Malaysia -- Geography --
Official Name: Federal constitutional elective monarchy Malaysia
Capital City: Kuala Lumpur
Languages: Malay (official), English, Thai
Official Currency: Ringgit
Religions: Islam, Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Confucianism and others
Land Area: 329,847 sq km
Landforms: About half of Peninsular Malaysia is covered by granite and other igneous rocks, a third more is covered by stratified rocks older than the granite, and the remainder is covered by alluvium. The terrain can be characterised as coastal plains which rises towards the hills and mountains.
Land Divisions: thirteen states and three federal territories
Malaysia -- History --
Early malaysian people represent the descendants of early Austronesian speaking agriculturalists, who brought both their language and their technology to the southern part of the peninsula approximately 5,000 years ago and coalesced with the indigenous population. There were numerous Malay kingdoms in the 2nd and 3rd centuries - as many as 30 according to Chinese sources. In the early-15th century, the Malacca Sultanate was established under a dynasty founded by Parameswara or Sultan Iskandar Shah, a prince from Palembang with bloodline related to the royal house of Srivijaya, who fled from 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 into a nearby river. He took this show of bravery by the mouse deer as a good sign and named his kingdom "Melaka" after the tree under which he was resting at the time. At its height, the sultanate controlled the areas which are now peninsular 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. Britain established its first colony in the Malay peninsula in 1786, with the lease 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 Malay archipelago between Britain and the Netherlands, with Malaya in the British zone. In 1826, Britain established the crown colony uniting its four possessions in Malaya: Penang, Malacca, Singapore and the island of Labuan. The colony was initially administered under the East India Company in Calcutta, before first Penang, and later Singapore became the administrative centre of the crown colony, until 1867, when it was transferred to the Colonial Office in London. Malaysia achieved its independence in 1957. In 1963, Malaya along with the then-British crown colonies of Sabah (British North Borneo), Sarawak and Singapore, formed Malaysia. . 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.
Malaysia -- Economy --
The Malay Peninsula and indeed Southeast Asia has been a centre of trade for centuries. Various items such as porcelain and spices were actively traded even before Malacca and Singapore rose to prominence.
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.
In the 1970s, Malaysia began to imitate the four Asian Tiger economies (Taiwan, South Korea, Hong Kong and Singapore) 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), after 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). Recently much debate has surfaced once again with regards to the results and relevance of the NEP. Some have argued that the NEP has indeed successfully created a Middle/Upper Class of Malay businessmen and professionals. Despite some improvement in the economic power of Malays in general, the Malaysian government maintains a policy of discrimination that favours ethnic Malays over other races—including preferential treatment in employment, education, scholarships, business, access to cheaper housing and assisted savings. This special treatment has sparked envy and resentment between non-Malays and Malays.
The Chinese control of the locally-owned sector of the country's economy, meanwhile, has been ceded largely in favour of the Bumiputras/Malays in many essential or strategic industries such as petroleum retailing, transportation, agriculture and etc. The minority of Indian descent has by and large been the most adversely affected by this policy. Indicators point to a higher incidence of crime and gang related activities among the Indians in recent years.
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 consortia 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 a massive shock to Malaysia's economy.
As with 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 around 400 points in a matter of weeks. After the controversial 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 the 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. (See George Soros)
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. Although the controls and economic housekeeping may not have been the principal reason for recovery, there is no doubt that the banking sector has become more resilient to external shocks. 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 was abandoned in July 2005 in favour of a 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 in 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. In March 2006, Malaysia removed the ban on short selling.Currently, Malaysia is considered a newly industrialised country.
Malaysia -- Culture --
Malaysia is a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural and multilingual society. The population as of February 2007 is 26.6 million consisting of 62% Malays, 24% Chinese, 8% Indians, with other minorities and indigenous peoples (Dept of Stats. Malaysia). Ethnic tensions have been rising in recent months.
The Malays, who form the largest community, are defined as Muslims in the Constitution of Malaysia. . The Malays play a dominant role politically and are included in a grouping identified as bumiputra. Their native language is Malay (Bahasa Melayu). Malay is the national language of the country.
In the past, Malays wrote in Sanskrit or using Sanskrit-based alphabets. After the 15th century, Jawi (a script based on Arabic) became popular. Over time, romanised script overtook Sanskrit and Jawi as the dominant script. This was largely due to the influence of the colonial education system, which taught children in romanised writing rather than in Arabic script.
