Travel Warnings. Consular Information Sheets exist for all
countries and include information on entry and exit requirements, currency
regulations, health conditions, safety and security, crime, political
disturbances, and the addresses of the U.S. embassies and consulates abroad.
Public Announcements are issued to disseminate information quickly about
terrorist threats and other relatively short-term conditions overseas that
pose significant risks to the security of American travelers. Travel Warnings
are issued when the State Department recommends that Americans avoid travel
to a certain country because the situation is dangerous or unstable.

For the latest security information, Americans living and traveling abroad
should regularly monitor the Department's Bureau of Consular Affairs Internet
web site at, where the current Worldwide Caution,
Public Announcements, and Travel Warnings can be found. Consular Affairs
Publications, which contain information on obtaining passports and planning a
safe trip abroad, are also available at For
additional information on international travel, see

The Department of State encourages all U.S citizenstraveling or residing
abroad to register via the State Department's travel registration website or
at the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate abroad. Registration will make your
presence and whereabouts known in case it is necessary to contact you in an
emergency and will enable you to receive up-to-date information on security

Emergency information concerning Americans traveling abroad may be obtained
by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll free in the U.S. and Canada or the regular
toll line 1-202-501-4444 for callers outside the U.S. and Canada.

The National Passport Information Center (NPIC) is the U.S. Department of
State's single, centralized public contact center for U.S. passport
information. Telephone: 1-877-4USA-PPT (1-877-487-2778). Customer service
representatives and operators for TDD/TTY are available Monday-Friday, 7:00
a.m. to 12:00 midnight, Eastern Time, excluding federal holidays.

Travelers can check the latest health information with the U.S. Centers for
Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia. A hotline at 877-FYI-TRIP
(877-394-8747) and a web site at give the
most recent health advisories, immunization recommendations or requirements,
and advice on food and drinking water safety for regions and countries. A
booklet entitled "Health Information for International Travel" (HHS
publication number CDC-95-8280) is available from the U.S. Government
Printing Office, Washington, DC 20402, tel. (202) 512-1800.

Further Electronic Information
Department of State Web Site. Available on the Internet at http://, the Department of State web site provides timely, global
access to official U.S. foreign policy information, including Background
Notes and daily press briefings along with the directory of key officers of
Foreign Service posts and more. The Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC)
provides security information and regional news that impact U.S. companies
working abroad through its website provides a portal to all export-related assistance and market
information offered by the federal government and provides trade leads, free
export counseling, help with the export process, and more.
STAT-USA/Internet, a service of the U.S. Department of Commerce, provides
authoritative economic, business, and international trade information from
the Federal government. The site includes current and historical
trade-related releases, international market research, trade opportunities,
and country analysis and provides access to the National Trade Data Bank. ***********************************************************
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