Malaysia is located in Southeast Asia. Most of it land area is contained in two noncontiguous regions separated by about 530 kilometers of the South China Sea. One region is Peninsular Malaysia, which is bordered by Thailand to the north, the Strait of Malacca to the west, the Johore Strait to the south, and the South China Sea to the east. The other region, sometimes called East Malaysia, is the northern portion of the island of Borneo that is composed of two states, Sabah and Sarawak. The Kingdom of Brunei and the Indonesian territory of Kalimantan make up the rest of Borneo. Malaysia also encompasses many small islands, the largest of which is Labuan, off the coast of Sabah.
Malaysia was formed in 1963 when the former British colonies of Singapore and the East Malaysian states of Sabah and Sarawak on the northern coast of Borneo joined the Federation. The first several years of the country's history were marred by a Communist insurgency, Indonesian confrontation with Malaysia, Philippine claims to Sabah, and Singapore's secession from the Federation in 1965.
The Malaysian Government is embarking on a bold transformation program on a scale that no other government in the work has undertaken. The objective of the Malaysian Government's Transformation Program (GTP) is two-fold: (1) to transform the government to be more effective in its delivery of services and more accountable for outcomes that matter most to its people; and (2) to move Malaysia forward to become an advanced, united, and just society with high standards of living for all as envisaged in its Vision 2020. Under the GTP, the government has identified six major policy areas known as National Key Result Areas (NKRA): Reducing Crime, Fighting Corruption, Improving Student Outcomes, Raising the Living Standards of Low-Income Households, Improving Basic Infrastructure, and Improving Urban Public Transportation.
The members of Malay royalty, grouped into the nine separate dynasties of Peninsular Malaysia continued in early 1984 to enjoy socially and politically the most prestigious status in the country. Prestige did not translate into political or economic power au- tomatically, however. Although the sultans were financially well-to-do, their political role was limited to symbolic functions. This constraint did not apply to other members of the royal houses who, as individual citizens, were entitled to all constitutionally guaranteed rights and freedoms.
The three major ethnic communities — Malay, Chinese, and Indian — have essentially retained their own separate identities; and cultural, social, and economic integration has been very limited. Politics was conducted almost entirely through the medium of communally based parties that mirrored the ethnic cleavages dividing Malaysian society.
Malays form only a slight majority (if one excludes the native peoples of Borneo) in their own country. “Malayness” - being a bumiputera (son of the soil, a native, an indigene, not Chinese) - is the fundamental fact of Malaysian identity. The constitution specifies that a Malay speaks Malay, is a Muslim and practices the Malay culture. The features of being Malay are cultural. Chinese are excluded from this definition.
Since the 1969 riots the government has emphasized policies directed toward easing interethnic group tension and forestalling the outbreak of further violence. The New Economic Policy (NEP) was drawn up in 1970 to combat what the government per- ceived as the underlying causes of communal tension: poverty and imbalances between the economic status of different ethnic groups. Under the NEP the government has pursued a two-pronged approach to developing the economy by eradicating poverty in all ethnic groups and at the same time correcting economic imbalances between ehtnic communities. In practice, implementation of the NEP has centered on the establishment of quotas, incentives, loan programs, and state enterprises to benefit indigenous ethnic groups—primarily the Malays.
In a second major move to defuse potential interethnic tensions in the wake of the 1969 riots, the Constitution was amended to forbid discussion of certain "sensitive issues". That amendment makes it illegal even in parliament to debate publicly matters re- lating to the national language, the special status accorded to indi- genous ethnic groups, or the rights and privileges conferred by citizenship.
Although there are some ethnic Indians and Chinese in the Malaysian Armed Forces, the top brass are exclusively Malay. The Royal Malay Regiment, the premier corps in the Infantry, remains exclusively Malay. By 1981, the Malay composition in the armed forces had reached more than 75% for officers and 85% for the rank and file. However, in 1993, the number of non-Malay officers in the 90,000-strong army had dipped below 15 percent.
