Malaysia country profile

Map of Malaysia

Malaysia boasts one of south-east Asia's most vibrant economies, the fruit of decades of industrial growth and political stability.

Consisting of two regions separated by some 640 miles of the South China Sea, Malaysia is a multi-ethnic, multi-religious federation of 13 states and three federal territories.

The majority Muslim ethnic Malay are dominant politically, and benefit from positive discrimination in business, education and the civil service, but a large ethnic Chinese minority holds economic power. The communities coexist in relative harmony, although racial and religious divides persist.

The country is benefiting from a growth in manufacturing, and is a major tourist destination, but there are fears that development could harm the environment, particularly the rainforests of northern Borneo, which are under pressure from palm oil plantations and illegal logging.


Federation of Malaysia

Capital: Kuala Lumpur

  • Population 31 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), 78 years (women)

  • Currency Ringgit


Head of state: Sultan Muhammad V

Sultan Muhammad V was sworn in as the 15th paramount ruler, Malaysia's head of state, in December 2016. The post of paramount ruler is rotated every five years among the sultans of the nine Malay kingdoms.

Prime minister: Najib Abdul Razak

Image copyright Getty 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. Of late his administration has been dogged by accusations of corruption, particularly in relation to the management of state investment firm 1MDB.


Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The 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 media controls and can impose restrictions in the name of national security.

Privately-owned TVs have close ties to the ruling coalition, while state outlets reflect government views.

Most privately-owned print titles are run by parties or business groups allied with the ruling coalition.

The internet is the main platform for free political debate.


Some key dates in Malaysia's history:

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Some 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.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Mainly Muslim Malays form about 60% of the population

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