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Background: During the late 18th and 19th centuries, Great Britain established colonies and protectorates in the area of current Malaysia; these were occupied by Japan from 1942 to 1945. In 1948, the British-ruled territories on the Malay Peninsula formed the Federation of Malaya, which became independent in 1957. Malaysia was formed in 1963 when the former British colonies of Singapore and the East Malaysian states of Sabah and Sarawak on the northern coast of Borneo joined the Federation. The first several years of the country's history were marred by a Communist insurgency, Indonesian confrontation with Malaysia, Philippine claims to Sabah, and Singapore's secession from the Federation in 1965. During the 22-year term of Prime Minister MAHATHIR bin Mohamad (1981-2003), Malaysia was successful in diversifying its economy from dependence on exports of raw materials to expansion in manufacturing, services, and tourism. Current Prime Minister Mohamed NAJIB bin Abdul Razak (in office since April 2009) has continued these pro-business policies.
note: in East Malaysia there are several indigenous languages; most widely spoken are Iban and Kadazan
Literacy: definition: age 15 and over can read and write; total population: 88.7%; male: 92%; female: 85.4% (2000 census);
GDP (purchasing power parity): $416.7 billion (2010 est.); $388.8 billion (2009 est.); $395.5 billion (2008 est.);
note: data are in 2010 US dollars
GDP (official exchange rate): $219 billion (2010 est.);
GDP - real growth rate: 7.2% (2010 est.); -1.7% (2009 est.); 4.7% (2008 est.);
GDP - per capita (PPP): $14,700 (2010 est.); $14,000 (2009 est.); $14,500 (2008 est.);
note: data are in 2010 US dollars
GDP - composition by sector: agriculture: 9.1%; industry: 41.6%; services: 49.3% (2010 est.);
Population below poverty line: 3.6% (2007 est.);
Household income or consumption by percentage share: lowest 10%: 2.6%; highest 10%: 28.5% (2005 est.);
Labor force: 12.2 million (2010 est.);
Labor force - by occupation: agriculture: 13%; industry: 36%; services: 51% (2005 est.);
Unemployment rate: 3.5% (2010 est.); 3.7% (2009 est.);
Budget: revenues: $46.78 billion; expenditures: $46.34 billion (2010 est.);
Industries: Peninsular Malaysia - rubber and oil palm processing and manufacturing, light manufacturing, pharmaceuticals, medical technology, electronics, tin mining and smelting, logging, timber processing; Sabah - logging, petroleum production; Sarawak - agriculture processing, petroleum production and refining, logging;
Industrial production growth rate: 7.5% (2010 est.);
Electricity - production: 107.4 billion kWh (2009 est.);
Electricity - consumption: 93.8 billion kWh (2009 est.);
Electricity - exports: 91.7 million kWh (2009 est.);
Electricity - imports: 0 kWh (2009 est.);
Statistics: CIA World Factbook.
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(Pro-government, Malay-language), Kuala Lumpur
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With the next parliamentary election approaching, Malaysia's civil society demands electoral reform while political parties vie for control.
A court ruling to allow the use of the word "Allah" in Christian publications is causing divisions among the diverse people of Malaysia.
Based on examples of media mania about Islam, one may have the impression that the future of American relations with the Muslim world depends on the outcome of the 2008 elections.
Ioannis Gatsiounis, reporting from Kuala Lumpur, looks at Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad's