About Malaysia


Population (in millions)


GNI per capita (in USD)


Poverty rate (2014)


Gini coefficient (2014)


Women in the labour force


Rank on the Gender Inequality Index (2014)


children smilingPhoto: UNDP Malaysia

Malaysia is a high middle income country with per capita income of RM36, 937 (US$10,796). It includes 11 states in Peninsular Malaysia, three federal territories and the Borneo states of Sabah and Sarawak, and is a country of diversity with its multi-ethnic, multicultural and multilinguistic population. The land area is 330,183 square kilometres. Sabah and Sarawak have 60 per cent of the land but only 20 per cent of the population.


In 2010, the population in Malaysia of 28.6 million comprised: 50.1 per cent Malays; 11.7 per cent Other Bumiputera; 22.5 per cent Chinese; 6.7 per cent Indians; 0.8 per cent Others (Malaysians); and 8.1 per cent non-Malaysians.


The Other Bumiputera include the Orang Asli of Peninsular Malaysia and the indigenous people of Sabah and Sarawak. The Malays and the Other Bumiputera are jointly referred to as the Bumiputera. The category of Others refers to Malaysian citizens who do not fall under the main ethnic categories such as those with Siamese or Portuguese roots.


At the time of independence in 1957, the ethnic groups had distinct identities: the Malays were largely concentrated in the rural areas in smallholder agriculture but they were also represented in the government, the police and the armed forces. The Indians were largely in the plantations and the professional services of the government while the Chinese dominated trade and commerce. A small group of foreigners controlled the corporate sector, largely plantations and tin mines. When Malaysia was formed in 1963, the people of Sabah and Sarawak comprised linguistically distinct groups, who were self-sufficient in living off the land and natural resources, and mostly concentrated in rural and remote settlements.  


An upper-middle-income South-East Asian country, Malaysia has a population of 30.6 million, was ranked 62 out of 188 countries on the UNDP human development index, 2015, with a score of 0.779 (high human development).



Malaya, what is now Peninsular Malaysia, formed on 31 August 1957; Malaysia (Malaya, Sabah, Sarawak and Singapore) formed 9 July 1963 (Singapore left Malaysia on 9 August 1965). The country is nominally headed by the Prime Minister and a bicameral Parliament consisting of a nonelected upper house and an elected lower house.


Peninsular Malaysian states have hereditary royalty rulers in all but Negeri Sembilan, Melaka, Penang, Sabah and Sarawak, where Governors are appointed by the Malaysian Government. However, powers of state governments are limited by the federal constitution. Under terms of the federation, Sabah and Sarawak retain certain constitution (eg: the right to maintain their own immigration controls).


Sabah holds 20 seats in the House of Representatives, with foreign affairs, defense, internal security, and other powers delegated to federal government. Sarawak holds 28 seats in the House of Representatives, with foreign affairs, defense, internal security and other powers delegated to federal government.

Unfinished business and Moving forward


The unfinished business


The remaining issues will highlight larger development aspects that require more effort in moving forward.


Environment. Data and information on natural resources are needed in order to assess its quantity and quality so that sustainable development can be quantified and progress towards it is measured. For instance, the economic value of natural and environmental resources is often not estimated or quantified and does not enter into decision-making about its conservation.


Gender empowerment. Malaysia has achieved gender parity in education and health. However, stereotyped gender roles continue to persist with implications for other development achievements. Gender empowerment in so far as it improves the overall welfare of men and women should be pursued.


Inclusiveness. Malaysia’s development philosophy in the 11MP is to leave no one behind. This approach has required huge levels of effort, investments and resources. Moving forward, a targeted, focussed approach and a strategic, multidimensional relook at the social protection system is needed to respond to possible unintended circumstances or situations, bearing in mind the interconnectedness of various problems.


