Malaysian People

Malaysia’s population of 25.6 million (2004) continues to grow at a rate of 2.0% per annum; about 32.8% of the population is under the age of 15. Malaysia’s population comprises many ethnic groups, with the politically dominant Malays comprising a majority. By constitutional definition, all Malays are Muslim. About a quarter of the population is Chinese, who have historically played an important role in trade and business.

Malaysians of Indian descent comprise about 7% of the population and include Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists, and Christians. About 85% of the Indian community is ethnically Tamil, with the remainder including those of Telegu, Malayalam, Punjabi and Gujarati descent.

Non-Malay indigenous groups make up more than half of the Borneo state of Sarawak’s population and about 66% of the Borneo state of Sabah’s population. They are divided into dozens of ethnic groups, but they share some general patterns of living and culture. Until the 20th century, most practiced traditional beliefs, but many have become Christian or Muslim. The "other" category includes Malaysians of, inter alia, Thai, European and Middle Eastern descent. Population distribution is uneven, with some 20 million residents concentrated in the lowlands of peninsular Malaysia, an area slightly smaller than the state of Michigan.

Malaysia is a constitutional monarchy, nominally headed by the Yang di-Pertuan Agong ("paramount ruler"), customarily referred to as the king. Kings are elected for 5-year terms from among the nine sultans of the peninsular Malaysian states. The king also is the leader of the Islamic faith in Malaysia.

Executive power is vested in the cabinet led by the prime minister; the Malaysian constitution stipulates that the prime minister must be a member of the lower house of parliament who, in the opinion of the Yang di-Pertuan Agong, commands a majority in parliament. The cabinet is chosen from among members of both houses of parliament and is responsible to that body.

The bicameral parliament consists of the Senate (Dewan Negara) and the House of Representatives (Dewan Rakyat). All 70 Senate members sit for 3-year terms, which are normally extended for an additional 3 years; 26 are elected by the 13 state assemblies, and 44 are appointed by the king. Representatives of the House are elected from single-member districts by universal adult suffrage. The 219 members of the House of Representatives are elected to parliamentary terms lasting up to 5 years. Legislative power is divided between federal and state legislatures.

The Malaysian legal system is based on English common law. The Federal Court reviews decisions referred from the Court of Appeal; it has original jurisdiction in constitutional matters and in disputes between states or between the federal government and a state. Peninsular Malaysia and the East Malaysian states of Sabah and Sarawak each have a high court.

The federal government has authority over external affairs, defense, internal security, justice (except civil law cases among Malays or other Muslims and other indigenous peoples, adjudicated under Islamic and traditional law), federal citizenship, finance, commerce, industry, communications, transportation, and other matters.


Nationality: Noun and adjective–Malaysian(s).

Population (2004): 25.6 million.

Annual growth rate: 2.4

Ethnic groups: Malay 50.8%, Chinese 23.8%, Indigenous 10.9%, Indian 7.1%, non-Malaysian citizens 6.8 %, others 0.6%.

Religions: Islam (60.4%), Buddhism (19.2%), Christianity (9.1%), Hinduism (6.3%),Confucianism (2.6%), Animism (0.8%), others (including Taoism, Sikhism, Baha’i faith — 0.4%), none (2.8%).

Languages: Malay, Cantonese, Hokkien, Mandarin Chinese, English, Tamil, indigenous.

Education: Years compulsory–9. Attendance–98.5% (primary), 82% (secondary). Literacy (2002)–95%.

Health: Infant mortality rate (2003)–5.8 /1,000. Life expectancy (2003)–female 75.5 yrs., male 71.0 yrs.

Work force (10.6 million, 2003): Manufacturing 29.1%; other services–28.2%;; agriculture–13.8%; government services—9.8%; construction–7.6%; finance–6.4%; transportation and communications–5.2%; mining and petroleum–0.4%.