Understanding Malay Society and culture

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Because of the wide range of people living there, Malaysia has an extremely diversified culture. starting with the Malays, a subgroup of the Austronesian people who constitute an ethnic group (these are people whose population are from the Asia, Africa, and Oceania origin). The Malay peninsula, coastal Borneo, and eastern Sumatra are all home to the main ethnic groups from the Philippines and Taiwanese natives. When China and India established trading ties with Malaysia, Malaysia was impacted by their cultures. The Arabic, British, and Persian cultures have all had a significant impact on Malaysian culture. These ethnic groups that exist in Malaysia today are unique and distinct in their cultural practices. So, the Malay culture is a mixture of the cultures mentioned above and more predominantly the Indian and Chinese culture.

Politics of the Malay people

Politics of the Malay people is dominated by the elite with most of the people being the Chinese middle-class, whose lifestyle is most prosperous. Malaysia's population is about 26.75 million which comprises of many ethnic groups; Indians (7.5%), Chinese (25.3%), Malays (54.2%), and others (13%)

The Malay Government

The government and the politics of Malaysia operate within an agenda of a Federal Representative Democratic Constitution Monarchy. The executive power the government exercises is a federal system of government and 13 governments in the states. The legislative duty is by the federal parliament and the 13 assemblies. They have an independent judiciary, not interfered with by the executive and the legislature. This government is headed by the king who selects a prime minister. The king's position is usually interchanged among some nine hereditary Malay rulers after every five years. This prime minister, the king, selects, must come from the leading coalition in parliament. Malay parliament is divided into elective representations, which is the Dewan Rakyat and senators who are appointed called the Dewan Negara.

Analyzing the problems in understanding Malay politics

Even as Malaysia has succeeded in poverty reduction of her population, she is grappling with the eradication of inequality between the Malays and the Chinese, which are the major ethnic groups of Malaysia, has caused the country to be polarized. This polarization threatens to cause instability in the government and also the political system, which posed to be a well-established system for a long time. In 1969, there were communal riots that erupted in Kuala Lumpur, between the Malays and Chinese, and other areas of the country. These riots made the government scrutinize the policies that were existing from the independence period. This brought with it a launch of a system, New Economic Policy (NEP), that was to earmarked for poverty eradication, trade and economic imbalances among the ethnic communities. Since the NEP was implemented, polarization between these two ethnic communities has been on the rise regarding job opportunities, housing, and education. The system in Malaysia tends to support the Malays more than the Chinese for instance, most Malays work in the government sector and most Chinese work in the private sector, even as pay is good in the private sector than the government jobs. Malays are also advantaged in getting scholarships in the public colleges and universities as opposed to their Chinese and other citizens. There was a protest in 2007, mobilized by Bersih; it managed to bring out dissatisfaction with the policies of the then government of Abdullah Badawi, this resulted in the opposition gaining some mileage from this in the general election of 2008. Malays are politically powerful because most of them get elected to the office, but the Chinese have the financial might. This hasn't gone well with the maintenance of a peaceful nation. Since the demographics are on their side, for one's political ambition to take shape, one has to appeal to this ethnic group.

Malaysia as a Police State

Malaysia remains a police state, where one can be detained without trial, they call it the Internal Security Act, this says that a police force is a federal and not a local institution. Their police quarters, more so in the rural areas, have some design that looks like bunkers which necessitate confrontation in case of an armed insurgency. In the urban centers, police still carry firepower with them. Possession of a firearm by citizens is considered illegal and amounts to a death sentence when found culpable. Police officers tend to protect the commercial property rather than the residential areas, this exposes the people living in the rural or just the residential areas at a very high risk, and they are most of the times do the police work, in the apprehension of criminals. Most of the crimes in Malaysia are of Chinese ethnic group, who have formed an elaborate network of crime. This group, Chinese triad, dates back to the pre-colonial period where they used to trade in drug trafficking, opium; which is produced in areas close to Malaysia. Possession of drug itself also can lead someone to a death sentence in Malaysia.


In a concerted effort to address the political and social conflicts that exist between these two large ethnic groups, there's need to create awareness of the social - psychological process and how people's behavior can be influenced. That active stand between the Malays and the Chinese needs to be taken when working with each other to circumvent classification and minimize the biases of inter - groupings and the conflicts that exist. Chinese and Malays need to be encouraged to treat people as individuals rather than a categorized group. Religious and cultural diversity can be embraced only when each member is treated as an individual. This is necessary for nation building and maturity in politics.


D. Christie, “The Practice of Peace Psychology: Entry Points for Peacebuilding Opportunities.”

Noraini M. Noor (2007) Intellectual Discourse: Polarization and inequality in Malaysia; http://journals.iium.edu.my/intdiscourse/index.php/islam/article/view/50/45

Joseph Chinyong Liow (September 15, 2015) Brookings: Power Plays and Political Crisis in Malaysia.

Jeong Chun Hai @Ibrahim, & Nor Fadzlina Nawi. (2012). Principles of Public Administration: Malaysian Perspectives. Kuala Lumpur: Pearson Publishers. ISBN 978-967-349-233-6

Ja – Ma (2003) Countries and Their Cultures: Malaysia, Political activities http://www.everyculture.com/Ja-Ma/Malaysia.html

Gullick, John. (1958) Indigenous Political Systems of Western Malaya, Read more: http://www.everyculture.com/Ja-Ma/Malaysia.html#ixzz4lNK6y1UB

March 15, 2023

World Sociology

Subject area:

Malaysia Diversity Ethnicity

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