Malaysia is a federation of 13 states in Southeast Asia, formed in 1963. The country consists of two geographical regions divided by the South China Sea:


  • Peninsular Malaysia (or West Malaysia) on the Malay Peninsula shares a land border on the north with Thailand and is connected by the Johor-Singapore Causeway and the Malaysia-Singapore Second Link to the south with Singapore. It consists of the 9 sultanate states of Johor, Kedah, Kelantan, Negeri Sembilan, Pahang, Perak, Perlis, Selangor and Terengganu, two states with a governor namely Malacca and Penang, and the two federal territories of Putrajaya and Kuala Lumpur.

  • Malaysian Borneo (or East Malaysia) occupies the northern part of the island of Borneo, bordering Indonesia and surrounding the Sultanate of Brunei. It consists of the states of Sabah and Sarawak and the federal territory of Labuan island.



Map of Peninsular and East Malaysia



As states of Malaysia were formerly British colonies, many Malaysian institutions are based on those of the British. For instance, the Malaysian system of government draws heavily on the British Westminster system. The head of state is the Yang di-Pertuan Agong (colloquially referred to as the King), who is elected from among the state sultans to a five-year term, making Malaysia one of two elective monarchies in the world (the other is Vatican City).


As a constitutional monarchy, executive power is vested in the Prime Minister, with the King serving as more of a figurehead. The legislative branch consists of Parliament, which is mostly based on the British Parliament. A judiciary has also been established under the Constitution. The Barisan Nasional (National Front), a coalition of several political parties, has ruled Malaysia since Malaya's independence in 1957.


Initially heavily dependent on agricultural and mining activities, the Malaysian economy has since shifted its focus to manufacturing and tourism as its major sources of income. Despite the shift, Malaysia remains one of the top producers of rubber and palm oil. In the 1970s, the government implemented the controversial New Economic Policy (NEP) to address an income disparity between the Malays and Chinese.


Although historically dominated by the Malays, modern Malaysian society is heterogeneous, with substantial Chinese and Indian minorities. Malaysian politics have been noted for their allegedly communal nature; the three major component parties of the Barisan Nasional each restrict membership to those of one ethnic group, and the only major violence the country has seen since independence was the May 13 Incident of racial rioting in the wake of an election campaign based on racial issues.



The name of the Federation


Article 1(1) of the Federal Constitution states that "The federation shall be known, in Malay and English, as Malaysia". The name "Federation of Malaysia" therefore has no official sanction.


The name Malaysia was adopted in 1963 when Singapore, Sabah and Sarawak joined the Federation of Malaya to form Malaysia. Prior to 1963, the Federation of Malaya was known as Persekutuan Tanah Melayu in Malay, and the official names were therefore different in the two languages.





The Malay Peninsula has long benefited from its central position in the maritime trade routes between China and the Middle East. Ptolemy showed it on his early map with a label that translates as "Golden Chersonese", the Straits of Malacca as "Sinus Sabaricus".


The earliest recorded Malay kingdoms grew from coastal city-ports established in the 10th century AD. These include Langkasuka and Lembah Bujang in Kedah, as well as Beruas and Gangga Negara in Perak and Pan Pan in Kelantan. It is thought that originally these were Hindu or Buddhist nations. The first evidence of Islam in the Malay peninsula dates from the 14th century in Terengganu, but according to the Kedah Annals, the 9th Maharaja Derbar Raja (1136-1179 AD) of Sultanate of Kedah converted to Islam and changed his name to Sultan Muzaffar Shah. Since then there have been 27 Sultans who ruled Kedah.


There were numerous Malay kingdoms in the 2nd and 3rd century A.D., as many as 30 according to Chinese sources. Kedah – known as Kedaram or Kataha, in ancient Pallava or Sanskrit – was in the direct route of invasions of Indian traders and kings. Rajendra Chola, who is now thought to have laid Kota Gelanggi to waste, put Kedah to heel in 1025 but his successor, Vir Rajendra Chola, had to put down a Kedah rebellion to overthrow the invaders.


