In the first century AD, two far-flung but related events helped stimulate
Malaysia's emergence in international trade in the ancient world. At that
time, India had two principal sources of gold and other metals: the Roman
Empire and China. The overland route from China was cut by marauding Huns,
and at about the same time, the Roman Emperor Vespasian cut off shipments
of gold to India. As a result, India sent large and seaworthy ships, with
crews reported to have numbered in the hundreds, to Southeast Asia, including
the Malayan Peninsula, to seek alternative sources. In the centuries that
followed, rich Malaysian tin deposits assumed great significance in Indian
Ocean trade, and the region prospered. As maritime trade among Middle Eastern,
Indian, and Chinese ports flourished, the peninsula benefited from its
location as well as from development of its diverse resources, including
tropical woods and spices. Malay ships became prominent in that trade,
and Malay ports served as transshipment centers. Indian trade brought Indian
culture, economy, religion, and politics, with historic results for what
is now Malaysia.
The early Buddhist Malay kingdom of Srivijaya, based at what is now
Palembang, Sumatra, dominated much of the Malay peninsula from the 9th
to the 13th centuries AD. The powerful Hindu kingdom of Majapahit, based
on Java, gained control of the Malay peninsula in the 14th century. Conversion
of the Malays to Islam, beginning in the early 14th century, accelerated
with the rise of the state of Malacca under the rule of a Muslim prince
in the 15th century. Malacca was a major regional entrepot, where Chinese,
Arab, Malay, and Indian merchants traded precious goods. Drawn by this
rich trade, a Portuguese fleet conquered Malacca in 1511, marking the beginning
of European expansion in Southeast Asia. The Dutch ousted the Portuguese
from Malacca in 1641 and, in 1795, were themselves replaced by the British,
who had occupied Penang in 1786.
In 1826, the British settlements of Malacca, Penang, and Singapore were
combined to form the Colony of the Straits Settlements. From these strongpoints,
in the 19th and early 20th centuries the British established protectorates
over the Malay sultanates on the peninsula. Four of these states were consolidated
in 1895 as the Federated Malay States.
During British control, a well-ordered system of public administration
was established, public services were extended, and largescale rubber and
tin production was developed. This control was interrupted by the Japanese
invasion and occupation from 1942 to 1945 during World War II.
Popular sentiment for independence swelled during and after the war
and, in 1957, the Federation of Malaysia, established from the British-ruled
territories of peninsular Malaysia in 1948, negotiated independence from
the United Kingdom under the leadership of Tunku Abdul Rahman, who became
the first prime minister. The British colonies of Singapore, Sarawak, and
Sabah (called North Borneo) joined the Federation to form Malaysia on September
Singapore withdrew from the Federation on August 9, 1965, and became
an independent republic. Neighboring Indonesia objected to the formation
of Malaysia and pursued a program of economic, political, diplomatic, and
military "confrontation" against the new country, which ended only after
the fall of Indonesia's President Sukarno in 1966.
Following World War II, local communists, nearly all Chinese, launched
a long, bitter insurgency, prompting the imposition of a state of emergency
in 1948 (lifted in 1960). Small bands of guerrillas remained in bases along
the rugged border with southern Thailand, occasionally entering northern
Malaysia. These guerrillas finally signed a peace accord with the Malaysian
Government in December 1989. A separate, smallscale communist insurgency
that began in the mid-1960s in Sarawak also ended with the signing of a
peace accord in October 1990.
Malaysia's predominant political party, the United Malays National Organization
(UMNO), has held power in coalition with other parties since Malaya's independence
in 1957. In 1973, an alliance of communally based parties was replaced
with a broader coalition--the Barisan Nasional--composed of 14 parties.
In September 1998, Prime Minister Mahathir dismissed Deputy Prime Minister
Anwar Ibrahim and accused Anwar of immoral and corrupt conduct. The Prime
Minister later replaced Anwar with Abdullah Ahmad Badawi as deputy prime
Anwar said his ouster actually owed to political differences and led
a series of demonstrations advocating political reforms. Later in September,
Anwar was arrested, beaten while in prison, and charged with corruption
and sodomy. In April 1999, he was convicted of four counts of corruption
and sentenced to 6 years in prison. In August 2000, Anwar was convicted
of one count of sodomy and sentenced to 9 years to run consecutively after
his earlier 6-year sentence.
Both trials were viewed by domestic and international observers as politically
motivated. In the November 1999 general election, the Barisan Nasional
was returned to power with three-fourths of the parliamentary seats, but
UMNO's seats dropped from 94 to 72. The opposition Barisan Alternatif coalition,
led by the Islamic Party of Malaysia (PAS), increased its seats to 42.
PAS retained control of the state of Kelantan and won the additional state
On October 31, 2003, Prime Minister Mahathir stepped down voluntarily
after 22 years in power, and his successor, Deputy Prime Minister Abdullah
Badawi, was sworn into office.