The Malay Peninsula has been populated since about 4000 BCE, possibly earlier. From the 16th century, the peninsula was conquered by Europeans, first Portuguese, then Dutch and British.
Malaya declared independence in 1957. In 1963 the territories of Singapore, Sabah and Sarawak were included, and the country changed its name to Malaysia. In 1965, Singapore was separated as an independent republic.
Relations between the three population groups of Malays, Chinese and Indians have been a key issue in the federal state. Mahathir Mohamad became prime minister in 1981, marking himself as an increasingly dominant leadership figure. After 22 years, he resigned as prime minister in 2003.
In the Middle Ages, today’s Malaysia belonged to the kingdom of Sriwijaya on southeast Sumatra. See abbreviationfinder for geography, history, society, politics, and economy of Malaysia. The first major state on the peninsula itself was the Malacca Sultanate, which in the 15th century ruled all over Malaysia and much of East Sumatra; The capital of Malacca was the most important trading center in the Indonesian island world. In 1511, Malacca was conquered by the Portuguese, but the sultanate itself continued to the center of Johor all the way to the south of the peninsula, and from around 1700 on the archipelago of Riau.
The Dutch conquered Malacca in 1641, and then competed with the British and local princes for dominion over the area. The British founded a support point in Penang in 1786, temporarily took over Malacca in 1795-1816, and founded in 1819 Singapore, which eventually became the region’s premier economic center.
In 1824 the United Kingdom and the Netherlands split the sphere of interest, the British gained free hands on the Malay Peninsula, the Dutch on the islands. This was the origin of the states of Malaysia and Indonesia.
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The British increasingly assumed political and economic power, although the local sultans maintained a formal sovereignty. A large-scale recovery of Malaysia’s rich tin resources was added, the rubber tree was introduced and the basis for the country’s most important export industry, run on plantations, was formed. Labor was obtained through mass imports, especially by Chinese.
At the same time, Chinese merchants gained a dominant position in business. Economic and social development was concentrated along the west coast of Malaysia, where most immigrants also settled. In the rest of the country, the traditional Malaysian village community, with rice cultivation and fishing as the main industries, stagnated along with feudal superstructures.
Both ethnic conflicts and the skewed economic development of modern Malaysia stem from these conditions.
Malaysian Nationalist Movement
Japan’s conquest in 1942 took place almost without British resistance; this weakened British prestige in British Malaya. When they returned in 1945, a strong Malay nationalist movement was organized.
In 1948, the British established a federation of the 11 principal states on the Malay Peninsula. It was under British rule and secured the Malay political dominance over the Chinese and other minorities. The same year, armed groups carried out a series of assaults and killings on British citizens. It developed into an extensive guerrilla, which lasted until the late 1950s. The guerrilla groups, which were largely Chinese, were led by the chairman of Malaysia’s Communist Party, Chin Peng.
The British Malaya Federation gained full independence in 1957, but continued as a member of the British Commonwealth. A new and larger federation, which also included Singapore and the two British colonies of North Borneo (Sarawak and Sabah), was established in 1963 under the name of Malaysia. After growing contradictions between Malay and Chinese leaders, the Chinese-dominated Singapore withdrew in 1965 and became an independent republic.
Indonesia strongly opposed the establishment of Malaysia, and in 1963 launched economic blockade and military “confrontation”. Indonesian guerrilla forces targeted several attacks on Malaysian territory in the years 1963-1965, but the situation was normalized in 1967 when Indonesian President Sukarno had lost power.
Relations between the three population groups of Malays, Chinese and Indians have been a key issue in the federal state. After the Constitution, the Malays gained a clear political and bureaucratic takeover, which was to be a kind of compensation for the Chinese economic power. In the 1969 parliamentary elections, the ethnically composed government party was greatly weakened in favor of clean and, in part, extreme Malay and Chinese parties. This triggered violent riots; state of emergency was introduced and the National Assembly suspended until 1971.
In 1970, the bumiputera policy (NEP: New Economic Policy) was launched. By 1990 the goal was to eliminate poverty and the link between ethnicity and occupation. The Chinese economic dominance in the cities had to be broken. A long-term plan for 1970-1990 had as its main goal to bring the bumiputera (that is, the Malay) to almost the same economic level as the Chinese by means of support measures.
Special schemes for the Malay were enacted to better enable them to compete with the Chinese, and to level the social and economic stratification that followed the racial groups. Specifically, about 30 percent of the nation’s assets were to be transferred from Chinese to Malay hands. The Malay privileges were considered by many Chinese as discrimination. At the end of the NEP plan, a transfer of 20-30 percent was found to be in Malay’s favor.
In 1990, NEP was replaced by the New Development Policy (NDP), where the Malay privileges are given less weight. Industrialization was now further intensified and the economy restructured based on previous major emphasis on raw material exports. The government’s stated goal is to make Malaysia a “fully developed industrial state” by the year 2020.
Under Prime Minister Tun Abdul Razak (1970-1976), Malaysia abandoned its strongly anti-communist and anti-communist line in foreign policy and switched to a more neutral course. A communist guerrilla movement in the border areas of Thailand increased its activity towards the end of the 1970s, but was then driven over to the defensive. The guerrilla ended in 1990; The Malaysian Communist Party then decided to suspend the fight that had been going on for 41 years.
Mahathir Mohamad became prime minister in 1981, marking himself as an increasingly dominant leadership figure. The National Front government coalition won its biggest victory ever in the 1995 parliamentary elections with 64 percent of the vote. Mahathir’s party, the United Malays National Organization (UMNO), dominated the coalition. The largest opposition party, the Democratic Action Party, gathered most of the Chinese votes. Mahathir went to battle against the special rights of the Malaysian sultans, who had the status of “kings” in nine of the states and held the position of the country’s head of state in turn. By the 1993 constitutional amendment, the sultans were deprived of their legal immunity and certain other privileges.
Since the 1980s, the rate of growth in the Malaysian economy has been high. The policy has been changed in a market-oriented direction, with extensive privatization and large tariff reductions. Under the long-term economic plan of 1991, the so-called new development policy, emphasis is placed on a combination of growth and eradication of poverty.
Under Mahathir’s leadership for 22 years, Malaysia achieved a standard of living which is among the highest in Asia. He has received much of the credit that a backward agricultural country with a sensitive ethnic balance under his rule was transformed into an Asian “tiger economy”. The back of the medal was a corrupt judicial system and restricted freedom of the press.