Quality of development. Having satisfied basic needs, other demands have emerged, such as decent jobs and higher incomes, a high quality of life, good and safe living environments, and the opportunity to develop culturally, intellectually and scientifically and to have a more fulfilling life. It can be summarised succinctly as “quality” over “quantity”. Pursuing quality development is essentially the thrust of recent government plans and policies, the 11MP, for example, and the ETP. In education, the Education Blueprint has also taken on the quality challenge. This paradigm shift will be required in other areas of development.



Moving forward


There are several key development areas that need to be addressed in moving forward.


Crosscutting nature of development. The interlinkages and crosscutting nature of development are becoming increasingly important. The relationship between environmental resources and economic growth, for instance, is so vital that future development could be affected, especially under conditions of uncertainty, whether manmade or natural as in disasters arising from climatic changes. The interlinkages between gender parity in education and occupations and educational outcomes are evident. Physical and environmental conditions are linked to urban planning that in turn influences lifestyle. Addressing issues in an integrated manner is the next major development challenge.


Demands for public participation and social trust. The demand for public participation at all levels of society is growing and the availability -or lack - of mechanisms to harness this contribution can greatly influence the development itself. Indeed, an important aspect of inclusiveness is that people should not only benefit from development but should also have a voice in deciding the forms and nature of development to pursue.


Effective implementation. While effective engagement and communication plays a role in building social trust, implementation on the ground level speaks the loudest. Ensuring that plans, policies and programmes achieve the intended outcomes will need sustained and focussed effort, requiring increased local capacities of people and institutions.


Resilience and sustainability. Malaysia has been very successful in delivering the physical aspects of development, but in the future, the challenge is to ensure resilience and sustainability.


Global partnerships. Malaysia has taken important steps to share its development experience through the MTCP and has shown that it is a global partner for development. This foreign policy element is very much in line with the inclusive nature of sustainable development goals, and providing opportunities for those in need.


Monitoring and Evaluation. There was no institution assigned to monitor and evaluate the MDGs. Past reviews have been adhoc. In the post 2015 period, a coordinated institutional effort should be put in place to facilitate and be accountable for monitoring the goals, targets and indicators.   


Lastly, in furthering the inclusive approach to development, there are the challenges with regard to refugees, undocumented and stateless persons. These people pose a very real challenge especially for a nation that already hosts a substantial population of documented migrants. Malaysia is in one of the centres of international migration and engagement with international organisations is needed to resolve this matter in a humane manner while upholding Malaysia’s interests.


classroom| Photo: UNDP Malaysia


Malaysia has achieved good human development outcomes over time through systematic, dedicated and sustained efforts of numerous stakeholders.


Within the MDG framework, absolute poverty and hunger have been eliminated in Malaysia; universal primary education has been achieved for both boys and girls; child mortality is very low and is comparable to levels in high income nations; maternal deaths have fallen by more than half, while safe deliveries and antenatal care coverage are high; infectious diseases like HIV/AIDS and malaria have been halted and reversed; environmental sustainability has been incorporated into key plans and policies; there is near universal coverage of clean water supply and basic sanitation and squatter households have been reduced. Malaysia has become an important and active contributor to global development as the nation graduates from being a recipient country to sharing its development experience with other countries.


These human development achievements were attained whilst sustaining healthy economic growth and maintaining social peace and stability as a multicultural society, and without sacrificing the nation’s natural environmental resources.


Malaysia, during the MDG period, was already pursuing a MDG Plus (MDG+) development agenda. Malaysia’s MDG 2010 Report showed that the country was achieving equitable development outcomes at disaggregated levels, by locality, strata, age groups, and vulnerable groups. Malaysia also prioritised other development issues in the spirit of the MDGs, for example, child poverty, inequality and vulnerability reduction (MDG 1), pre-school and secondary school education (MDG 2), enhancing the position of women in decision-making positions, as well as tackling gender-based violence (MDG 3). These examples demonstrate that Malaysia takes a forward-looking approach in its development.


The challenge is therefore to ensure that current policies/programmes are realigned to be sustainable, resilient and inclusive and to build a foundation for the quality of life for all Malaysians.

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