Malaysia Modern History

By | January 31, 2023

Malaysia is a country located in Southeastern Asia. With the capital city of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia has a population of 32,366,010 based on a recent census from COUNTRYAAH. 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 minorities.

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.

  • ABBREVIATIONFINDER: 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). Check best-medical-schools for more information about Malaysia.

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 Minister.

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 year.

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 minister.

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 Mohamad.

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 legislation.

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 until 2008.

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 him publicly.

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 overview).

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 court.

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 appealed.

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 Hope’s Alliance.

Flights Disasters

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 was unknown.

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.

Malaysia Modern History