U.S. Department of State 
Background Notes:  Malaysia, December 1995 
Bureau of Public Affairs 
 
 
December 1995 
Official Name: Malaysia 
 
PROFILE 
 
Geography 
 
Area: 329,749 sq. km. (127,316 sq. mi.); slightly larger than New 
Mexico.  
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.  
Climate: Tropical. 
 
People 
 
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%, 
others 1%. 
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%.  
Other--9.5%. 
 
Government 
 
Type: Federal parliamentary democracy on the Westminster model with a 
constitutional monarch.  
Independence: August 31, 1957. 
Constitution: 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 
parliament.  
Suffrage: Universal adult. 
 
Economy (1995) 
 
GNP: $85 billion.  
Annual real growth rate: 9.6%. 
Per capita income: $4,300.  
Natural resources: Petroleum, liquefied natural gas (LNG), tin, 
minerals. 
Agriculture: Products--palm oil, rubber, timber, cocoa, rice, pepper, 
pineapples. 
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%. 
 
U.S.-MALAYSIAN RELATIONS 
 
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 
Malaysia. 
 
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 
 
Ambassador--vacant 
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 
Consul--Philip French 
 
The U.S. embassy in Malaysia is located at 376 Jalan Tun Razak, 50400 
Kuala Lumpur (tel. 60-3-248-9011). 
 
GOVERNMENT 
 
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 
Mohamad 
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. 
 
POLITICAL CONDITIONS 
 
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 
Sabah. 
 
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-
5225.  
 
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. 
(202) 512-1800. 
 
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 
telephone line. 
 
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: 
 
Gopher:  dosfan.lib.uic.edu 
URL:  gopher://dosfan.lib.uic.edu/ 
WWW:  http://dosfan.lib.uic.edu/dosfan.html 
 
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. 
Bremner 
 
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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