Friday, September 11, 2009


The slogan is everywhere. Posters on buildings. Adverts in newspapers. On the radio and TV. In the news and on the street. On the other end of the spectrum there's a crowd with a cow's head marching on a proposed Hindu temple in a majority Muslim area. Vigilante anti-alcohol activists removing beer from a Seven-Eleven. There's the caning sentence for a Muslim girl for drinking a beer in a night club.
Malaysia is a multicultural melting pot and pots are known to simmer and occasionally boil over. Malaysians make up 50.4% of the population, the Chinese around 23.7%, the indigenous Sarawak around 11%, and the Indians about 7% (for the record most of the Indians I met in Malaysia actually consider themselves to be Tamil). Almost all of the non-Malays have been on Malay soil for many generations. The Chinese came with the trade. The Indians as soldiers and labor for the plantations during the British colonial period.
The country gained its independence from Britain in 1957 and has been working hard at developing a stable identity ever since. The road hasn't always been smooth. The same party (UMNO) has been in power since independence and with the power of the ISA isn't shy about using it to retain power. While the Opposition is growing in strength its still fairly weak and fractured. Its interesting reading the newspapers here. You always read the UMNO reaction to something the Opposition has said or written, but you never actually read what the Opposition's position was. The ISA requires all newspapers and media to apply for a renewal of license once a year to the government. Connect the dots.
For the most part tensions are fairly low between the people, but there is always that under current bubbling below the surface. For the most part Malays control the political sphere, the Chinese the economics and the Indians the lower end of the labor market. The non Malays complain about the quota system (Malays and the indigenous groups get preferential treatment in eduction and housing). The Malays on the other hand are very sensitive to any slights on their identity and Islam. Rumors of corruption and political scandals abound. And now there are also tensions between Malaysia and Indonesia over, of all things, a dance used in a Discovery promotional video.
Where it will all lead to is hard to predict. The people get along and the country is relatively prosperous due to oil exports and IT outsourcing. Tensions, as I wrote are very low, but when you add to it a single political party clinging to power, religion and ethnic and national politics it can be a volatile mix. Here's hoping it all shakes itself out for the best.


  1. hey Andy....its Adrian here....great dat u hav blog here....hehehe...well v will wait for ur next trip to Malaysia back....n thanks for the 1Malaysia definition here.....

  2. Hey Adrian,

    Had a blast and thanks to you and all the guys for being guides. Looking forward to coming back some day.

  3. Do come back! If you're interested to see how the political scene in Malaysia turns out, a good read would be You'll find postings of pro and anti government news alike!

  4. Thanks uchong for the link! Fascinating stuff.