The Buddhist kingdom of Ligor took control of Kedah shortly after, and its King Chandrabhanu used it as a base to attack Sri Lanka in the 11the century, an event noted in a stone inscription in Nagapattinum in Tamil Nadu and in the Sri Lankan epic, Mahavamsa. During the first millennium, the people of the Malay peninsula adopted Hinduism and Buddhism and the use of the Sanskrit language until they were eventually converted to Islam, but not before Hinduism, Buddhism and Sanskrit became embedded into the Malay worldview.


We can still see traces of this in political ideas, social structure, rituals, language, arts and cultural practices. To this day, when a Malay considers anything important, he looks for a Sanskrit word to describe it: It is the Sanskrit pradana mantri (the Malay perdana mentri) here while in another Malay land, it is Penghulu ng Pilipina for its president. The Proton car model names are from Sanskrit whilst the Perodua resorts to Malay names.


There are reports of other areas older than Kedah – the ancient kingdom of Ganganegara, around Bruas in Perak, for instance – that pushes Malaysian history even further into antiquity. If that is not enough, a Tamil poem, Pattinapillai, of the second century A.D., describes goods from Kadaram heaped in the broad streets of the Chola capital; a seventh century Sanskrit drama, Kaumudhimahotsva, refers to Kedah as Kataha-nagari. The Agnipurana also mentions a territory known Anda-Kataha with one of its boundaries delineated by a peak, which scholars believe is Gunong Jerai. Stories from the Katasaritasagaram describe the life of elegance of life in Kataha.


All this is revealed after earlier archaeological and historical inquiry. Kota Gelanggi does not, it would appear, reveal more than the details of that long India, Hindu, Buddhist, Chola presence, the fitting of a historical jig-saw of a land that has a rich and enviable history long before the advent of Islam. We have been constrained by a mental block of not wanting to look beyond the Sejarah Melayu for our historical past. Malaysia's first prime minister, and a scion of the Kedah royal family, wanted independent Malaya to be know as Langkasuka, a kingdom that a millennium ago dominated north Malaya and southern Thailand, but he gave up the idea when he discovered that its capital was in Thailand. And the present contretemps between Malaysia and Thailand over the southern Thai Malays is also caught in this cultural time-warp.


In the early 15th century, the Sultanate of Malacca was established under a dynasty founded by Parameswara, a prince from Palembang, who fled from the island Temasek (now Singapore). Parameswara decided to establish his kingdom in Malacca after witnessing an astonishing incident where a white mouse deer kicked one of his hunting dogs. With Malacca as its capital, the sultanate controlled the areas which are now Peninsula Malaysia, southern Thailand (Patani), and the eastern coast of Sumatra. It existed for more than a century, and within that time period Islam spread to most of the Malay Archipelago. Malacca was the foremost trading port at the time in Southeast Asia.




Kuala Lumpur, capital city of Malaysia



In 1511, Malacca was conquered by Portugal, which established a colony there. The sons of the last sultan of Malacca established two sultanates elsewhere in the peninsula - the Sultanate of Perak to the north, and the Sultanate of Johor (originally a continuation of the old Malacca sultanate) to the south. After the fall of Malacca, three nations struggled for the control of Malacca Strait: the Portuguese (in Malacca), the Sultanate of Johor, and the Sultanate of Aceh. This conflict went on till 1641, when the Dutch (allied to the Sultanate of Johor) gained control of Malacca.


Britain established its first colony in the Malay peninsula in 1786, with the granting of the island of Penang to the British East India Company by the Sultan of Kedah. In 1824, the British took control of Malacca following the Anglo-Dutch Treaty of 1824 which divided the Malaya archipelago between Britain and the Netherlands, with Malaya in the British zone. In 1826, Britain established the crown colony of the Straits Settlements, uniting its three possessions in Malaya: Penang, Malacca and Singapore. The Straits Settlements were administered under the East India Company in Calcutta until 1867, when they were transferred to the Colonial Office in London.


During the late 19th century, many Malay states decided to obtain British help in settling their internal conflicts. The commercial importance of tin mining in the Malay states to merchants in the Straits Settlements led to British government intervention in the tin-producing states in the Malay Peninsula. British gunboat diplomacy was employed to bring about a peaceful resolution to civil disturbances caused by Chinese gangsters, and the Pangkor Treaty of 1874 paved the way for the expansion of British influence in Malaya. By the turn of the 20th century the states of Pahang, Selangor, Perak, and Negeri Sembilan, known together as the Federated Malay States (not to be confused with the Federation of Malaya), were under the de facto control of British Residents appointed to advise the Malay rulers. The British were "advisers" by name but in reality they were the puppet masters behind the Malay rulers.


The remaining five states in the peninsula, known as the Unfederated Malay States, while not directly under rule from London, also accepted British advisors around the turn of the 20th century. Of these, the four northern states of Perlis, Kedah, Kelantan and Terengganu had previously been under Siamese control.


On the island of Borneo, Sabah was governed as the crown colony of British North Borneo, while Sarawak was acquired from Brunei as the personal kingdom of the Brooke family, who ruled as white rajahs. As part of its history, the Sultanate of Sulu was granted the territory as a prize for helping the Sultan of Brunei against his enemies, and from then on that part of Borneo is recognized as part of the Sultan of Sulu's sovereignty. In 1878, Baron Von Overbeck, an Austrian partner representing The British North Borneo Co. and his partner British Alfred Dent, leased the territory known as "Sabah" - roughly translated as "the land beneath the winds". In return the company will provide arms to the Sultan to resist the Spaniards and 5,000 Malaysian ringgits annual rental based on the Mexican dollars value at that time or its equivalent in gold. This lease have been continued until the independence and formation of the Malaysian federation in 1963 together with Singapore, Sarawak and Malaysia. Up to these days, the Malaysians have been continuing the rental payment of 5,300 Malaysian Ringgit - a 300 Ringgit increased from original rent.


Following the Japanese occupation of Malaya (1942-1945) during World War II, popular support for independence grew. Post-war British plans to unite the administration of Malaya under a single crown colony called the Malayan Union foundered on strong opposition from the Malays, who opposed the emasculation of the Malay rulers and the granting of citizenship to the ethnic Chinese. The Malayan Union, established in 1946 and consisting of all the British possessions in Malaya with the exception of Singapore, was dissolved in 1948 and replaced by the Federation of Malaya, which restored the autonomy of the rulers of the Malay states under British protection.


During this time, rebels under the leadership of the Communist Party of Malaya launched guerrilla operations designed to force the British out of Malaya. The Malayan Emergency, as it was known, lasted from 1948 to 1960, and involved a long anti-insurgency campaign by Commonwealth troops in Malaya. Against this backdrop, independence for the Federation within the Commonwealth was granted on 31 August 1957.


In 1963 the Federation was expanded with the admission of the then-British crown colonies of Singapore, Sabah (British North Borneo) and Sarawak, and renamed Malaysia. The Sultanate of Brunei, though initially expressing interest in joining the Federation, withdrew from the planned merger due to opposition from certain segments of the population as well as arguments over the payment of oil royalties.


The early years of independence were marred by conflict with Indonesia (Konfrontasi) over the formation of Malaysia, Singapore's eventual exit in 1965, and racial strife in the form of racial riots in 1969 (popularly known as the "May 13" riots). The Philippines also made an active claim on Sabah in that period based upon the Sultanate of Brunei's cession of its north-east territories to the Sultanate of Sulu in 1704. The claim is still ongoing.


After the May 13 racial riots of 1969, the controversial New Economic Policy - intended to increase the share of the economic pie owned by the bumiputeras as opposed to other ethnic groups - was launched by Prime Minister Tun Abdul Razak. Malaysia has since maintained a delicate ethno-political balance, with a system of government that has attempted to combine overall economic development with political and economic policies that favour Bumiputras, which includes the majority Malays, but not always the indigenous population.