It was generally acknowledged that the preponderance of Malays occurred despite efforts to increase non-Malay participation because very few non-Malays were attracted to military service. The reluctance to pursue a military career was especially noteworthy among the Chinese, who, in general, preferred to take advantage of the opportunities open to them in commercial or technical fields and did not wish to cut their ties with private business (which a career in the military would require), and questioned whether the topmost positions in the armed forces would be open to them.
In Malaysia there are two axes of power — the politically dominant Malays and the economically dominant Chinese. They are complementary rather then exclusive. Generally, the Malay leaders continue to value, at least in the short run, the economic acumen and resources of the Chinese, who in turn benefit from the constitutional guarantee of free enterprise. As the government-sponsored enterprises for Malays produce beneficial results under the New Economic Policy (NEP), launched in 1971 with a series of affirmative action policies designed to benefit Malays, this interdependency will probably undergo a qualitiative change. More Malay ventures and success in banking, commerce, construction, finance, and transportation would likely mean broader bases of power for the Malays. In 1981 Mahathir Mohamad became prime minister, which caused concern among ethnic Chinese and Indians in Malaysia who regarded him as interested in promoting Malay status at the expense of other ethnic groups.
The task of maintaining ethnic harmony has been increasingly complicated since the late 1970s by the activities of what the government labeled "religious extremists" who, inspired by the revival of Islam in other parts of the world, sought to modify radically the practice of Islam in Malaysia, to use Islam for political pur- poses, or to make all Malaysians subjects to Islamic law. Malays were by definition Muslims, but the Chinese, most of the Indians, and several other ethnic groups were not. The government has expressed its sympathy for efforts to pursue a more orthodox approach to the practice of Islam but has drawn sharp distinctions between the pursuit of legitimate religious expression and anything that caused disharmony within the Muslim community, aroused inter-ethnic group tension, or challenged the existing system of government.
The Constitution declares that "Islam is the religion of the nation." Many Malay Muslims state that Malaysia is an Islamic state that respects the rights of non-Muslims. Malaysia's minorities, , who make up some 40 percent of the population, and opposition parties are concerned that Malaysia is moving from a secular government to an Islamic state.In June 2002 Prime Minister Dr. Mahathir Mohamad remarked to Parliament when he declared that, "Malaysia is not a moderate Islamic state but an Islamic fundamentalist state as its policy is to abide by the fundamental teachings of Islam."
There has long been conflict between the ruling party's commitment in principle to freedom of religion and toleration of diverse views in practice. Christians and Hindus, especially, find it hard in some states at some times to build places of worship or keep them from being plowed under in the name of development. Chinese Buddhist temples are less problematic for the established federal and state powers. Jewish places of worship are strictly forbidden.
Malaysian premier Mahathir Mohamad dished out insults and stirred controversy for decades. Mahathir often railed at the West and sometimes blamed currency traders or Jews for economic woes such as the regional financial crisis. Mahathir stated on 13 December 2002 "The liberal democrats of Europe and America want the Jews to keep out. The Jews are too smart for the gentiles and can easily dominate them, despite not being numerous."
And on 19 June 2003 Mahathir stated that "The Europeans hated the Jews even before they embraced Christianity. When they became Christians they blamed the Jews because a Jew had betrayed Christ to the Romans and was killed by crucifixion. Because of this until after the Second World War the Europeans oppressed the Jews who had migrated to their countries. Every year they carried out Pogroms and Inquisitions indulging in the massacre of the Jews. The attempt to resolve the Jewish problem reached a peak during World War II when six million Jews were killed. But after the Second World War the Jews were still in Europe. To force the Jews out of Europe, they seized the territory of the Arab Palestinians to create the state of Israel."
Mahathir made headlines in October 2003 when he told a meeting of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC) that Jews "ruled the world" and that Muslims could exploit what he termed their increasing arrogance. "The Europeans killed six million Jews out of 12 million. But today the Jews rule this world by proxy. They get others to fight and die for them," said Mahathir. "1.3 billion Muslims cannot be defeated by a few million Jews."
|Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list|