MALAYSIAN SOCIETY, RICH AND POOR

MALAYSIAN SOCIETY

Malaysia is a multi-cultural society. The main ethnic groups are the native Malays as well as large populations of Chinese, and Indians. When visiting the country it is clear that the ethnicities retain their religions, customs and way of life. The most important festivals of each group are public holidays. [Source: kwintessential.co.uk]

Although growing up, children are educated in the same schools and will eventually work in the same offices, few marry outside their own ethnicity. Families tend to socialise within their own ethnic group – all part of retaining their individual traditions and lifestyles. Despite the ethnic differences there are commonalities culturally speaking.

The family is considered the centre of the social structure. As a result there is a great emphasis on unity, loyalty and respect for the elderly. The family is the place where the individual can be guaranteed both emotional and financial support. When one member of the family suffers a financial setback, the rest of the family will contribute what they can to help out. Families tend to be extended, although in the larger cities this will naturally differ.

See Separate Articles MALAYSIAN CHARACTER, PERSONALITY and KORO, LATAH AND RUNNING AMOK

Disparity of Income

Malaysia has the third-highest level of income inequality in Southeast Asia after Thailand and Singapore. Data from the government's statistics department shows the mean household income gap widened between the top 20 percent of the households and the bottom 40 percent from 2009 to 2012.

In the early 2000s, the Asian countries in with the greatest income disparity between rich and poor (determined by how many times more income the richest 20 percent of the population has than the poorest 20 percent) were: 1) Thailand (15.5); 2) Malaysia (11.7); 3) Singapore (9.6); 4) Hong Kong (8.7 percent)...compared to 9.0 in the U.S. and 32 in Brazil.

Distribution of family income - Gini index: 46.2 (2009), country comparison to the world: 33. 49.2 (1997). Household income or consumption by percentage share: lowest 10 percent: 1.8 percent; highest 10 percent: 34.7 percent (2009 est.) [Source: CIA World Factbook]

Malaysia's already wide income gap has grown since Prime Minister Najib came to power in 2009, despite progress Najib's government has made towards its goal of doubling incomes by 2020. Among ethnic Malays the gap has widened the most — by nearly 17 percent. Idris Jala, the government minister admitted in a commentary in the Star newspaper that the gap between the rich and poor was too high. "We are taking measures to deal with this," he said, referring to cash handouts and the imposition of a national minimum wage last year. "Sometimes, the best way to help the poor, especially the very poor, is to simply give them money to alleviate their suffering." [Source: Niluksi Koswanage, Reuters, May 2, 2013]

Cronies in Malaysia

Tajudin Ramli is a tycoon who was well-connected with the Mahathir government. He owned Malaysian Airlines and one of Malaysia’s largest cell phone companies for a while. Tajudin took out huge loans to fund his acquisitions. In the end his debts caught up with him and he was stripped of most everything he owned.

Syed Mokhtar, who holds a monopoly on sugar and rice in Malaysia and is close to Prime Minister Najib and former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad, is regarded as Malaysia’s No. 1 crony even though he denies he is favoured by the government. Niluksi Koswanage of Reuters wrote: “The opposition has singled out ethnic Malay tycoon Syed Mokhtar Al-Bukhary as benefiting from a government programme to divest stakes in state-linked firms. Revenue in the nine months to December 2012 for Syed Mokhtar's DRB-Hicom conglomerate doubled to 9.7 billion ringgit ($3.2 billion) from the previous year after it bought national carmaker Proton for $411.9 million in early 2012 in a closed bidding process. [Source: Niluksi Koswanage, Reuters, May 2, 2013]

A Reuters survey of 16 Malay companies shortlisted for the civil works portion of the rail job shows a majority with strong links to UMNO, with half listed on the Kuala Lumpur exchange. Najib told Reuters in March 2013 he had made progress in improving transparency, but said there were certain federal government tenders carved out for "deserving" Malay companies. But Hanafee Yusoff, secretary general of the Malay Chamber of Commerce, said: "We need a government that helps all Malay entrepreneurs. The current government has the intention, but the problem is with the delivery."

