SHARIFAH H. SHAHABUDIN
Malaysia lies at the heart of Southeast Asia. It is the only country to share a common border with its ASEAN neighbors. ASEAN, an acronym for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, is comprised of Thailand, Singapore, Brunei, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Malaysia, and is the fastest growing economic region of the world today. Malaysia occupies a land area of 129,000 square miles with two distinct regions: West Malaysia, which is the more densely populated peninsular area, and East Malaysia, consisting of the states of Sarawak and Sabah with the mystic Kinabalu, the highest peak in the region located on the island of Borneo, separated from the mainland by 400 miles of the South China Sea.
The population numbers 18 million, with 65 percent below the age of 30 years. The majority are of ethnic Malay stock while the other one-third are of Chinese and Indian descent. Malaysia is proud of its multicultural and multireligious heritage. The official religion is Islam, but people are free to practice their respective faiths, and the official language is Malay, but English, Mandarin, Tamil, and the indigenous languages are also taught and freely spoken. Free education is provided up to pre-university level, and extensive funds are allocated for university scholarships and loans. There are approximately 60,000 Malaysian students in various foreign universities and an equal number in the seven local universities.
The system of government is a constitutional monarchy under a parliamentary democracy where representatives are elected to the legislature every five years by universal adult suffrage. The other two arms of the government are the executive and the judiciary. The national development policy has as its goal for Malaysia to be a fully developed nation by the year 2020. Embodied in this goal is the vision of an industrialized nation, with a confident and united Malaysian people infused by strong moral and ethical values, living in a society that is democratic, liberal and tolerant, caring, economically just and equitable,