Malaysia country profile
- 1 December 2016
- From the section Asia
Malaysia boasts one of south-east Asia's most vibrant economies, the fruit of decades of industrial growth and political stability.
Consisting of two regions separated by some 640 miles of the South China Sea, Malaysia is a multi-ethnic, multi-religious federation of 13 states and three federal territories.
The majority Muslim ethnic Malay are dominant politically, and benefit from positive discrimination in business, education and the civil service, but a large ethnic Chinese minority holds economic power. The communities coexist in relative harmony, although there is little racial interaction, and a religious divide persists.
The country is benefiting from a growth in manufacturing, and is a major tourist destination, but there are fears that development could harm the environment, particularly the rainforests of northern Borneo, which are under pressure from palm oil plantations and illegal logging.
Head of state: Tuanku Abdul Halim
Tuanku Abdul Halim was appointed the 14th paramount ruler, Malaysia's head of state, in December 2011. The post of paramount ruler is rotated every five years among the sultans of the nine Malay kingdoms.
Prime minister: Najib Abdul Razak
Najib Razak, the scion of an longstanding Malaysian political dynasty, assumed the post of prime minister following the resignation of his predecessor in 2009.
He was sworn in for a second term after the National Front coalition won the 2013 elections with a weakened majority to extend its unbroken, 56-year rule, in the face of the strongest opposition ever. Opponents alleged major electoral fraud.
On coming to power, Mr Najib pledged radical reforms and a more transparent government, including closing closing a widening ethnic and religious divide, after ethnic minorities shifted towards the opposition in large numbers in the 2008 polls, fearing their rights were being eroded.
But his rise to power was marked by a government crackdown on the resurgent opposition, with allegations that strong-arm tactics were being used to stifle political dissent.
Malaysia has some of the toughest censorship laws in the world. The authorities exert substantial control over the media and can impose restrictions in the name of national security.
TV3 is the leading national private, terrestrial broadcaster. Privately-owned TVs have close ties to the ruling National Front coalition, while state outlets reflect government views, says US-based Freedom House.
Most privately-owned print titles are run by parties or business groups allied with the ruling coalition. Newspapers must renew their publication licences annually, and the home minister can suspend or revoke publishing permits.
The internet has become the main platform for free discussion and for exposing political corruption, says Freedom House. But Malaysia is listed as a country "under surveillance" in Reporters Without Borders' (RSF) "Enemies of the Internet" report.
Some key dates in Malaysia's history:
14th century - Conversion of Malays to Islam begins.
1826 - British settlements of Malacca, Penang and Singapore unite; British begin to establish protectorates over the Malay sultanates of the peninsula.
1895 - Four Malay states combine to form the Federated Malay States.
1942-45 - Japanese occupation.
1948 - British-ruled Malayan territories unified under Federation of Malaya.
1957 - Federation of Malaya becomes independent.
1965 - Singapore withdraws from Malaysia.
2001 - Malaysia, Singapore resolve long-standing disputes, and agree to build a new bridge and tunnel.
2003 - Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad steps down after 22 years in office.