Malaysian Tycoon Claims Mahathir Forced Him to Buy Malaysian Airlines

In July 2006, an ex-tycoon has accused former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad of forcing him in 1994 to buy a controlling stake in Malaysian Airline to bail out the government. AFP reported: “Tajudin reportedly purchased a controlling stake of 29 percent in Malaysia Airlines in 1994 from the central bank, paying about twice the market price for the ailing carrier. The well-connected tycoon claims a conspiracy over the deal and is suing the government and a number of state-owned companies for 13.46 billion ringgit ($3.69 billion), according to Malaysia's Sun newspaper. Tajudin was one of a number of Malay entrepreneurs hand-picked by Mahathir in business dealings as part of efforts to boost the wealth of the country's majority ethnic group, or bumiputras as they are called. Analysts have said the affair has shed light on long-held beliefs about government assistance given to bumiputra businessmen in the country. [Source: AFP, July 25, 2006]

Associated Press reported: “Tajudin Ramli filed a court document 29, saying his purchase of the 32 percent stake in Malaysian Airline System Bhd for 1.8 billion ringgit, then worth US$750 million, was not a normal commercial deal as was made out at the time but a forced "national service." If true, Tajudin's allegations would point to shady financial practices and lack of transparency in the government in the 1990s when many private entrepreneurs with close links to top politicians were obliged to carry out business on behalf of the state and received favors. [Source: AP, July 7, 2006 |*|]

“The Sun said Tajudin's court document was in support of a lawsuit that he filed against the government and other individuals, seeking 13 billion ringgit in compensation, alleging a conspiracy by the government to take over his companies. Tajudin claims he was directed by Mahathir and his then-finance minister Daim Zainuddin to buy the MAS shares from the airline's main owner, the central bank, for 8 ringgit per share even though its market price was 3.50 ringgit a share. Tajudin said Mahathir and Daim told him he was buying the shares as a national service to save the central bank, the Bank Negara, which at the time was hit by multibillion ringgit foreign exchange losses. |*|

“Tajudin was hailed then as a national hero. But in his court document, Tajudin says he was a reluctant hero. He says he did not want to buy the stake as he was worried about financial losses, but agreed to do it because it was a directive from the government. He also claims that Mahathir and Daim assured him verbally he would be protected from financial losses and liabilities. But he was told by the two leaders not to reveal this arrangement. "Due to the sensitive nature [of the deal] Tajudin did not seek any written confirmation from Mahathir or Daim, " the Sun said. "Tajudin had never known [Mahathir] ... to renege on any agreement before." Tajudin took out a personal bank loan to fund the purchase of the stake and pledged his companies, Naluri and Technology Resources Industries Bhd (TRI), as collateral. |*|

“After the 1997 Asian financial crisis, his debt-ridden companies were taken over by the state debt restructuring agency Danaharta. Also, TRI-owned Celcom, a mobile phone operator, was forced to merge with the state-owned phone company, Telekom Malaysia. In 2000, the government repurchased Tajudin's Malaysia Airlines stake for 8 ringgit, even though the market price was around 3.6 ringgit, causing a public outrcry that the government was bailing out a crony. But Tajudin says he was a victim rather than a beneficiary because Danaharta not only took over his companies but also sued him in May this year to recover 589 million ringgit that it claims he still owes to the government. Tajudin said he filed the 13 billion ringgit lawsuit and revealed the secret deal with Mahathir because of Danaharta's actions.” |*|

Mahathir denied the allegations. "I don't remember instructing him to buy MAS shares. At that time the government was not short of money. Yes we lost some money but we know what to do, how to recover, and we recovered," Mahathir told reporters. "Perhaps you should ask him how he came up with the conclusion that I forced him to buy MAS...I don't ask people to do national service.” Recalling his version of events, the former premier said he was informed of Tajudin's interest in buying MAS by then finance minister Daim Zainuddin -- who himself has been dogged by corruption allegations. [Source: AFP, July 25, 2006]

Richest People in Malaysia

Forbes: Richest Malaysians in 2013 (Rank, Name, Net Worth, Age in 2013): 1) Robert Kuok---$12.5 billion, age 89; 2) Ananda Krishnan---$11.7 billion, age 75; 3) Lim Kok Thay & family---$6.6 billion, age 61; 4) Teh Hong Piow---$5.6 billion, age 83; 5) Quek Leng Chan---$4.8 billion, age 69; 6) Lee Shin Cheng---$4.5 billion, age 74; 7) Yeoh Tiong Lay---$2.8 billion, age 83; 8) Syed Mokhtar AlBukhary---$2.75 billion, age 61; 9) Tiong Hiew King---$1.8 billion, age 78; 10) Vincent Tan---$1.3 billion, age 61. [Source: Forbes]

Malaysia had 11 billionaires in 1995 according to Forbes. The top 12 tycoons in Malaysia lost $13 billion in stocks assets between March and September, 1997 after the stock market fell from 1 point below its all time high to a 30 year low during the the Asian financial crisis.

