From independence from the colonial power of
the United Kingdom in 1957 and more than 60 years on,
Malaysia was ruled by the National Alliance (BN), with
the Malay nationalist Umno at the forefront. At the same
time, the country was characterized by contradictions
between mainly the Malays and the Chinese and Indian
Prior to independence, tensions between the ethnic
groups were dampened when Umno formed an alliance with
the bourgeois Chinese party MCA and Indian MIC. The
Alliance won the 1955 election. Two years later, the
Malaysian federation became independent with Abdul
Rahman from Umno as prime minister.
List of most commonly used acronyms containing Malaysia. Also includes historical, economical and political aspects of the country.
In 1963 the federation was expanded with Sabah,
Sarawak and Singapore and changed its name to Malaysia.
The Philippines and Indonesia protested against the
incorporation of Sabah and Sarawak. Indonesia claimed
both states and the Philippines on Sabah. Relations with
Indonesia improved in 1965 when Indonesian President
Sukarno was deposed. In the same year, the
Chinese-dominated Singapore was excluded from Malaysia.
The 1969 election was a hardship for the Chinese MCA,
as many Chinese thought the party was too
Malay-friendly. In hundreds of ravages after the
election, several hundred people were killed. Shortly
thereafter, it was forbidden to publicly discuss certain
sensitive issues, such as the privileges of the Malays
(see Older History).
Bumiputra policies are initiated
The governing alliance was expanded with more
parties. Leader of the new coalition, the National Front
(BN), became Umnos Abdul Razak who in 1970 became Prime
In the same year, a new economic policy (New Economic
Policy, NEP) or bumiputra policy was initiated. Its aim
was to eradicate poverty until 1990 and to give the
country's original population (bumiputra; mainly Malay,
see Population and language) better education and
higher incomes, including through quotas.
During the 1970s, a new Malay middle class emerged
alongside the Chinese. Younger well-educated Malaysians
began to question the Sultans and their privileges.
Already in 1983, Mahathir Mohamad, Prime Minister of
1981, tried to limit the power of the Sultans.
Falling tin prices in 1985 contributed to a sudden
decline in Malaysia's economy. The governing bodies were
accused of corruption. In Sabah and Sarawak, hostile
sentiments were noticed. Nevertheless, the National
Front won the 1986 election. Contradictions between
Malays and Chinese triggered an arrest wave in 1987.
However, the economy began to recover and the National
Front also won the 1990 elections.
Anwar Ibrahim's star is rising
A scandal in the Sultanate of Johore in 1992 gave
Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad a welcome opportunity to
revoke the protection of the Sultans from attacks in the
press. After newspaper articles on luxury life and
release in the royal palace, the nine humiliated sultans
agreed to be deprived of more privileges the following
In 1996, Mahathir Mohamad (born 1925) announced that
he would soon retire from politics. As his successor, he
appointed Anwar Ibrahim, Umno's second man, as well as
the country's finance minister and deputy prime
In 1997, Malaysia, like the rest of Southeast Asia,
was hit by economic crisis. Anwar Ibrahim persuaded
Mahathir Mohamad to cancel some costly prestige projects
and recommended deregulation and turnaround policies
according to the IMF's recipe, which improved the
economy. While Western economists gained confidence in
Anwar Ibrahim, many Malaysians liked his unassuming and
traditionally religious appearance that separated him
from the urban circles of Prime Minister Mahathir
Prison for Anwar Ibrahim
Within Umno, tensions grew. Anwar Ibrahim made
statements about corruption in Mahathir Mohamad's camp,
which in turn accused Anwar Ibrahim of sexual crimes. In
September 1998, Anwar Ibrahim was dismissed from his
ministerial posts and excluded from Umno. The party's
top tier swept behind the prime minister. Anwar Ibrahim
was arrested and brought to justice, charged with
corruption and homosexual acts (under a colonial sodomy
law). He was sentenced in April 1999 to six years in
prison for corruption. Later, he received nine years of
backing for sodomy. Several governments, including the
United States, criticized the ruling.
The parliamentary elections scheduled for 2000 were
already held in November 1999, during protests by the
opposition. The National Front and Umno won the
election, despite a sensational advance for Malaysia's
Islamic Party (PAS), which wants Malaysia to become an
Islamic state governed by Sharia law.
Following the terrorist attacks against the United
States on September 11, 2001, Mahathir Mohamad became
active in the fight against international terrorism. In
this way, he got a pretext to bring in the hard gloves
against radical Islamists in his own country. The
general public in Malaysia reacted negatively to the
terrorist act and for the Islamist PAS the upward trend
was broken. Members of militant Islamist groups were
arrested by police, who diligently used anti-terrorism
Mahathir Mohamad leaves
In October 2003, after 22 years as Prime Minister,
Mahathir Mohamad resigned and left the party leader post
in Umno. New party leader and head of government became
former Deputy Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi. In
March 2004, parliamentary elections were held at short
notice. It was a great success for Abdullah. The
national front received almost 65 percent of the vote
and its own majority in Parliament. For PAS, the choice
was a difficult setback.
Malaysia's highest legal authority, the Federal
Court, annulled the nine-year sentence for sodomy in
2004 against Anwar Ibrahim. However, the court decided
not to approve Anwar Ibrahim's appeal against the
verdict of corruption. As long as it remained firm, he
was prevented from resuming his political activities
Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi had promised to
fight corruption, but he did not get much done in that
area. An effective fight against corruption would have
affected members of Umno and the government, ie the
circles where the prime minister must anchor his power.
