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Malaysia has a land area that consists of two major parts: the Peninsular Malaysia and East Malaysia, separated at the nearest by 500 kilometers of the South China Sea. The country is spread over 330,000 sq. kilometers with the Peninsula comprising 138,000 sq. kilometers of land area. Malaysia is made up of rainforests, swamps, and mountains. Kuala Lumpur is the country's capital.

With 1957's independence, a new series of difficult decisions lay ahead of Malaya, the first of which was to determine exactly what territories would be included in the new state. In 1961, the term "Malaysia" came into being after Tunku convinced Singapore, Sabah, and Sarawak to join Malaya in a federal union (Singapore later opted out of the union, peacefully, in 1965). Afraid that the union would interfere with his expansionistic plans, Indonesia's president Sukarno launched attacks against Malaysia in Borneo and on the peninsula, all of which were unsuccessful. 

Another immediate problem was the determination of a national identity. Malaysia was a mix of people from many races and cultures, and uniting them under a common flag was not an easy enterprise. Because Malays represented the majority, the constitution gave them permanent spots in the government, made Islam the national religion, and made Malay the national language; but the Chinese firmly dominated business and trade, and most Malay were suffering economic hardships. The government, controlled by the United Malay National Organization, passed the New Economic Policy, which attempted to increase economic opportunity for the Malay by establishing various quotas in their favor. Unsurprisingly, many Chinese opposed the new arrangement and formed a significant opposition party. In 1969, after the opposition party won a significant seats, riots swept through Kuala Lumpur and the country was placed in a state of emergency for two years. It was a painful moment in the young nation's history that most Malaysians prefer to forget. 

In the last two decades, Malaysia has undergone tremendous growth and prosperity, and has arguably made significant progress in race relations. However, poverty persists particularly in rural areas of the country, and especially among non-Malay ethnic groups. Malaysia's New Economic Policy (1970-1990), according to the CIDA, emphasized poverty alleviation and the promotion of ethnic Malays by favoring greater participation of Malays in education, commercial activities and government agencies. The participation of Malays in higher education was to be proportionate to their representation in the total population. The New Development Policy (1990-2000) continues to emphasize growth with equity, but is more balanced in its approach.

While the development of basic education and health services has been somewhat successful, enrollment ratios in upper secondary, technical and tertiary education are abnormally low as manifested in the country's critical shortage of skilled labor.
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Women in politics, governance and decision-making

Women face no legal limits on participation in government and politics, and the Government proposed a "plan of action for the advancement of women" to redress inequalities that do exist.

At the end of 2002, 3 of 28 cabinet ministers were women. Women held 20 of 193 seats in the elected lower house of Parliament, and they held 19 of 69 seats in the appointed upper house.

In 2001 the Prime Minister established the Ministry of Women’s Affairs and Family Development, and appointed a prominent female politician as its first Minister.

In 2000 Tan Sri Doctor Zeti assumed the post of Central Bank Governor as the first woman to be appointed to the post. Also in December 2000, Ainum Mohamed Saaid was appointed as the Attorney General, the first woman to hold that position. Originally appointed for a 2-year term beginning in January 2001, Ainum, citing ill health, was replaced at the end of 2001.

In 1998 the Minister of National Unity and Social Development said that the country would not achieve its goal of 30 percent female representation in the Government by 2005. The Minister said that the 1998 rate of participation (defined as the percentage of female representatives in Parliament and in state assemblies) was between 6 and 7 percent.

The Islamic opposition party does not allow female candidates to stand as candidates for the lower house; however, the party has a female senator. In the past, it has supported female candidates of other parties.

Know more about the situation of women's rights in Malaysia.

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Important political facts
Government type: constitutional monarchy

Head of state: The head of state is the Paramount Sultan Ruler/President, also known as the
Yang di-Pertuan Agong, who is elected by the nine hereditary Malay rulers of Peninsular Malaysia from among themselves. The incumbent is Tunku Salahuddin Abdul Aziz ibni Al-Marhum Sultan Hisammuddin Alam Shah (Sultan of Selangor), who assumed the post since 26 April 1999. His term of office is five years.

Legislature: The Parliament or Parlimen is Bicameral. The lower chamber known as the Dewan Rakyat (House of Representatives) has 193 members, elected for a five-year term in single-seat constituencies. The upper chamber is Dewan Negara or the Senate. It has 69 members , 26 appointed by the state legislatures from among its elected members while 43 members are appointed by the Paramount Ruler.

Executive: The  head of the government is the Prime Minister. F
ollowing legislative elections, the leader of the party that wins a plurality of seats in the House of Representatives becomes Prime Minister. He is, however, appointed by the President/Paramount Sultan Ruler. The incumbent is Dato’ Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi who became the country's fifth Prime Minister on 31 October 2003. The Cabinet is appointed by the Prime Minister from among the members of Parliament with the approval of the Paramount Sultan Ruler.

Most recent elections

Presidential: February 27, 1999
Legislative: November 29, 1999

Next elections
Presidential: 2004
Legislative: November 3, 2004

Major parties  

United Malays National Organization
Head: Dato' Seri Dr. Mahathir bin Mohamad, President

Address: Pejabat Perdana Menteri, Blok 'A' Pusat Pentadbiran, Kerajaan Persekutuan Putrajaya
62502 Putrajaya, Malaysia
Tel: 03-88888033, 03-88883430
Fax: 03-88883430
Number of seats in the House of Representatives: 71

Malaysian Chinese Association
Head: Datuk Seri Dr Ling Liong Sik

Address: 8th Floor, Wisma MCA, 163, Jalan Ampang, 50450 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Tel (603) 21618044
Fax (603) 21619772
Number of seats in the House of Representatives: 29
Email:   info@mca.org.my
Number of seats in the House of Representatives: 27
Address: 22B Jalan Pahang Barat, Off Jalan Pahang Barat, 53000 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Tel (603) 40254732
Fax (603) 40254741
Number of seats in the House of Representatives: 10
Address: 24 Jalan 20/9 46300 Petaling Jaya, Selangor, Malaysia
Tel (603) 79578022
Fax (603) 79575718

Sarawak United People's Party
Head: Y.B. Datuk Dr. George Chan Hong Nam

Number of seats in the House of Representatives: 8
Number of seats in the House of Representatives: 7
Tel (603) 40424377
Fax (603) 40427236
Number of seats in the House of Representatives: 6
Address: Level 5, Menara, PGRM, 8, Jalan Pudu Ulu, Cheras, 56100, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Tel (603) 9876868         
Fax (603) 9878866

Sabah Progressive Party
Head:
Datuk Yong Teck Lee

Address:  2nd Floor, Lot 23, Bornion Centre, Luyang, 88300 Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia
Tel (6088) 242107
Fax (6088) 249188
Number of seats in the House of Representatives: 2

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Related political resources on Malaysia