A ruling elite of 2,000 or so people, based primarily in Kuala Lumpur, call most of the shots for Malaysia and its economy, some say.

Malaysia’s Richest Man: Robert Kuok

1) Robert Kuok --- Net Worth: $12.5 B As of March 2013; Age: 89; Source of Wealth: diversified, self-made; Country of Citizenship: Malaysia; Education: Bachelor of Arts / Science, Raffles College; Marital Status: Married; Children: 8; Forbes Lists: No. 76 Among billionaires worldwide; No. 1 in Malaysia; No. 64 in 2012. [Source: Forbes ^=^]

According to Forbes: Chinese Malaysian tycoon Robert Kuok made his money in sugar, palm oil, shipping and property. His Kuok Group boasts a huge network of companies under 3 main groups in Hong Kong, Singapore and Malaysia. Kuok's net worth is up $100 million compared with March 2012, thanks to newly-discovered assets in China's leading meat manufacturer, Yurun Food Group, and a slight rise in the share price of Hong Kong-listed Shangri-la Hotels and Kerry Properties. Biggest source of wealth is his stake in Wilmar, the world's largest listed palm oil company. But the stock weakened during the past twelve months as palm oil prices slumped. Wilmar is run by his nephew, Kuok Khoon Hong, a Singapore citizen who's also a billionaire thanks to his 10 percent stake in the company. Robert Kuok also controls the South China Morning Post, once the world's most profitable daily newspaper. ^=^

See Palm Oil

Malaysia’s Second Richest Man: Ananda Krishnan

2) Ananda Krishnan controls Maxi Communications Bhd., Malaysia’s No. 1 mobile hone company and has stakes in everything from gambling enterprises to satellites. A self-made billionaire of Sri Lankan origin and a former oil trader, he controls Malaysian pay-TV operator Astro All-Asia Networks and gambling and leisure firm Tanjong. His a net worth in 2007 was $6 billion according to Forbes magazine. He is a close friend to former premier Mahathir Mohamad.

Net Worth: $11.7 B As of March 2013; Age: 75; Source of Wealth: telecoms, self-made; Country of Citizenship: Malaysia; Education: Master of Business Administration, Harvard University; Bachelor of Arts / Science, Melbourne University; Marital Status: Married; Children: 3; Forbes Lists: No. 82 Among billionaires worldwide; No. 2 in Malaysia; No. 93 in 2012. [Source: Forbes ^=^]

According to Forbes: Malaysian tycoon Ananda Krishnan's shrewd dealmaking boosted his fortune by $1.7 billion, helping him retain status as country's second richest person after Robert Kuok. He sold a small stake in listed telecom firm Maxis, his biggest asset. Reportedly a deal with Russia's Sistema to sell his holding in Indian telecom outfit Aircel fell through. Last October, he relisted the domestic business of pay -TV operator Astro which he'd taken private in 2010, raising $1.5 billion. In separate deals, he sold the power and gaming businesses of privately-held unit Tanjong, for over $3 billion. Shares of his offshore services provider Bumi Armada are up by nearly one-fifth since its 2011 listing. His only son is a Buddhist monk in Thailand. ^=^

Ananda Krishnan Business Deals

In May 2007, Ananda Krishnan announced plans to buy out Malaysia’s largest mobile operator, Maxis Communications in a deal estimated to be worth at least $5 billion. Maxis gave no reason for the buyout plan but industry analysts speculated that Krishnan wanted to relist Maxis offshore and raise foreign capital to fund international expansion. The news agencies reported: “Maxis, which faces a price war and a maturing market at home, is expanding into larger and less-developed Asian markets like Indonesia and India to drive growth. "It is a surprise move," said Cheah King Yoong, head of investment research at Malaysia's SJ Securities. "But I would not be surprised if Maxis is listed overseas." [Source: Agencies May 1, 2007]

