U.S. Department of State
Background Notes: Malaysia, December 1995
Bureau of Public Affairs
Official Name: Malaysia
Area: 329,749 sq. km. (127,316 sq. mi.); slightly larger than New
Cities: Capital--Kuala Lumpur (1.6 million). Other cities--Penang,
Petaling Jaya, Ipoh, Malacca, Johore Bahru, Kuching, Kota Kinabalu.
Terrain: Coastal plains and interior, jungle-covered mountains.
Peninsular Malaysia is separated from East Malaysia on Borneo by 644 km.
(400 mi.) of the South China Sea.
Nationality: Noun and adjective--Malaysian(s).
Population: 19.5 million.
Annual growth rate: 2.4%.
Ethnic groups: Malay and other indigenous 63%, Chinese 28%, Indian 8%,
Religions: Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Taoist, Christian, traditional.
Languages: Malay, Chinese dialects, English, Tamil, other indigenous.
Education: Years compulsory--nine. Attendance--99% (primary), 65%
(secondary). Literacy--80% in Peninsular Malaysia, 60% in East
Malaysia's Sabah and Sarawak.
Health: Infant mortality rate--11/1,000. Life expectancy--71 yrs.
Work force: 8 million. Manufacturing--25%. Agriculture--19%. Local trade
and tourism--17%. Government--11%. Construction--8%. Finance--5%.
Transportation and communications--5%. Mining and petroleum--0.5%.
Type: Federal parliamentary democracy on the Westminster model with a
Independence: August 31, 1957.
Branches: Executive--Yang di-Pertuan Agong ("paramount ruler," who is
head of state and customarily referred to as the king and has ceremonial
duties), prime minister (head of government), cabinet. Legislative--
bicameral parliament, comprising 69-member Senate (26 elected by the 13
state assemblies, 43 appointed by the king) and 192-member House of
Representatives (elected from single-member districts). Judicial--
Federal Court, Court of Appeals, and high courts.
Subdivisions: 13 states and the federal territory (capital). Each state
has an assembly and government headed by a chief minister. Nine of these
states have hereditary rulers, generally titled "sultan," while the
remaining four have appointed governors in counterpart positions.
Political parties: Barisan Nasional (National Front)--a broad coalition
comprising the United Malays National Organization (UMNO) and 13 other
parties, most of which are ethnically based; Democratic Action Party
(DAP); Parti Se-Islam Malaysia (PAS); Parti Bersatu Sabah (PBS); Parti
Melayu Semangat 46. There are more than 30 registered political parties,
including the foregoing, 13 of which are represented in the federal
Suffrage: Universal adult.
GNP: $85 billion.
Annual real growth rate: 9.6%.
Per capita income: $4,300.
Natural resources: Petroleum, liquefied natural gas (LNG), tin,
Agriculture: Products--palm oil, rubber, timber, cocoa, rice, pepper,
Industry: Types--electronics, electrical products, rubber products,
automobile assembly, textiles.
Trade: Exports--$72 billion: electronic components, petroleum, timber
and logs, palm oil, natural rubber, liquefied natural gas, electrical
products, textiles. Major markets--Singapore 21%, U.S. 20%, EU 14%,
Japan 13%. Imports--$72 billion: intermediate goods, machinery, metal
products, food products, consumer durables, transport equipment. Major
suppliers--Japan 27%, U.S. 16%, EU 16%, Singapore 13%.
The United States has maintained friendly relations with Malaysia since
its independence in 1957. Its contribution to stability in Southeast
Asia, the growth of U.S.-Malaysian economic and cultural ties,
Malaysia's role in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, its self-
reliant drive to develop its economy and preserve its independence, its
participation in the Five-Power Defense Arrangement, and its strong
commitment to the suppression of narcotics trafficking are in harmony
with U.S. policy and form a solid basis for U.S.-Malaysian friendship.
U.S. support for Malaysia has been demonstrated by cooperation in many
areas, including narcotics enforcement, cultural exchanges, and a
Fulbright educational exchange program initiated in 1963. (Malaysians,
numbering about 16,000, represent one of the largest foreign student
groups enrolled in American colleges and universities.) The United
States also has supported Malaysia's defense efforts by providing for
Malaysian participation in U.S. military education training programs and
purchases of equipment under the foreign military sales program. The
United States also actively promotes American trade and investment in
Trade and Investment
Malaysia's prospects for continuing growth and prosperity are excellent,
with growth rates above 8% expected in the medium term. Malaysia
possesses abundant resources and land, a well-educated work force,
adequate infrastructure, and a stable political environment. It has been
very attractive to U.S. investors, who have invested a total of $9
billion in the country, two-thirds of which is in petroleum development
and electronic component production.