Protests against the government
Abdullah Ahmad Badawi wanted to invest more resources
in improving living conditions in Malaysia's countryside
and therefore slowed down or stopped several major
projects, including a new bridge to Singapore, which the
representative had initiated. Mahathir Mohamad was
annoyed that Abdullah Ahmad Badawi was shredding his
planned infrastructure projects and began to criticize
In March 2006 and November 2007, two major
government-critical demonstrations were held in Kuala
Lumpur, which is unusual in Malaysia. The protesters
protested against sharply increased fuel prices and
against the electoral laws which they felt favored Umno.
In early 2008, the Prime Minister announced general
elections, one year in advance. One reason may have been
that the government wanted to renew its mandate before
Anwar Ibrahim was allowed to return to politics in April
of that year.
In the elections held in March, the National Front
surprisingly suffered a severe setback. Although the
alliance was given the most mandate and could retain
government power, it lost its two-thirds majority in
parliament and could therefore no longer change its
constitution on its own.
Newly formed front
An important reason for the adversity of the National
Front was that the opposition alliance Alternative Front
(BA) had been formed before the election, with the
relatively newly formed People's Justice Party (PKR),
led by Anwar Ibrahim, at the forefront. The second
largest was the Islamic PAS.
In June 2008, Anwar Ibrahim was again indicted for
sodomy, by a younger employee. According to Anwar
Ibrahim, the purpose of the accusations was to stop his
political comeback as he was expected to win a
parliamentary election. Prosecutions were brought, but
PKR won big in the election and Anwar took office again
in August - ten years after he was jailed.
The poor election results and dissatisfaction within
Umno with his leadership contributed to Abdullah Ahmad
Badawi resigning before the party congress in March
2009. New Umnol leader and thus head of government
became former Deputy Prime Minister Najib Razak, son of
Malaysia's second Prime Minister. He pledged to improve
conditions for the country's Indian and Chinese
minorities, and already in 2009, the government
abolished parts of the bumiputra policy (see Economic
Anwar Ibrahim Freedom - Government Makes Bad Choice
The sodomy trial against Anwar Ibrahim began in
February 2009. The legal process dragged on at the time.
For a period, the defendant was suspended from
Parliament because of a statement (see Calendar).
Three of his party friends were also suspended after
criticizing the review of Anwar Ibrahim's statements.
Only in January 2012 did the verdict come: Anwar was
released, which surprised both the outside world and
himself. But he would later be sentenced to a higher
In 2011 and 2012, tens of thousands of people
demonstrated on a couple of occasions against the
country's electoral laws, which they felt favored the
National Front (see Political system). The
demonstrations, which the police were trying to prevent,
were organized by the Berish organization with the
support of the opposition. Anwar Ibrahim participated in
the protests and was later charged with violating a ban
on street protests. He denied the crime and said the
prosecution was politically motivated.
In the autumn 2013 parliamentary elections, the
government failed to regain the two-thirds majority it
lost in the 2008 election; instead, the National Front
made its worst choice to date. It was mainly young
people, city dwellers and Chinese who chose to go to the
opposition, now gathered in the three-party Alliance of
the People's Front.
The opposition questioned the election results and
tried in vain to have it annulled in a civil court.
Anwar Ibrahim gathered thousands, perhaps tens of
thousands, of supporters in a demonstration against
alleged electoral fraud and the "stolen election".
Anwar Ibrahim prison again
On the same autumn, Parliament passed a law allowing
detainees to be detained indefinitely without
prosecution. The opposition and Amnesty International
criticized the law, saying it was a step back towards
the authoritarian society that Prime Minister Najib
Razak promised to reform. The government argued that the
law was needed to cope with increasing violent crime.
Anwar Ibrahim intended in March 2014 to run for
office as chief minister of the country's most populous
state, Selangor. The post would become an important
political platform for the opposition leader. Shortly
before the election, however, he was sentenced again to
prison, this time for five years, for homosexual acts.
This happened after the 2012 convict's conviction was
Anwar Ibrahim was released on bail and appealed
against the verdict, but it prevented him from running
for election. Anwar Ibrahim himself, his supporters and
international human rights organizations believed that
the verdict was politically motivated in order to stop
his political plans. After the Supreme Court dismissed
Anwar's appeal, he began serving his sentence in
February 2015. During prison time it was illegal for him
to be politically active.
In a filling election in May 2015, Anwar Ibrahim's
wife Wan Azizah replaced him in parliament and assumed
the role of the country's most important opposition
leader. In June of that year, however, the People's
Front split after two of the three parties disagreed
about the alliance's policies. In October, the Popular
Front was replaced by a new opposition coalition, called
In the spring of 2014, Malaysia became the center of
what has been described as the world's largest aviation
mystery in modern times. A Malaysian passenger plane
with 239 people on board disappeared without a trace on
the way from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing. Despite extensive
searches, the plane could not be found and what remained
Both the Malaysian government and Malaysia Airlines
received international criticism for how to handle the
situation regarding the missing aircraft; for example,
it is considered to have been unclear and then provided
information to the relatives. In June 2014, the
Malaysian state began to pay $ 50,000 in damages to the
families of the missing.
Malaysia Airlines was hit by a second disaster in
just a few months in July, when a plane on its way from
Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur with 298 people aboard crashed
in eastern Ukraine in an area held by Prorian
separatists. An international investigation showed that
the plane was shot down with a Russian-made robot in a
separatist-controlled area, which gave the event a
serious political dimension.