Chong Tjen San, a telecom analyst at Malaysia's Aseambankers, said the buyout plan could be a first step toward raising money to fund major investments in India and Indonesia. "The privatisation of Maxis could allow Ananda Krishnan to more freely utilise his own wealth should the two overseas ventures require more capital than what Maxis' balance sheet could comfortably allow in the short term," Chong said. [Ibid]

Krishnan held an indirect interest of 47.05 percent in Maxis as of April 2006, according to company data. At the current share price, a buyout bid for the remainder of about 53 percent would cost around 17.4 billion ringgit ($5.1 billion). It would be the largest deal unveiled in Malaysia since three plantations firms signed an $8.9 billion merger in January. [Ibid]

In March 2012, Ananda Krishnan sold his energy assets to a government investment vehicle for $2.8 billion in one of the region's largest power deals. AFP reported: “1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB) said it had acquired Ananda Krishnan's Tanjong Energy Holdings Sdn Bhd as "a long-term strategic investment" deal. Tanjong Energy Group owns and operates eight power plants and has investments in five others in Malaysia, Egypt, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and the United Arab Emirates. [Source: AFP, March 7, 2012]

Some Malaysian opposition figures have begun questioning the deal since unconfirmed media reports of the transaction began to emerge last week. Tony Pua, an opposition member of parliament, said the purchase raised questions over whether it was a sweetheart deal for the politically connected Krishnan, with Malaysian taxpayers assuming the risk. India's Central Bureau of Investigation last year launched an investigation into Maxis's 2006 acquisition of Aircel in India amid accusations of corruption and conspiracy. Maxis has denied wrongdoing. [Ibid]

Malaysia’s Third, Forth and Fifth Richest Men

3) Lim Kok Thay & family --- Net Worth: $6.6 B As of February 2013; Age: 61; Source of Wealth: gaming; Country of Citizenship: Malaysia; Education: University of London; Marital Status: Married; Children: 3; Forbes Lists: No. 3 On Malaysia’s 50 Richest list in 2013; No. 16 in 2012. Profile: Lim Kok Thay is the son of late casino magnate Lim Goh Tong runs Genting Group (See Genting Under Recreation), which boasts resorts and casinos in Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong, the Philippines and the U.K., and a 43 percent stake in Norwegian Cruise Line. Plans for a convention center and vast expansion of its booming casino in New York City fell apart in June. Shares fortune with 82-year-old mother, Lee Kim Hua, and other family members. Last year the bulk of this wealth was listed under her name; now the proceeds of the estate have apparently been distributed. [Source: Forbes ^=^]

4) Teh Hong Piow --- Net Worth: $5.6 B As of March 2013; Age: 83; Source of Wealth: banking, self-made; Country of Citizenship: Malaysia; Marital Status: Married; Children: 4; Forbes Lists: No. 215 Among billionaires worldwide; No. 4 in Malaysia; No. 205 in 2012; No. 4 In Malaysia in 2012. Profile: Founder of Public Bank, Malaysia's third largest bank by assets, and its chairman for 46 years, Teh Hong Piow saw his fortune rise as shares of the bank touched a record high in December. A banker for over six decades, he started his career as a clerk with Oversea-Chinese Banking Corp. before founding Public in 1965. With 400 branches and 17500 employees, it has expanded into Hong Kong, Vietnam, China and Cambodia. Other interests include a holding in insurance firm LPI Capital. ^=^

5) Quek Leng Chan --- Net Worth: $4.8 B As of March 2013; Age: 69; Source of Wealth: diversified; Country of Citizenship: Malaysia; Marital Status: Married; Children: 3; Forbes Lists: No. 262 Among billionaires worldwide; No. 4 in Malaysia; No. 255 worldwide in 2012; No. 5 in Malaysia in 2012. Profile: Quek Leng Chan heads Hong Leong Group Malaysia and gets biggest part of fortune from its stake in Hong Kong listed investment company, Guoco Group, which he's trying to take private in a $1.1 billion deal. His attempt to take investment banking arm Hong Leong capital privately wasn't successful as shareholders chose to hold out for a better price. Gaming group Rank, listed on the LSE but controlled by Quek through Guoco, is planning to merge with former rival Gala to become UK's biggest gaming company. His other interests include financial services, property development and hotels across Southeast Asia. Shares control of massive Hong Leong Group with Singaporean cousin, Kwek Leng Beng, and Kwek's family. Inherited fortune from his father, one of 3 brothers who started a small banking group in the 1920s. ^=^