Between the 1980s and the early 1990s, Malaysia experienced significant economic growth under the premiership of Tun Dr Mahathir bin Mohamad. The period saw a shift from an agriculture-based economy to one based on manufacturing and industry in areas such as computers and consumer electronics. It was during this period, too, that the physical landscape of Malaysia has changed with the emergence of numerous mega-projects. The most notable of these projects are the Petronas Twin Towers (at the time the tallest building in the world), KL International Airport (KLIA), the Sepang F1 Circuit, the Multimedia Super Corridor (MSC), the Bakun hydroelectric dam and Putrajaya, a new federal administrative capital.


In the late 1990s, Malaysia was shaken by the Asian financial crisis as well as political unrest caused by the sacking of the deputy prime minister Dato' Seri Anwar Ibrahim. In 2003, Dr Mahathir, Malaysia's longest serving prime minister, retired in favour of his deputy, Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, commonly known as Pak Lah.




Kuala Lumpur's landmark, the Petronas Twin Towers

The tallest twin towers in the world





Malaysia is a federal constitutional elective monarchy. It is nominally headed by the Paramount Ruler or Yang di-Pertuan Agong, commonly referred to as the King of Malaysia. Yang di-Pertuan Agong are selected for five-year terms from among the nine Sultans of the Malay states; the other four states, which have titular Governors, do not participate in the selection.


The system of government in Malaysia is closely modeled on that of Westminster parliamentary system, a legacy of British colonial rule. In practice however, more power is vested in the executive branch of government than in the legislative, and the judiciary has been weakened by sustained attacks by the government during the Mahathir era. Parliamentary elections are held at least once every five years, with the last general election being in March 2004. Since independence in 1957, Malaysia has been governed by a multi-racial coalition known as the Barisan Nasional (formerly the Alliance).


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


The bicameral parliament consists of the upper house, the Senate or Dewan Negara (literally the "Chamber of the Nation") and the lower house, the House of Representatives or Dewan Rakyat (literally the "Chamber of the People"). All 69 Senators sit for 6-year terms; 26 are elected by the 13 state assemblies, and 43 are appointed by the king. The 219 members of the House of Representatives are elected from single-member constituencies by universal adult suffrage, for a maximum term of 5 years. Legislative power is divided between federal and state legislatures.


The state governments are led by chief ministers (Menteri Besar or Ketua Menteri, the latter term being used in states without hereditary rulers), selected by the state assemblies (Dewan Undangan Negeri) advising their respective sultans or governors.


The national media are largely controlled by the government and by political parties in the Barisan Nasional/National Front ruling coalition and the opposition has little access to the media. The print media are controlled by the Government through the requirement of obtaining annual publication licences under the Printing and Presses Act.





The two distinct parts of Malaysia, separated from each other by the South China Sea, share a largely similar landscape in that both West and East Malaysia feature coastal plains rising to often densely forested hills and mountains, the highest of which is Mount Kinabalu at 4,095.2 metres (13,435.7 ft) on the island of Borneo. The local climate is equatorial and characterised by the annual southwest (April to October) and northeast (October to February) monsoons.


Tanjung Piai, located in the southern state of Johor, is the southernmost tip of continental Asia - if Singapore, an island connected to the continent by a man-made causeway, is excluded.


The Strait of Malacca, lying between Sumatra and West Malaysia, is arguably the most important shipping lane in the world.


Putrajaya is the newly created administrative capital for the federal government of Malaysia, aimed in part to ease growing congestion within Malaysia's capital city, Kuala Lumpur. The prime minister's office moved in 1999 and the move is expected to be completed in 2005. Kuala Lumpur remains the seat of parliament, as well as the commercial and financial capital of the country. Other major cities include George Town, Ipoh, Johor Bahru, Kuching, Alor Star and Petaling Jaya.




World location map South China sea and Malaysia





The Malay Peninsula and indeed Southeast Asia has been a centre of trade for centuries. Various items such as porcelain and spice were actively traded even before Malacca and Singapore rose to prominence.


In the 17th century, large deposits of tin were found in several Malay states. Later, as the British started to take over as administrators of Malaya, rubber and palm oil trees were introduced for commercial purposes. Over time, Malaya became the world's largest major producer of tin, rubber, and palm oil. These three commodities, along with other raw materials, firmly set Malaysia's economic tempo well into the mid-20th century.


Instead of relying on the local Malays as a source of labour, the British brought in Chinese and Indians to work on the mines and plantations. Although many of them returned to their respective home countries after their agreed tenure ended, some remained in Malaysia and settled permanently.


As Malaya moved towards independence, the government began implementing economic five-year plans, beginning with the First Malayan Five Year Plan in 1955. Upon the establishment of Malaysia, the plans were re-titled and renumbered, beginning with the First Malaysia Plan in 1965.


In 1970s, Malaysia began to imitate the footsteps of the original four Asian Tigers and committed itself to a transition from being reliant on mining and agriculture to an economy that depends more on manufacturing. With Japanese investment, heavy industries flourished and in a matter of years, Malaysian exports became the country's primary growth engine. Malaysia consistently achieved more than 7% GDP growth along with low inflation in the 1980s and the 1990s.


During the same period, the government tried to eradicate poverty with the controversial New Economic Policy (NEP), in the wake of the May 13 Incident of racial rioting in 1969. Its main objective was the elimination of the association of race with economic function, and the first five-year plan to begin implementing the NEP was the Second Malaysia Plan. The success or failure of the NEP is the subject of much debate, although it was officially retired in 1990 and replaced by the National Development Policy (NDP).


The rapid economic boom led to a variety of supply problems, however. Labour shortages soon resulted in an influx of millions of foreign workers, many illegal. Cash-rich PLCs and consortiums of banks eager to benefit from increased and rapid development began large infrastructure projects. This all ended when the Asian Financial Crisis hit in the fall of 1997, delivering massive shock to Malaysia's economy.


As characteristic of other countries affected by the crisis, there was speculative short-selling of the Malaysian currency, the ringgit. Foreign direct investment fell at an alarming rate and, as capital flowed out of the country, the value of the ringgit dropped from MYR 2.50 per USD to, at one point, MYR 4.80 per USD. The Kuala Lumpur Stock Exchange's composite index plummeted from approximately 1300 points to nearly merely 400 points in a matter of weeks. After the sacking of finance minister Anwar Ibrahim, a National Economic Action Council was formed to deal with the monetary crisis. Bank Negara imposed capital controls and pegged the Malaysian ringgit at 3.80 to a US dollar. Malaysia refused economic aid packages from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank, however, surprising many analysts.


In March 2005, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) published a paper on the sources and pace of Malaysia's recovery, written by Jomo K.S. of the applied economics department, University of Malaya, Kuala Lumpur. The paper concluded that the controls imposed by Malaysia's government neither hurt nor helped recovery. The chief factor was an increase in electronics components exports, which was caused by a large increase in the demand for components in the United States, which was caused, in turn, by a fear of the effects of the arrival of the year 2000 (Y2K) upon older computers and other digital devices.


However, the post Y2K slump of 2001 did not affect Malaysia as much as other countries. This may have been clearer evidence that there are other causes and effects that can be more properly attributable for recovery. One possibility is that the currency speculators had run out of finance after failing in their attack on the Hong Kong dollar in August 1998 and after the Russian ruble collapsed.


Regardless of cause/effect claims, rejuvenation of the economy also coincided with massive government spending and budget deficits in the years that followed the crisis. Later, Malaysia enjoyed faster economic recovery compared to its neighbours. In many ways, however, the country has yet to recover to the levels of the pre-crisis era.


While the pace of development today is not as rapid, it is seen to be more sustainable. And, although the controls and economic housekeeping may not have been the principal reason for recovery, there is no doubt that the banking sector is more resilient to external shocks now. The current account has also settled into a structural surplus providing a cushion to capital flight. Asset prices are now a fraction of their pre-crisis heights.


The fixed exchange rate regime was abandoned in July 2005 in favour of managed floating system within an hour of China's announcing of the same move. In the same week, the ringgit strengthened a percent against various major currencies and was expected to appreciate further. As of December 2005, however, expectations of further appreciation were muted as capital flight exceeded USD 10 billion.