There are relatively few trade problem areas. Malaysia, a member of the
World Trade Organization, has few restraints on trade in goods. Its
service sector, however, constitutes about 44% of the national economy
and remains highly protected, particularly in financial services.
Principal U.S. Embassy Officials
Charge d'Affaires--Wendy Chamberlin
Political Counselor--G. Nicholas Mauger III
Economic Counselor--Deborah Lyn Linde
Commercial Attache--B. Paul Scogna
Public Affairs Officer (USIS)--Julie G. Connor
Agricultural Attache--Kent D. Sisson
The U.S. embassy in Malaysia is located at 376 Jalan Tun Razak, 50400
Kuala Lumpur (tel. 60-3-248-9011).
Malaysia is a constitutional monarchy, nominally headed by the Yang di-
Pertuan Agong ("paramount ruler"), customarily referred to as the king.
Kings are elected for five-year terms from among the nine sultans of the
peninsular Malaysian states. The king also is the leader of the Islamic
faith in Malaysia.
Executive power is vested in the cabinet led by the prime minister; the
Malaysian constitution stipulates that the prime minister must be a
member of the lower house of parliament who, in the opinion of the Yang
di-Pertuan Agong, commands a majority in parliament. The cabinet is
chosen from among members of both houses of parliament and is
responsible to that body.
The bicameral parliament consists of the Senate (Dewan Negara) and the
House of Representatives (Dewan Rakyat). All 69 Senate members sit for
six-year terms; 26 are elected by the 13 state assemblies, and 43 are
appointed by the king. Representatives of the House are elected from
single-member districts by universal adult suffrage. The 192 members of
the House of Representatives are elected to maximum terms of five years.
Legislative power is divided between federal and state legislatures.
The Malaysian legal system is based on English common law. The Federal
Court reviews decisions referred from the Court of Appeals; it has
original jurisdiction in constitutional matters and in disputes between
states or between the federal government and a state. Peninsular
Malaysia and East Malaysia on Borneo each have a high court.
The federal government has authority over external affairs, defense,
internal security, justice (except civil law cases among Malays and
other indigenous peoples, adjudicated under Islamic and traditional
law), federal citizenship, finance, commerce, industry, communications,
transportation, and other matters. The states of East Malaysia enjoy
guarantees of state rights with regard to immigration, civil service,
and customs matters. Control over oil and timber, and the distribution
of revenues from taxes from these resources, as well as state autonomy
in areas such as education and information, remain sources of
controversy between the federal government and the states of East
Malaysia, particularly Sabah.
Principal Government Officials
Prime Minister and Minister of Home Affairs--Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir bin
Foreign Minister--Datuk Abdullah bin Haji Ahmad Badawi
Ambassador to the U.S.--vacant
Ambassador to the UN--Tan Sri Razali bin Ismail
Malaysia maintains an embassy in the U.S. at 2401 Massachusetts Ave. NW,
Washington, DC 20008, tel. (202) 328-2700; a consulate general in the
World Trade Center, 350 South Figueroa Street, Los Angeles, CA, tel.
(213) 621-2991; and a consulate general at 140 E 45th Street, New York,
NY 10017, tel. (212) 490-2722.
In 1973, an alliance of communally based parties was replaced with a
broader coalition--the Barisan Nasional--composed of 13 parties.
Malaysia's predominant political party, United Malays National
Organization, held party elections in April 1987; Datuk Seri Dr.
Mahathir Mohamad successfully defended the presidency against his
challenger, Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah.
In October 1990, the Barisan coalition turned back an unprecedented
opposition challenge spearheaded by Tengku Razaleigh's new party,
Semangat 46. Razaleigh had brought together a loose opposition front
composed of ideologically diverse parties, including Parti Bersatu Sabah
(PBS) which had bolted from the Barisan coalition on the eve of
elections. Barisan won 127 out of 180 parliamentary districts but lost
control of two states: the Islamic opposition party--Parti Se-Islam
Malaysia--captured control of Kelantan, while PBS retained control of
In March 1994, however, PBS lost control of Sabah when its assemblymen
defected to the Barisan coalition. The party had won 26 out of the 48
state seats in the state election held in February 1994. The Barisan
coalition was returned with an overwhelming majority in the 1995 general
election, winning 162 out of the 192 parliamentary seats.