More of Malaysia’s Richest Men

Lee Shin Cheng --- Net Worth: $4.5 B As of March 2013; Age: 74; Source of Wealth: palm oil, self-made; Country of Citizenship: Malaysia; Marital Status: Married; Children: 6; Forbes Lists: No. 276 Among billionaires worldwide; No. 5 in Malaysia; No. 196 in 2012. No. 6 In Malaysia in 2012. Profile: Palm oil producer and property developer, Lee Shin Cheng saw his wealth decline as shares of his listed IOI Group fell after it reported a 28 percent drop in first quarter earnings, due to weaker palm oil prices. He stepped up investment in China real estate buying land in Xiamen for $190 million last year. He recently bought out his Taiwanese partner in an ongoing 7.7acre residential and commercial project in the same area. Lee grew up on a rubber plantation where his father ran a Chinese food shop. [Source: Forbes ^=^]

Yeoh Tiong Lay --- Net Worth: $2.8 B As of March 2013; Age: 83; Source of Wealth: diversified, self-made; Country of Citizenship: Malaysia; Marital Status: Married; Children: 7; Forbes Lists: No. 503 Among billionaires worldwide; No. 6 in Malaysia; No. 464 in 2012. No. 7 In Malaysia in 2012. Profile: Yeoh Tiong Lay who founded YTL Corp as a construction firm in 1955, got a boost from rising shares of his conglomerate, partly due to a better performance by its cement unit. Company is run by eldest son, Francis. Its YTL Power owns PowerSeraya, Singapore's second-largest power plant, Wessex Water in the U.K. YTL's Malaysian-listed Starhill REIT closed a $415 million deal for three Marriott Hotels in Australia. Hotel arm reopened Kuala Lumpur's Hotel Majestic in December, closed for 28 years, after an $82 million facelift of the heritage property. ^=^

Syed Mokhtar AlBukhary --- Net Worth: $2.75 B As of March 2013; Age: 61; Source of Wealth: diversified, self-made; Country of Citizenship: Malaysia; Marital Status: Married; Children: 5; Forbes Lists: No. 526 Among billionaires worldwide; No. 7 in Malaysia; No. 344 in 2012. No. 8 In Malaysia in 2012. Profile: Shares fell at his MMC Corp. and DRB-Hicom as they racked up debt for acquisitions and other purposes; Syed Mokhtar AlBukhary is the country's biggest private borrower. Companies own ports, an airport and interests in power, automobiles, construction, engineering and postal services. In December his fledgling telecom, Puncak Semangat, beat out big players such as Maxis, owned by fellow billionaire Ananda Krishnan, to snatch biggest slice of spectrum for 4G services. MMC's power subsidiary may go public in $1 billion deal. ^=^

Tiong Hiew King --- Net Worth: $1.8 B As of March 2013; Age: 78; Source of Wealth: timber, self-made; Country of Citizenship: Malaysia; Marital Status: Married; Children: 4; Forbes Lists: No. 831 Among billionaires worldwide; No. 8 in Malaysia; No. 854 in 2012. No. 9 In Malaysia in 2012. Profile: Malaysian timber tycoon Tiong Hiew King's Oregon Group is involved in forestry and property development in New Zealand and in designing and making plastic containers for kitchens. Now investing in a big way in oil-and-gas exploration in China, Malaysia and Myanmar through Singapore-listed RH Petrogas; he's increased his stake to 40 percent. Also owns 7 Chinese-language newspapers and 30 magazines. Shares of his Chinese Media International rose 40 percent over the past year on lower newsprint costs and higher ad revenues. ^=^

Vincent Tan --- Net Worth: $1.3 B As of March 2013; Age: 61; Source of Wealth: diversified, self-made; Country of Citizenship: Malaysia; Marital Status: Married; Children: 11; Forbes Lists: No. 1107 Among billionaires worldwide; No. 9 in Malaysia; No. 1015 in 2012. No. 10 In Malaysia in 2012. Profile: Vincent Tan urned over the chairmanship of his conglomerate Berjaya Group to son Robin, who is also chief executive. Berjaya Corp. shares lost ground as uncertainly in an election year bedeviled two of its main industries, property and gaming. In August it opened the first RadioShack store in Kuala Lumpur and plans 1,000 more in Southeast Asia over 10 years. Won approval to list its lottery operator, Sports Toto, in Singapore. Property arm is developing a $3.5 billion resort in South Korea's Jeju Island. Tan got his start working as a bank clerk and insurance salesman but his break came at the age of 29 when he bought his first McDonald's franchise. He caused a stir last summer when he changed the jersey colors of his Cardiff Football Club from blue to red with a new dragon crest. He recently signed the Giving Pledge, committing to donating half his wealth during his lifetime. ^=^

