Understanding Malay Society and Culture

Malaysian Culture

Because of the wide range of people living there, Malaysia has an extremely diversified culture. Taking the Malays as an example, who are an ethnic subgroup of the Austronesian people.

The Malay peninsula, coastal Borneo, and eastern Sumatra are all home to the main ethnic groups from the Philippines and Taiwanese natives. Since China and India had trading links with Malaysia, Malaysia was impacted by their civilizations. The Arabic, British, and Persian cultures have all had a significant impact on Malaysian culture. These Malaysian ethnic groups are different and one of a kind in terms of their cultural customs. So, the Malay culture is a mixture of the cultures mentioned above, predominantly the Indian and Chinese cultures.

The Politics of the Malays

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

Understanding Malay Culture and Society

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, who 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.

Problems in Understanding Malay Politics

Even having succeeded in poverty reduction of population, Malaysia is grappling with the eradication of inequality between the Malays and the Chinese, which are the major ethnic groups of Malaysia, has made the country 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 and in other areas of the country between the Malays and Chinese. These riots made the government scrutinize the policies that were existing from the independence period, which 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 Chines. For instance, most Malays work in the government sector, while the 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, which 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.

Law and Order in Malaysia

Malaysia remains a police state where one can be detained without trial, they call it the Internal Security Act, which means that a police force is a federal rather than 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 centres, 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, mostly doing 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, the Chinese triad, dates back to the precolonial period where they used to trade in drug trafficking, especially opium produced in areas close to Malaysia. Possession of drug itself also can lead someone to a death sentence in Malaysia.


The political power of Malays is said to be degenerating and weakening according to analysis by political observers, with the rights and freedoms of the Malays being distracted and not enjoyed as entrenched in the constitution. Malays have refused to tolerate other ethnic groups, this as we know and analysed here, has become a threat for a united Malaysia. This disunity and intolerance has also thwarted national integrity which is crucial for the country.

In a concerted effort to address the political and social conflicts that exist between these two large ethnic groups, there's a need to create awareness of the social – psychological process and how people's behaviour 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, which is necessary for nation-building and maturity in politics. The rule of law and the spirit of the constitution must be defended by all citizens. Not anywhere in the world do peace come easily, and sacrifices and compromises must be made.


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