The largest non-Malay indigenous tribe is the Iban of Sarawak, who number over 600,000. Some Iban still live in traditional jungle villages in long houses along the Rajang and Lupar rivers and their tributaries, although many have moved to the cities. The Bidayuhs, numbering around 170,000, are concentrated in the southwestern part of Sarawak. The largest indigenous tribe in Sabah is the Kadazan. They are largely Christian subsistence farmers. The 140,000 Orang Asli, or aboriginal peoples, comprise a number of different ethnic communities living in peninsular Malaysia. Traditionally nomadic hunter/gatherers and agriculturalists, many have been sedentarised and partially absorbed into modern Malaysia.
The Chinese population in Malaysia is mostly Buddhist (of Mahayana sect) or Taoist. Chinese in Malaysia speak a variety of Chinese dialects including Mandarin Chinese, Hokkien, Cantonese, Hakka and Teochew. A large majority of Chinese in Malaysia, especially those from larger cities such as Kuala Lumpur, Petaling Jaya and Penang speak English as well. There has also been an increasing number of the present generation Chinese who consider English as their first language. Chinese have historically been dominant in the Malaysian business community.
The Indians in Malaysia are mainly Hindu Tamils from southern India who native language is Tamil, there are also other Indian communities which is Telugu, Malayalam and Hindi-speaking, living mainly in the larger towns on the west coast of the peninsula. Many middle to upper-middle class Indians in Malaysia also speak English as a first language. A vigorous 200,000-strong Tamil Muslim community also thrives as an independent subcultural group. There are also prevalent Tamil Christian communities in major cities and towns. There is also a sizable Sikh community in Malaysia of over 83,000. Most Indians originally migrated from India as traders, teachers or other skilled workers. A larger number were also part of the forced migrations from India by the British during colonial times to work in the plantation industry.
Eurasians, Cambodians, Vietnamese, and indigenous tribes make up the remaining population. A small number of Eurasians, of mixed Portuguese and Malay descent, speak a Portuguese-based creole, called Papi? Kristang. There are also Eurasians of mixed Filipino and Spanish descent, mostly in Sabah. Descended from immigrants from the Philippines, some speak Chavacano, the only Spanish-based creole language in Asia. Cambodians and Vietnamese are mostly Buddhists (Cambodians of Theravada sect and Vietnamese, Mahayana sect).
Malaysian traditional music is heavily influenced by Chinese and Islamic forms. The music is based largely around the gendang (drum), but includes other percussion instruments (some made of shells); the rebab, a bowed string instrument; the serunai, a double-reed oboe-like instrument; flutes, and trumpets. The country has a strong tradition of dance and dance dramas, some of Thai, Indian and Portuguese origin. Other artistic forms include wayang kulit (shadow puppet theatre), silat (a stylised martial art) and crafts such as batik, weaving, including the ceremonial cloth pua kumbu, and silver and brasswork.
Malaysia -- Political system, law and government --
The politics of Malaysia takes place in a framework of a federal parliamentary monarchy, whereby the Prime Minister of Malaysia is the head of government, and of a multi-party system. Executive power is exercised by the government. Federal legislative power is vested in both the government and the two chambers of parliament, the Senate (Dewan Negara) and the House of Representatives (Dewan Rakyat). Since the formation of Malaysia in 1963, politics has been dominated by the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), the lead component of the Barisan Nasional (National Front) coalition. Although Malaysian politics has been relatively stable, critics allege that "the government, ruling party, and administration...are intertwined with few countervailing forces.
Malaysia's predominant political party, the United Malays National Organization (UMNO), has held power in coalition with other parties since Malaya's independence in 1957. In 1973, an alliance of communally based parties was replaced with a broader coalition — the Barisan Nasional — composed of fourteen parties. Today the Barisan Nasional coalition has three prominent members — the UMNO, MCA (Malaysian Chinese Association) and MIC (Malaysian Indian Congress). The Prime Minister of Malaysia has always been from UMNO.
The political process in Malaysia has generally been described as taking the form of "consociationalism" whereby "communal interests are resolved in the framework of a grand coalition". The executive branch has tended to dominate political activity, with the Prime Minister's office being in a position to preside "over an extensive and ever growing array of powers to take action against individuals or organizations," and "facilitate business opportunities". Critics generally agree that although authoritarianism in Malaysia preceded the administration of Mahathir bin Mohamad, it was he who "carried the process forward substantially" Legal scholars have suggested that the political "equation for religious and racial harmony" is rather fragile, and that this "fragility stems largely from the identification of religion with race coupled with the political primacy of the Malay people colliding with the aspiration of other races for complete equality."
Like the desire of a segment of the Muslim community for an Islamic State, the non-Malay demand for complete equality is something that the present Constitution will not be able to accommodate. For it is a demand which pierces the very heart of the political system — a system based upon Malay political pre-eminence. It is a demand that challenges the very source of Malay ruling elites' power and authority.