Tan Heng Chew & family --- Net Worth: $1.2 B As of February 2013; Age: 67; Marital Status: Married; Forbes Lists: No. 11 Malaysia's 50 Richest. Profile: Tan Heng Chew's late father was one of group of brothers who founded car distributor in 1957. Grew into Tan Chong Motor Holdings and now assembles motor vehicles, manufactures parts and trades industrial equipment and consumer goods. Exclusive distributor for Nissan, Renault in Malaysia. Subsidiaries in Vietnam, Laos. Executive chairman shares fortune with family, including brothers Tan Eng Soon and Tan Eng Hwa. ^=^

Shahril & Shahriman Shamsuddin --- Net Worth: $1.05 B As of February 2013; Source of Wealth: oil & gas; Country of Citizenship: Malaysia; Forbes Lists: No. 12 On Malaysia’s 50 Richest list in 2013; No. 13 in 2012. Profile: The Shamsuddin brothers crack $1 billion mark for first time. Their father, Shamsuddin Kadir, who founded the Sapura Group and named it after his late wife, sued the sons last year, demanding return of shares and properties valued at $150 million. (Update: The family reports that it has resolved the matter out of court.) Group completed merger of SapuraCrest and Kencana Petroleum, run by Mokhzani Mahathir (No. 15), in $3.7 billion deal. Elder brother is chief executive, president of SapuraKencana; younger brother sits on board. ^=^

More Really Rich Guys in Malaysia

Chen Lip Keong --- Net Worth: $1 B As of March 2013; Age: 65; Source of Wealth: gaming, self-made; Country of Citizenship: Malaysia; Marital Status: Married; Children: 3; Forbes Lists: No. 1342 Among billionaires worldwide; No. 10 in Malaysia; No. 13 In Malaysia in 2012. Profile: Chen Lip Keong founded gaming company NagaCorp, which has a monopoly on gambling in Phnom Penh. NagaWorld, largest casino in Cambodia, listed in Hong Kong in 2006; controls more than half of the company. Stock price doubled since last year, propelling the former medical doctor to the billionaire ranks for the first time. Last November, he broke ground on Naga2 expansion, to be completed by 2015, which will include two new hotels, restaurants, entertainment complex and shopping area. Also controls Karambunai, a Malaysia-listed property developer and tourism company. [Source: Forbes ^=^]

Lee Oi Hian & Lee Hau Hian --- Net Worth: $1 B As of February 2013; Age: 62; Source of Wealth: diversified; Country of Citizenship: Malaysia; Marital Status: Married; Children: 4; Forbes Lists: No. 14 On Malaysia’s 50 Richest list in 2013; No. 11 in 2012. Profile: Lee brothers' fortune fell by $100 million as palm oil glut caused shares of their Batu Kawan to dip. Younger brother Lee Hau Hian is managing director. Lee Oi Hian, the older one, is nonexecutive chairman and also chief executive of listed plantation subsidiary Kuala Lumpur Kepong. In January they invested in Johor real estate with the son of a Singapore billionaire. ^=^

Kamarudin Meranun --- Net Worth: $635 M As of February 2013; Age: 51; Source of Wealth: airlines; Country of Citizenship: Malaysia; Marital Status: Married; Children: 5; Forbes Lists: No. 20 On Malaysia’s 50 Richest list in 2013; No. 19 in 2012. Profile: Kamarudin Meranun runs AirAsia with Tony Fernandes (No. 21) and owns 11 percent. Also invests in virtually all of group's other ventures, which include longhaul discount carrier AirAsia X; hotel, mobile phone, education, insurance and automaking businesses; and a Formula 1 racing team and a soccer club. AirAsia plans to start a budget airline in India with the Tata Group. ^=^

Anthony Fernandes --- Net Worth: $625 M As of February 2013; Age: 49; Source of Wealth: airlines; Country of Citizenship: Malaysia; Marital Status: Married; Children: 2; Forbes Lists: No. 21 On Malaysia’s 50 Richest list in 2013; No. 15 in 2012. Profile: Tony Fernandes took over AirAsia, region's largest budget airline, in 2001 with partner, Kamarudin Meranun (No. 20), and used it as a base to build a conglomerate. ^=^ See AirAsia

Middle Class in Malaysia

Malaysia has one of the largest middle classes of any Muslim country. It is made up of Malays, Chinese and Indians.

Economic growth has created a growing middle class, which over the years has grown more wealthy to they point many own their own modern homes or condominiums, have two cars and have Indonesia maids. Some say they live a world of shopping malls and Western entertainment.

Jeremy Grant wrote in the Financial Times: “Lee Ee May, a 27-year-old working in the Kuala Lumpur offices of an international management consultancy, appears comfortably well-off by Malaysian standards. She earns Rm3,100 ($956) a month after pension contributions, drives a Rm78,000 car and describes herself as “in the upper bracket” of what she considers middle class. But Ms Lee quickly sketches the story behind her apparently comfortable lifestyle. She bought the car using a bank loan requiring Rm600 a month to service the debt and lives in the city centre in an apartment bought by her father rather than commute from her parents’ home 45 minutes from central Kuala Lumpur. [Source: Jeremy Grant, Financial Times, April 16, 2014]

That not only means she avoids the daily gridlock that chokes the Malaysian capital, but she also saves Rm400 a month on petrol – fuel that until a few months ago was one-third subsidised by the government. “I am quite privileged and yet I feel so squeezed. A lot of us are feeling squeezed,” Ms Lee says.

Many Malaysians like Ms Lee are feeling the pinch as subsidies are peeled away. Petrol is now 10 percent more expensive following the first round of cuts in fuel subsidies. Electricity tariffs also rose 15 percent. Charles Santiago, an opposition MP, says: “People are left hanging because they have the lifestyle of a middle class [person], but their earnings capacity has fallen because of the increase in the cost of living.” Worse, many Malaysians have ridden a wave of cheap credit to build up significant household debt. Malaysians are among the most highly leveraged in Asia: household debt reached 86.8 percent of GDP at the end of last year, up from 80.5 percent a year ago, according to data published by the central bank last month. Carmelo Ferlito, fellow at the Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs in Kuala Lumpur, warned that Malaysia’s middle class are now in a dangerous position, particularly if economic growth slows. “The risk is that if they do not change their spending habits and return to being savings-oriented, when a crisis comes the middle class will disappear.”

Poverty in Malaysia

According to the CIA World Factbook the percentage of the population below poverty line is 3.8 percent (2009 est.) According to government statistics, five percent of Malaysians live in poverty, but the figure is thought to be as high as 25 percent. According to the Malaysian reportedly about 77 percent of the bottom 40 percent of households in Malaysia: are Bumiputra (Malays and indigenous people) and many are located in Sabah and Sarawak .

Associated Press reported: “Official data show about 8.5 percent of Malaysians live in poverty in rural regions. In rural parts of peninsular Malaysia, the government considers families earning less than 743 ringgit ($242) a month to be living in poverty. The poverty rate is far lower than the 58 percent in 1970, but there has been little improvement since the 1990s. Malay Muslims and indigenous tribal people make up the bulk of the country's rural poor. [Source: Sean Yoong, AP, November 9, 2012]

Stuart Grudgings of Reuters wrote: “Malaysia has made progress in poverty reduction and income gains. There is sufficient momentum to reach its goal of US$15,000 per capita income perhaps ahead of 2020, subject, as always, to the vagaries of politics. [Source: Stuart Grudgings, Reuters, April 3, 2013]

Authoritarian government such as South Korea, China, Indonesia, Taiwan, Singapore and Malaysia have done a better job at alleviating poverty than wide-open democracies such as India and the Philippines. The poverty rate in Malaysia in 2007 was 5.7 percent , down from 70 percent when Malaysia became independent after World War II. The poverty level in Malaysia deceased from around 50 percent in 1970 (with 19.6 percent in hardcore poverty) to 9.6 percent (with 19.6 percent in hardcore poverty) in 1995.

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Malaysia Tourism Promotion Board, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated June 2015

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