In September 2005, Sir Howard J. Davies, director of the London School of Economics, at a meeting Kuala Lumpur, cautioned Malaysian officials that if they want a flexible capital market, they will have to lift the ban on short-selling put into effect during the crisis. On March 23 2006, Malaysia removed the ban on short selling.



Natural resources


Malaysia is well-endowed with natural resources in areas such as agriculture, forestry as well as minerals. In terms of agriculture, Malaysia is the world's primary exporter of natural rubber and palm oil, which together with saw logs and sawn timber, cocoa, pepper, pineapple and tobacco dominate the growth of the sector. Palm oil is also a major foreign exchange earner.


Regarding forestry resources, it is noted that logging only began to make a substantial contribution to the economy during the nineteenth century. Today an estimated 59 percent of Malaysia remains forested. The rapid expansion of the timber industry, particularly after the 1960s, has brought about a serious erosion problem in the country's forest resources. However, in line with the Government's commitment to protect the environment and the ecological system, forestry resources are being managed on a sustainable basis and accordingly the rate of tree felling has been on the downtrend.


In addition, substantial areas are being silviculturally treated and reforestation of degraded forest land is also being carried out. The Malaysian government provide plans for the enrichment of some 312.30 square kilometres (120.5 sq mi) of land with rattan under natural forest conditions and in rubber plantations as an intercrop. To further enrich forest resources, fast-growing timber species such as meranti tembaga, merawan and sesenduk are also being planted. At the same time, the cultivation of high-value trees like teak and other trees for pulp and paper are also encouraged. Rubber, once the mainstay of the Malaysian economy, has been largely replaced by oil palm as Malaysia's leading agricultural export.


Tin and petroleum are the two main mineral resources that are of major significance in the Malaysian economy. Malaysia was once the world's largest producer of tin until the collapse of the tin market in the early 1980s. In the 19th and 20th Century, tin played a predominant role in the Malaysian economy. It was only in 1972 that petroleum and natural gas took over from tin as the mainstay of the mining sector. Meanwhile, the contribution by tin has declined. Petroleum and natural gas which were discovered in oilfields offshore from Sabah, Sarawak and Terengganu have contributed much to the Malaysian economy particularly in those three states. Other minerals of some importance or significance include copper, gold, bauxite, iron-ore and coal together with industrial minerals like clay, kaolin, silica, limestone, barite, phosphates and dimension stones such as granite as well as marble blocks and slabs. Small quantities of gold are produced.


In 2004, Minister in the Prime Minister's Department, Datuk Mustapa Mohamed, revealed that Malaysia's oil reserves stood at 4.84 billion barrels while natural gas reserves increased to 89 trillion cubic feet (2,500 km³). This was an increase of 7.2 percent.


The government predicts that at current production rates Malaysia will be able to produce oil for 18 years and gas for 35 years. In 2004 Malaysia is ranked 24th in terms of world oil reserves and 13th for gas. 56% of the oil reserves exist in the Peninsula while 19% exist in East Malaysia. The government collects oil royalties of which 5% are passed to the states and the rest retained by the federal government.



Transport & Communications


Malaysia has extensive railroads that connect all major cities and town on the peninsular and east Malaysia itself. There is a train service in West Malaysia run by KTM and several LRTs in Kuala Lumpur such as the Ampang Line, Sri Petaling Line (formerly called STAR LRT), Kelana Jaya Line (formerly called PUTRA LRT). The North-South Expressway basically spans from the northern tip of Bukit Kayu Hitam and Johor Baru in the south, which also connects roads into Thailand and Singapore. There are sea ports in Tanjong Kidurong, Kota Kinabalu, Kuching, Pasir Gudang, Penang, Port Kelang, Sandakan and Tawau. There are also world class airports that provide international and domestic destinations.


Roads in the East Malaysia and the eastern coast of West Malaysia are still relatively undeveloped. Those are highly curved roads passing through mountainous regions and many are still unsealed, gravel roads. This has resulted in the continued use of rivers as the main mode of transportation for interior residents.


Malaysia is also the home of the first low-cost carrier in the region, Air Asia. It retains Kuala Lumpur as its hub and maintains flights around Southeast Asia and now China as well.


