Federation of Malaysia

Capital: Kuala Lumpur

  • Population 29.3 million (UN, 2012)
  • Area 329,847 sq km (127,355 sq miles)
  • Major languages Malay (official), English, Chinese dialects, Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam
  • Major religions Islam, Buddhism, Taoism, Hinduism, Christianity, Sikhism
  • Life expectancy 73 years (men), 77 years (women)
  • Currency Ringgit


Head of state: Tuanku Abdul Halim

Tuanku Abdul Halim was appointed the 14th paramount ruler, Malaysia’s head of state, in December 2011. The post of paramount ruler is rotated every five years among the sultans of the nine Malay kingdoms.

Prime minister: Najib Abdul Razak

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak speaks at a news conference in Kuala Lumpur on 7 May 2013.Image copyrightGETTY IMAGES

Najib Razak, the scion of an longstanding Malaysian political dynasty, assumed the post of prime minister following the resignation of his predecessor in 2009.

He was sworn in for a second term after the National Front coalition won the 2013 elections with a weakened majority to extend its unbroken, 56-year rule, in the face of the strongest opposition ever. Opponents alleged major electoral fraud.

On coming to power, Mr Najib pledged radical reforms and a more transparent government, including closing closing a widening ethnic and religious divide, after ethnic minorities shifted towards the opposition in large numbers in the 2008 polls, fearing their rights were being eroded.

But his rise to power was marked by a government crackdown on the resurgent opposition, with allegations that strong-arm tactics were being used to stifle political dissent.


Malaysian news portals on a computer screen.Image copyrightGETTY IMAGES
Image captionThe internet has become the focal point of free speech, amid extensive government control over the media

Malaysia has some of the toughest censorship laws in the world. The authorities exert substantial control over the media and can impose restrictions in the name of national security.

TV3 is the leading national private, terrestrial broadcaster. Privately-owned TVs have close ties to the ruling National Front coalition, while state outlets reflect government views, says US-based Freedom House.

Most privately-owned print titles are run by parties or business groups allied with the ruling coalition. Newspapers must renew their publication licences annually, and the home minister can suspend or revoke publishing permits.

The internet has become the main platform for free discussion and for exposing political corruption, says Freedom House. But Malaysia is listed as a country “under surveillance” in Reporters Without Borders’ (RSF) “Enemies of the Internet” report.


Some key dates in Malaysia’s history:

Malaysian women from the indigenous Mah Meri tribe wear traditional costumes on 1 March 2014.Image copyrightAFP
Image captionSome of the pre-Malay indigenous population still retain traditional customs

14th century – Conversion of Malays to Islam begins.

1826 – British settlements of Malacca, Penang and Singapore unite; British begin to establish protectorates over the Malay sultanates of the peninsula.

1895 – Four Malay states combine to form the Federated Malay States.

1942-45 – Japanese occupation.

1948 – British-ruled Malayan territories unified under Federation of Malaya.

1957 – Federation of Malaya becomes independent.

1965 – Singapore withdraws from Malaysia.

2001 – Malaysia, Singapore resolve long-standing disputes, and agree to build a new bridge and tunnel.

2003 – Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad steps down after 22 years in office.

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