Malaysia in the 1980s

By | May 28, 2022

From the end of the seventies, and throughout the following decade, the economy of Malaysia continued to show signs of relative prosperity, visible in urban development and in the standard of living of individuals, even in the rural environment, despite the drop in prices of rubber and tin (for which Malaysia is the largest producer in the world). However, the prices of palm oil (Malaysia supplying more than half of world production), pepper and other tropical products were recorded. However, the value of the Malaysian dollar fell significantly against the Japanese yen.

According to indexdotcom, relative political stability remained, ensured more by the electoral system modeled on the British one of single member constituencies than by general consensus. The danger of destabilization is inherent in the composite multi-ethnic society of Malaysia The 1982 elections confirmed the preponderance of the national front, the grouping of 13 parties of which the UMNO (United Malay National Organization) is pivotal, flanked by the MCA (Malayan Chinese Association) and the MIC (Malayan Indian Congress). The victory of the National Front was confirmed by the 1986 elections. The results, however, bore disturbing signs. The UMNO confirmed its strength, but the MCA lost much of the Chinese electorate, dropping to 17 seats, in favor of the DAP (Democratic Action Party), the opposition party, which obtained 24. In the two years following the ‘ UMNO was stirred by lively current struggles, but Prime Minister Mahathir continued to hold the presidency of the party.

From the early 1980s, important movements of politicians and intellectuals criticized the conduct of the country’s politics and economy, particularly attacking Mahathir and his group. This situation became clear in April 1987 on the occasion of the renewal of the offices of the UMNO, up to then always attributed by unanimous consent. This time the discontents congregated around prominent personalities such as Razaleigh Hamzah and Musa Hitam. Among the critics was Tengku Abdul Rahman, the elderly founder of Malaysia. The recurring attempts to revise the rules on the powers of the sultans also provoked heated controversy. The government continued to have to face on the one hand the discontent of the Chinese for the perpetuation of the ” special rights ” that largely favored the Malays in the access to public employment and higher education as well as to entrepreneurial activities; on the other hand, the perennial dissatisfaction of Islamic fundamentalists, despite the widespread favor enjoyed by the Islamic religion (the non-observance of fasting by Muslim citizens is a criminal offense). As early as 1983, Mahathir denounced the attempts of certain groups to create an ” Islamic republic ” in Malaysia, groups that would have been fomented by an unspecified foreign country. This eventuality would mean shattering a country of such fragile cohesion that has about 40% of Chinese and 10% of Hindus, Sikhs and Christians.

In October 1987, to prevent the ever-latent conflict between the Chinese and Malaysian communities from escalating into dangerous unrest, the government adopted a series of emergency measures with the arrest of some members of the opposition (who were released from prison only in April 1989) and the suppression of some press organs. In a crescendo of drama, the re-election of Mahathir as president of UMNO was then canceled by the supreme court.

A conflict arose between the executive power and the judiciary which led, in August 1986, to the dismissal of the president of the supreme court. In October of the same year, Mahathir, having ascertained the impossibility of controlling the UMNO, set up a ” new ” UMNO. Among its main critics and opponents, in the forefront the elderly Prince Abdul Rahman. However, the power of the prime minister, even if flawed, still remained quite firm, to the point that in February 1989 his major opponents re-entered the ” new ” UMNO. And the elections of October 1990 confirmed the strength of the national coalition which obtained 127 out of 180 seats in Parliament, despite the exit from this of the unitary party of Sabah. It raised no concern for the national unity some instances of independence in this state at the eastern end of the Federation. Mahathir was once again confirmed as prime minister.

In December 1990, Prince Abdul Rahman, a figure of historical stature, twentieth of the 45 children of the Sultan of Kedah, creator of independent Malaysia, convinced advocate of national unity and the overcoming of typical ethnic, cultural and religious diversity died at the age of 87. of the composite population of Malaysia.

In contrast to the alternating political events, the country’s economy has instead followed a regular trend of notable increase. In 1991, the gross domestic product per capita amounted to 4475 US dollars, so that Malaysia ranks third in ASEAN after Singapore and Brunei, clearly ahead of Indonesia, the Philippines and even Thailand. although it was going through a period of great development. By the end of 1992, with a wide extension of preferential tariffs among ASEAN countries, the economy of Malaysia became more closely integrated into that of the large community of 350 million residents of Southeast Asia.

Malaysia in the 1980s