The intercity telecommunication service is provided on Peninsular Malaysia mainly by microwave radio relay. International telecommunications are provided through submarine cables and satellite.


In December 2004, Energy, Water and Communications Minister Datuk Seri Dr Lim Keng Yaik reported that only 0.85 percent or 218,004 people in Malaysia used broadband services. However these values are based on subscriber number, whilst household percentage can reflect the situation more accurately. This represented an increase from 0.45% in three quarters. He also stated that the government targeted usage of 5% by 2006 and doubling to 10% by 2008. Lim Keng Yaik had urged local telecommunication companies and service provider to open up the last mile and lower prices to benefit the users. One of the largest and most significant telecommunication companies of choice in Malaysia is Telekom Malaysia Berhad (TM), providing products and services from fixed line, mobile to Internet Service Provider.





Malaysian society places importance on the expansion and development of healthcare, putting 5% of the government social sector development budget into public healthcare — an increase of more than 47% over the previous figure. This has meant an overall increase of more than RM 2 billion. With a rising and aging population, the Government wishes to improve in many areas including the refurbishment of existing hospitals, building and equipping new hospitals, expansion of the number of polyclinics, and improvements in training and expansion of telehealth. Over the last couple of years they have increased their efforts to overhaul the systems and attract more foreign investment.


The Malaysian healthcare system requires doctors to perform a compulsory 3 years service with public hospitals to ensure the manpower of these hospitals is maintained. Recently foreign doctors have also been encouraged to take up employment here. There is still, however, a compound shortage of medical workforce, especially that of highly trained specialists resulting in certain medical care and treatment only available in large cities. Recent efforts to bring many facilities to other towns have been hampered by lack of expertise to run the available equipment made ready by investments.


There are currently 114 government hospitals and healthcare centres with a total of 28,163 beds. There are also seven special medical institutions (including psychiatric institutions) with a total of 6,292 beds. As for private hospitals, there are 225 of them (including maternity and nursing homes) in Malaysia, and they provide 9,498 beds. The majority are in urban areas and, unlike many of the public hospitals, are equipped with the latest diagnostic and imaging facilities. Private hospitals have not generally been seen as an ideal investment - it has often taken up to 10 years before companies have seen any profits. However, the situation has now changed and companies are now looking into this area again, particularly in view of the increasing interest by foreigners in coming to Malaysia for medical care.





Malaysian children begin schooling from the age of 3, 4 or 5 in kindergarten. Year One begins the year a child turns 7. There is an exam taken when leaving Primary school, called 'Ujian Penilaian Sekolah Rendah', or UPSR (Primary School Assessment Examination) which is taken by all Year Six students before going into secondary schools. The purpose of this examination is to assess the quality of the primary education in Malaysia. An exam called Penilaian Tahap Satu (PTS; First Level Assessment) was used to measure the ability of bright students, and to allow them to move from Year 3 to 5. This exam has since been removed.


Secondary education lasts five years. At the end of the third year or Form Three, students must sit for the 'Penilaian Menengah Rendah' (PMR; Lower Secondary Assessment), to guide them on what subjects to take in the next year. The combination of subjects available to Form 4 students vary from one school to another. In the last year (Form 5), students sit for 'Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia', or SPM (Malaysian Certificate of Education; equivalent to the British Ordinary or 'O' levels, now referred to as GCSEs).


Some Chinese choose to study in Independent High School, where most subjects are taught in Chinese. Independent high school takes 6 years to complete. Instead of sitting for PMR or SPM, student will sit for UEC in Junior Middle 3 (Form 3) and Senior Middle 3 (Form 6). Some independent high schools teach in Malay and Chinese, so that the students can sit for PMR, SPM and UEC.


Students wishing to enter university must complete 2 more years of secondary schooling. They must take up either the school based Form Six and sit for Sijil Tinggi Pelajaran Malaysia', or STPM (Malaysia Higher Certificate of Education; equivalent to the British Advanced or 'A' levels), matriculation (1 year only), or other pre-university courses before they may apply for entry into local universities. Independent High School students can enter some of the universities using their UEC result.


