U.S. Department of State  
Background Notes: Malaysia, July 1997 
Released by the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs.

Official Name: Malaysia 



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. 


Nationality: Noun and adjective--Malaysian(s). Population: 21.2 million.  Annual growth rate: 2.3%. Ethnic groups: Malay and other indigenous 66%, Chinese 26%, Indian 7%, 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--90% in Peninsular Malaysia, 60% in East Malaysia's Sabah and Sarawak.  
Health: Infant mortality rate--9.8/1,000. Life expectancy--71.9 yrs.  Work force: 8.4 million. Manufacturing--26%; agriculture--16%; local trade and tourism--16%; government--10%; construction--8%; finance--5%; transportation and communications--5%; utility--0.8%; mining and petroleum--0.5%; other--12.7%. 


Type: Federal parliamentary democracy on the Westminster model with a constitutional monarch.  Independence: August 31, 1957.  Constitution: 1957.  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. 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.  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). There are more than 30 registered political parties, including the foregoing, 13 of which are represented in the federal parliament.  Suffrage: Universal adult. 

ECONOMY (1996) 

GNP: $95 billion.  Annual real growth rate: 8.4%.  Per capita income: $4,690.  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--$77 billion: electronic components, petroleum, timber and logs, palm oil, natural rubber, liquefied natural gas, electrical products, textiles. Major markets--Singapore 20%, U.S. 18%, EU 14%, Japan 13%. Imports--$73 billion: intermediate goods, machinery, metal products, food products, consumer durables, transport equipment. Major suppliers--Japan 26%, U.S. 15%, EU 14%, 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 basisfor 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--John R. Malott 
DCM--Anna Borg 
Political Counselor--Jeff Lunstead 
Economic Counselor--Janice Fleck 
Commercial Attache--Michael Hand 
Public Affairs Officer (USIS)(Acting)--Thomas Carmichael 
Agricultural Attache--Lloyd Fleck 
Consul--Hugh Williams

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 Malaysian Borneo states of Sabah and Sarawak 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.--Dato' Dali Mahmud Hashim 
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 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. PAS still controls Kelantan. 

The Barisan coalition was returned with an overwhelming majority in the 1995 general election, winning 162 out of the 192 parliamentary seats. In October 1996, opposition party Semangat 46 was dissolved and its six parliamentarians joined UMNO. Barisan now has 171 seats in the parliament.


The U.S. Department of State's Consular Information Program provides Travel Warnings and Consular Information Sheets. Travel Warnings are issued when the State Department 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, political disturbances, and the addresses of the U.S. posts in the country. Public Announcements are issued as a means to disseminate information quickly about terrorist threats and other relatively short-term conditions overseas which pose significant risks to the security of 
American travelers. Free copies of this information are available by calling the Bureau of Consular Affairs at 202-647-5225 or via the fax-on-demand system: 202-647-3000. Travel Warnings and Consular Information Sheets also are available on the Consular Affairs Internet home page: http://travel.state.gov and the Consular Affairs Bulletin Board (CABB). To access CABB, dial the modem number: (301-946-4400 (it will accommodate up to 33,600 bps), set terminal communications program to N-8-1 (no parity, 8 bits, 1 stop bit); and terminal emulation to VT100. The login is travel and the password is info (Note: Lower case is required). The CABB also carries international security information from the Overseas Security Advisory Council and Department's Bureau of Diplomatic Security. Consular Affairs Trips for Travelers publication series, which contain information on obtaining passports and planning a safe trip abroad, can be purchased from the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office, P.O. Box 371954, Pittsburgh, PA 15250-7954; telephone: 202-512-1800; fax 202-512-2250. 

Emergency information concerning Americans traveling abroad may be obtained from the Office of Overseas Citizens Services at (202) 647-5225. For after-hours emergencies, Sundays and holidays, call 202-647-4000. 

Passport Services information can be obtained by calling the 24-hour, 7-day a week automated system ($.35 per minute) or live operators 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. (EST) Monday-Friday ($1.05 per minute). The number is 1-900-225-5674 (TDD: 1-900-225-7778). Major credit card users (for a flat rate of $4.95) may call 1-888-362-8668 (TDD: 1-888-498-3648) 

Travelers can check the latest health information with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia. A hotline at (404) 332-4559 gives 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-95-8280) is available from the 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). 

U.S. citizens who are long-term visitors or traveling in dangerous areas are encouraged to register at the U.S. embassy upon arrival in a country (see "Principal U.S. Embassy Officials" listing in this publication). This may help family members contact you in case of an emergency. 

Further Electronic Information: 

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 magazine of U.S. foreign  policy; daily press briefings; Country Commercial Guides; directories of key officers of  foreign service posts; etc. DOSFAN's World Wide Web site is at http://www.state.gov.

U.S. Foreign Affairs on CD-ROM (USFAC). Published on a semi-annual 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. Contact the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing  Office, P.O. Box 371954, Pittsburgh, PA 15250-7954. To order, call (202) 512-1800 or 
fax (202) 512-2250.

National Trade Data Bank (NTDB). Operated by the U.S. Department of Commerce, the  NTDB contains a wealth of trade-related information. 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.
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