Malaysia in the 1990’s

According to EHOTELAT, Malaysia, in a broad sense, is the great peninsular and insular space of extreme south-eastern Asia inhabited by Malaysian people, roughly corresponding to the Malacca Peninsula and most of the Indonesian islands. According to a more restrictive meaning, however, it refers to the sole Malaysia Peninsular (➔ Malaysia).

The integration between the different ethnic groups (Malaysian, Chinese and Indian) and the institutional relations between local authorities (mainly monarchies) and the federal government have continued to represent the fundamental questions, still substantially unresolved, of Malaysian political life. The authoritarian approach pursued by Malaysia Mahathir, since 1981 head of the executive and leader of the United Malays National Organization (UMNO), the main party of the ruling coalition, perpetuated the political, economic and social dominance of the Malaysian community (allied with a narrow elite Chinese and Indian), while the attempt to strengthen central power, also through the limitation of the prerogatives of the sovereigns, encountered very strong resistance both in the various States and within the UMNO itself.

It was precisely in this last field, however, that the government achieved the greatest results: in January 1993 the Parliament approved a constitutional amendment that restricted the legal immunities of the sovereigns of the individual states and in May 1994 the power of veto of the ‘ supreme head of the Federation.

Despite the persistence of strong contrasts within the party and the explosion of various financial scandals that involved various members of the executive, the governing coalition (called the National Front) emerged strengthened by the 1995 legislative elections, in the face of a divided and disorganized opposition, heavily penalized by the repressive policy implemented by the executive. The persistence of a strong rate of economic growth supported by foreign capital contributed to guaranteeing substantial political stability, which, while not significantly altering the unequal distribution of wealth, had nevertheless reduced the unemployment rate.

Foreign policy was characterized in recent years by a strengthening of ties with the ASEAN countries and by an improvement in relations with Vietnam and the Philippines. Relations with Singapore instead suffered a sharp deterioration starting from spring 1997, and worsened in the following months also following the financial crisis that overwhelmed the whole of Southeast Asia in the summer. To face the crisis, the government adopted a strict restrictive policy, with heavy cuts in public spending, while trying to limit the effects of the resulting unemployment through the forced repatriation of foreign workers (January 1998). The heavy economic difficulties in which the country found itself exacerbated the social tension and rekindled internal conflicts within the UMNO.

During 1998 some party leaders, including I. Anwar, Minister of Finance (since 1991) and Deputy Prime Minister (since 1993), began to express open criticism of the measures adopted by Mahathir to deal with the crisis, causing the harsh reaction of the latter. In September 1998 Anwar was forced to resign and was subsequently arrested. Anwar’s supporters, including the UMNO youth movement, reacted to this by organizing protests, which were violently repressed by the police.

Anwar was sentenced, in April 1999, to six years in prison for being found guilty of corruption. In June 1999, the opposition forces decided to join forces and run a single candidate in the general elections scheduled for April 2000.

Malaysia. – New political body established in February 1948 on the territory of the southern end of the Malacca peninsula (see Malacca, XXI, p. 978) which, before the Second World War, was administratively divided as follows: Crown Colony or Establishments of the Strait (Singapore and mainland districts); Malaysian states, of which 4 federated (Perak, Selangor, NegriSembilan, Pahang) and 5 non-federated (Johore, Kedah, Perlis, Kelantan, Trengganu) all under British protection. Gathered by the Japanese in a single administrative complex and preserved by the London government after the liberation (and precisely from April 1946) under the name of Malaysian Union, the new body, for which lengthy negotiations were necessary concluded on January 21, 1948, includes all the territories listed above, except Singapore, which retains its status of colony, and the islands of Labuan, Cocos and Christmas, which with Sarawak and Brunei have become colonies of the Crown. The Union will have a central government, headed by a High Commissioner, assisted by two Councils, one executive, the other legislative. Each state belonging to the Union will then have administrative autonomy, with its own head and its own executive and legislative bodies. The powers of the central authority will be limited mainly to matters relating to defense and foreign relations.

Population. – In 1941: Establishments of the Strait 1,424,350 residents and Malaysian states, 4,124,549 residents, mostly (58%) Malaysian 24,350 and the rest Chinese and Indian. In 1947 (census) the island of Singapore had 940,756 residents. of which 12% Malaysians, 11% Chinese, 7% Indians. The Europeans were 8790.

Economic conditions. – In marked recovery, after a slight contraction during the Japanese occupation, the rice crops that spread in 1946 on 315,850 ha. (328.190 in 1941) with a production of 225.000 t. (324,000 in 1941), and the rubber plantations, whose production exceeded that of 1941 in 1947 (655,625 t.) about 22,000 in 1942 and 4,500 in 1945), it was then only partially raised in 1946 (9570 t.).

Malaysia in the 1990's