Students can opt to go to private colleges after secondary studies. Most colleges have education links with overseas universities especially in the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia. Malaysian students abroad study mostly in the UK, United States, Australia, Singapore, Japan, Canada and New Zealand.


Until recently, all subjects except foreign languages (English, Mandarin and Tamil) were taught in Malay. The result was that while many Malaysian students were proficient with the Malay language, they later struggled with English based tertiary education, especially in overseas universities and colleges.


Currently Mathematics and Science subjects such as Biology, Physics, Chemistry are taught in English. The reasoning was that students would no longer be hindered by the language barrier during their tertiary education in fields such as medicine and engineering. All other subjects are taught in Malay.


In addition to the National Curriculum, Malaysia has many international schools. International schools offer students the opportunity to study the curriculum of another country. These schools mainly cater for the growing expatriate population in the country. International schools include - Australian International School, Malaysia (Australian curriculum), The Alice Smith School (British curriculum), The Garden International School (British curriculum), The International School of Kuala Lumpur (International Baccalaureate and American curriculum), The Japanese School of Kuala Lumpur (Japanese curriculum),The International School of Penang(International Baccalaureate and British curruculum) Lycée Français de Kuala Lumpur (French curriculum) amongst others.





Malaysia's population is comprised of many ethnic groups, with the politically dominant Malays making up the majority. By constitutional definition, all Malays are Muslim. About a quarter of the population are Chinese, who have historically played an important role in trade and business. Malaysians of Indian descent comprise about 10% of the population and include Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Christians, and Buddhists. About 90% of the Indian community is Tamil but various other groups are represented, including Malayalis, Punjabis and Telugus.


Non-Malay indigenous groups make up more than half of the state of Sarawak's population, constitute about 66% of Sabah's population, and also exist in much smaller numbers on the Peninsula, where they are collectively called Orang Asli. The non-Malay indigenous population is divided into dozens of ethnic groups, but they share some general cultural similarities. Other Malaysians also include those of, inter alia, European, Middle Eastern, Cambodian, and Vietnamese descent. Europeans and Eurasians include British who colonized and settled in Malaysia and some Portuguese, and most of the Middle Easterners are Arabs. A small number of Kampucheans and Vietnamese settled in Malaysia as Vietnam War refugees. Population distribution is uneven, with some 20 million residents concentrated on the Malay Peninsula.


May 13, 1969 saw an incident of civil unrest which was then thought to be largely due to the socio-economic imbalance of the country along racial lines, though in retrospect it may have been more motivated by political firebrands in both governing and opposition parties, as the violence involved only the areas in and around the capital, with much of the country remaining at peace. This incident led to the adoption of the New Economic Policy as a two-pronged approach to address racial and economic inequality and to eradicate poverty in the country.


Due to the rise in labour intensive industries, Malaysia has 10 to 20 percent foreign workers with the uncertainty due in part to the large number of illegal workers; there are a million legal foreign workers and perhaps another million unauthorized foreigners. The state of Sabah alone has nearly 25% of its 3 million population listed as illegal foreign workers in the last census. However, this figure of 25% is thought to be less than half the figure speculated by NGOs. Unauthorized foreigners are subject to RM10,000 fines and two-year prison terms, while Malaysian employers face up to a year in jail and a fine of up to RM50,000 for each illegal worker hired, with those hiring more than five also liable to caning. Caning is a standard punishment for more than 40 crimes in Malaysia, ranging from sexual abuse to drug use. Administered with a thick rattan stick, it splits the skin and leaves scars.


Some 380,000 unauthorized foreigners left during an "amnesty" that began in Fall 2004 and was extended several times. During amnesties, unauthorized foreigners can leave without paying fines for staying illegally in the country. On March 1, 2005, some 300,000 policemen as well as the 560,000-strong Peoples Volunteer Corp began searching for the remaining unauthorized foreigners under Operation Tegas; the volunteers receive RM100 for each foreigner arrested. Source: Migration News, April 2005 Volume 12 Number 2












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