TRAVEL AND BUSINESS INFORMATION
The U.S. Department of State's Consular Information Program provides
Travel Warnings and Consular Information Sheets. Travel Warnings are
issued when the Department of State recommends that Americans avoid
travel to a certain country. Consular Information Sheets exist for all
countries and include information on immigration practices, currency
regulations, health conditions, areas of instability, crime and security
information, political disturbances, and the addresses of the U.S.
embassies and consulates in the subject country. They can be obtained by
telephone at (202) 647-5225 or by fax at (202) 647-3000. To access the
Consular Affairs Bulletin Board by computer, dial (202) 647-9225, via a
modem with standard settings. Bureau of Consular Affairs' publications
on obtaining passports and planning a safe trip abroad are available
from the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office,
Washington, DC 20402, tel. (202) 512-1800.
Emergency information concerning Americans traveling abroad may be
obtained from the Office of Overseas Citizens Services at (202) 647-
While planning a trip, travelers can check the latest information on
health requirements and conditions with the U.S. Centers for Disease
Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia. A hotline at (404) 332-4559
provides telephonic or fax information on the most recent health
advisories, immunization recommendations or requirements, and advice on
food and drinking water safety for regions and countries. A booklet
entitled Health Information for International Travel (HHS publication
number CDC-94-8280, price $7.00) is available from the Superintendent of
Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, DC 20402, tel.
Information on travel conditions, visa requirements, currency and
customs regulations, legal holidays, and other items of interest to
travelers also may be obtained before your departure from a country's
embassy and/or consulates in the U.S. (for this country, see "Principal
Government Officials" listing in this publication).
Upon their arrival in a country, U.S. citizens are encouraged to
register with the U.S. embassy (see "Principal U.S. Embassy Officials"
listing in this publication). Such information might assist family
members in making contact en route in case of an emergency.
Further Electronic Information:
Consular Affairs Bulletin Board (CABB). Available by modem, the CABB
provides Consular Information Sheets, Travel Warnings, and helpful
information for travelers. Access at (202) 647-9225 is free of charge to
anyone with a personal computer, modem, telecommunications software, and
Department of State Foreign Affairs Network. Available on the Internet,
DOSFAN provides timely, global access to official U.S. foreign policy
information. Updated daily, DOSFAN includes Background Notes; Dispatch,
the official weekly magazine of U.S. foreign policy; daily press
briefings; directories of key officers of foreign service posts; etc.
DOSFAN is accessible three ways on the Internet:
U.S. Foreign Affairs on CD-ROM (USFAC). Published on a quarterly basis
by the U.S. Department of State, USFAC archives information on the
Department of State Foreign Affairs Network, and includes an array of
official foreign policy information from 1990 to the present. Priced at
$80 ($100 foreign), one-year subscriptions include four discs (MSDOS and
Macintosh compatible) and are available from the Superintendent of
Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office, P.O. Box 37194, Pittsburgh,
PA 15250-7954. To order, call (202) 512-1800 or fax (202) 512-2250.
Federal Bulletin Board (BBS). A broad range of foreign policy
information also is carried on the BBS, operated by the U.S. Government
Printing Office (GPO). By modem, dial (202) 512-1387. For general BBS
information, call (202) 512-1530.
National Trade Data Bank (NTDB). Operated by the U.S. Department of
Commerce, the NTDB contains a wealth of trade-related information,
including Country Commercial Guides. It is available on the Internet
(www.stat-usa.gov) and on CD-ROM. Call the NTDB Help-Line at (202) 482-
1986 for more information.
Background Notes Series -- Published by the United States Department
of State -- Bureau of Public Affairs -- Office of Public
Communication -- Washington, DC -- Series Editor: Marilyn J.
Malaysia -- Department of State Publication 7753 -- December 1995
This material is in the public domain and may be reprinted without
permission; citation of this source is appreciated. For sale by the
Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office,
Washington, DC 20402.
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