Malaysia is a federal constitutional monarchy, consisting of 13 states and 3 federal territories (Kuala Lumpur, Labuan and Putrajaya). The King is elected for a five-year term among the nine hereditary sultans of the traditional Malay states. Each of the 13 states has an Executive Council dealing with non-federal matters under a chief minister (menteri besar). The federal parliament has an upper chamber (Senate) with 70 members and a lower chamber (House of Representatives) with 193 members. National elections are held every five years.
The government is sustained by Barisan Nasional, a coalition consisting of 14 parties led by Malay nationalist UMNO (United Malays National Organisation). Barisan Nasional holds a two-thirds majority in the House of Representatives, which is required to pass constitutional amendments. The country's Prime Minister and UMNO President is YAB Dato' Seri Abdullah Bin Haji Ahmad Badawi. The opposition is gathered in a front formed by four parties, the most important of which is the PAS, the All-Malaysia Islam Party.
Malaysia is a multi-racial, multi-cultural and multi-religious country, with Malay, Chinese and Indian ethnic groups. In religious terms it is predominantly Islamic, but with strong Christian, Buddhist and Hindu communities. The Malaysian constitution provides for a system of privileges favouring the Bumiputra (Malays and aborigines) which is reflected in the country’s national development plans. In terms of economic welfare, Malaysia ranks second in South-east Asia, after Singapore, though there are wide disparities between Kuala Lumpur, other industrialised and tourist-oriented regions and the most remote parts of the country.
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