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: Abdullah

Image source, MOHD RASFAN/AFP via Getty Images

Sultan Abdullah of Pahang was elected paramount leader in January 2019, after the unprecedented abdication of his predecessor Sultan Muhammad V of Kelantan.

The post of paramount ruler is rotated every five years among the sultans of the nine Malay kingdoms.

Prime minister: Muhyiddin Yassin

Image source, Ore Huiying/Getty Images

Mr Yassin took office in March 2020 after breaking with the coalition of Mahathir Mohamad, whose surprise resignation as prime minister the previous month had triggered a political crisis.

Mr Mahathir's multi-ethnic alliance broke down less than two years after an election win that ousted the Malay-nationalist UMNO party, which has returned to power by winning over Mr Yassin, a former interior minister, and his supporters.

The UMNO had ruled Malaysia since independence, and may try to halt investigations into the 1MDB corruption scandal that cost it the 2018 election.MEDIA

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Online and social media are predominant sources of news

Media freedom improved after the change of government in 2018, say international watchdogs. Officials have considered repealing laws which were used to curb reporting.

The TV sector includes state and private networks and pay TV. The biggest media conglomerate operates several networks including TV3, the leading national station.

More than 80% of the population are online and internet and social media are key news sources.


Some key dates in Malaysia's history:

Image source, 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.

2018 - Mahathir Mohamad returns to power at the head of an opposition coalition after the 1MDB scandal brings down the UMNO party that he once led.

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

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