Contributed by Prof. Jocelyn M. Hicks, President, IFCC
Malaysia is geographically made up of two parts: (i) Peninsula Malaysia which is situated on the Southeast Asian mainland, bordered by Thailand, Singapore, Indonesia and surrounded by the South China Sea and (ii) East Malaysia which is made up of the two states of Sabah and Sarawak on the island of Borneo. During the 18th and 19th centuries, Great Britain established "protectorates" in what is now Malaysia. These were occupied by the forces of Japan from 1942 to 1945. In 1948 the Federation of Malaya (the part that is now called Peninsular Malaysia) was founded, and the country became independent in 1957. In 1963, Singapore, Sabah (which, prior to the formation of Malaysia, was called North Borneo) and Sarawak, all of which were British colonies, joined the Federation of Malaya, and the combination became known as Malaysia. The first few years of Malaysia's existence were marred by territorial claims made neighbouring countries, all of which have been resolved, and the separation of Singapore in 1965 to become a sovereign nation. The total land area is now 328,550 square kilometers.
The country has natural resources of petroleum, tin, timber, copper, iron ore, natural gas and bauxite. Agricultural products include rubber, palm oil, cocoa, rice, pepper and some subsistence crops.
The population of Malaysia is about 26 million. Thirty three percent of the population is between the ages of 0 to 14, 62.4% is 15-64, and 4.6% is over 65. The life expectancy has increased to 69.5 yrs. for males and 75 yrs. for females. Its ethnic groups consist of Malay (51%), Chinese (24%), indigenous (11%), Indian (7%), and others (8%). The religion practiced by the majority is Islam, which is also the country's official religion. Other religions practiced include are Buddhism, Taoism, Hinduism, Sikhism, and Christianity. Many languages are spoken: Bahasa Melayu is the official language, but English, many dialects of Chinese, Tamil, Panjabi, Thai and the indigenous dialects of the East Malaysians are also spoken. The literacy rate is high--about 89%.
The government is a constitutional monarchy, with a bicameral Parliament.
The upper house of Parliament is appointed, but the lower house is elected. The capital of Malaysia is Kuala Lumpur, and there are 13 states and one federal territory. Each state, other than the federal territory which is administered by the federal government, has an elected state government. The prevailing law is based on English common law.
The economy of the country is considered to be middle income. The economic growth of Malaysia is almost exclusively driven by exports of commodities and manufactured goods, particularly of electronics. The unit of currency is the ringgit, which has a prevailing exchange of about 3.8 to the U.S. dollar.