Malaysia is a unique nation-state. It has a Malay Muslim Head of State (a position held in turn by the Rulers of the nine Malay States, which are included in the federation).
It is also a parliamentary democracy, whose electorate, as far as the Peninsular is concerned, consists of three major ethnic groups, the Malays, the Chinese and the Indians. There are also the Orang Asli or aborigines who are the Peninsula's oldest inhabitants.
Economically, within the short span of its existence, Malaysia has been very successful in severing its dependence on two or three primary raw materials and in developing a more balanced economy where industrialisation has played a major role.
Culturally, with its multi-ethnicity, the country affords a very wide range of cultural forms - from food to architecture. Some aspects of traditional Chinese and Indian culture are said to be better preserved here than elsewhere in Asia.
The emergence of Malaysia, as it is today, is the creation of the past 200 years. It is associated with the establishment of British bases at Penang (1786), Singapore (1819) and Melaka (1824), and the spread of their control over all the states of the Peninsula, particularly from the 1870s onwards. The significance of the British presence was that it laid the political and economic forces unleashed by the Industrial Revolution in the West, with its demand for raw materials and expanding markets.
The rise of the tin-mining industry during the 19th century (tin had been mined in Malaysia since early times) was the consequence of the Industrial Revolution, which spawned new uses for the metal. On top of this, at the end of the century, came the rise of the rubber plantation industry, likewise stimulated by industrial developments in the west. The rise of these two major industries led to a great inflow of capital investment (largely, but not wholly from the West), and an influx of foreign workers (mainly Chinese for the tin mines and Tamil Indians for the rubber estates). It also led to the building of the network of roads and railways, the birth of new towns like Taiping, Seremban and Kuala Lumpur, and the establishment of a modern, centralised government to manage it all.
By 1920, the Malaysia - and in particular, the Malay Peninsula - of today had taken shape. The British were in command; the major ethnic groups in the country were in place - the immigrants starting to look upon this country as their home; and the present political units, slightly differently arranged, established.
The next 20 years saw the rise of nationalistic awareness which culminated in the Independence in 1957.This was followed by changing economic scenarios, the influence of outside events (the rise of Japan, the Chinese Revolution, the Indian nationalist struggle and the Communist Revolution in Russia), and above all, the impact of the Second World War and the Japanese Occupation.
Before the war, nationalist groups were restricted in number and not very visible, but the War and British attempts to impose their own political solution (the Malayan Union) after it, caused an explosion of nationalist feeling. To the amazement of the British, the leaders of the Malays, Chinese and Indians were able to find a formula for working together politically to achieve independence by means of a coalition of ethnic-based parties, calling itself the Alliance. Pressured by this united front, the British conceded independence on 31st August 1957.
The Communist uprising in 1948 (known as "The Emergency") and the desire to prevent the Peninsula succumbing to Communist domination played an important role in persuading the British to give-in to nationalist demands.
With independence and the subsequent creation of Malaysia, the Alliance (now renamed the Barisan Nasional) has remained in power ever since. It has weathered storms of communalism internally and outside aggression and, by the adoption of highly pragmatic policies at home and abroad has created a stable, and respected nation.