Timeline

  • c 150 AD

European knowledge of the Malay peninsula is confirmed in Ptolemy’s book Geographia. It’s likely that Romans visited the region during trading expeditions to India and China.

  • 200

Langkasuka, one of the first Hindu-Malay kingdoms, is established on the peninsula around the area now known as Kedah. It lasted in one form or another until the 15th century.

  • 600

From their base in southern Sumatra, most likely around modern-day Palembang, the Buddhist Srivijaya Empire dominates Malaya, Singapore, Indonesia and Borneo for another six centuries.

  • 1402

Hindu prince and pirate Parameswara (1344–1414) founds the great trading port and sultanate of Melaka; seven years later he marries a Muslim princess and adopts the Persian title Iskandar Shah.

  • 1446

A naval force from Siam (Thailand) attacks Melaka. Warded off, the Siamese return in 1456 but are again rebuffed. Such attacks encourage Melaka’s rulers to develop closer relations with China.

  • 1485

Sultan Bolkiah of Brunei controls land as far south as present-day Kuching in Sarawak and north towards the islands of the Philippines.

  • 1509

Portuguese traders sail into Melaka. Although at first greeted warmly, acting on the advice of his Indian Muslim councillors, the Melakan sultan later attacks the Portuguese ships, taking 19 prisoners.

  • 1511

Following the Portuguese conquest of Melaka, the sultan and his court flee, establishing two new sultanates on the peninsula: Perak to the north and Johor to the south.

  • 1629

The Portuguese in Melaka and the sultanate of Johor unite to successfully defend themselves against the navy of Iskandar Muda, the sultan of Aceh in Sumatra, who had already conquered Kedah.

  • 1641

After a siege lasting several months, the Dutch, with the help of the Johor sultanate, wrest Melaka from the Portuguese. Melaka starts to decline as a major trading port.

  • 1786

Captain Francis Light cuts a deal with the sultan of Kedah to establish a settlement on the largely uninhabited island of Penang. Under a free-trade policy the island’s new economy thrives.

  • 1790

The sultan of Kedah’s attempt to retake Penang from the British fails. He is forced to cede the island to the British East India Company for 6000 Spanish dollars per annum.

  • 1819

By backing the elder brother in a succession dispute in Johor, Stamford Raffles gains sole rights to build a trading base on the island of Singapore.

  • 1823

The Johor sultan fully cedes Singapore to Britain. A year later the Dutch and British carve up the region into what eventually becomes Malaya and Indonesia.

  • 1826

Having swapped Bencoolen on Sumatra for the Dutch-controlled Melaka, the British East India Company combines this with Penang and Singapore to create the Straits Settlements.

  • 1839

British buccaneer James Brooke lands in Sarawak and helps quell a local rebellion. In gratitude, the Brunei sultanate installs him as the first White Raja of Sarawak two years later.

  • 1874

British start to take control of Peninsular Malaysia after the Pankor Treaty with the sultan of Perak; Sir James Birch is installed as the Perak’s first British Resident.

  • 1888

Having lost much territory to the British Empire, Brunei’s sultan signs a treaty to make his country a British protectorate. A British Resident is installed in 1906.

  • 1896

Perak, Selangor, Negeri Sembilan and Pahang join as Federated Malay States; the sultans concede political power to British Residents but keep control of matters relating to Malay traditions and Islam.

  • 1909

Britain does a deal with Thailand to gain control of Kelantan, Terengganu, Perlis and Kedah. Johor succumbs to a British Resident in 1914, completing the set of ‘Unfederated Malay States.’

  • 1941

The Japanese land on Malaya’s northeast coast. Within a month they’ve taken Kuala Lumpur, and a month later they are at Singapore’s doorstep.

  • 1942

The British suffer a humiliating defeat in February as they capitulate Singapore to the Japanese. The occupiers rename it Syonan (Light of the South).

  • 1944

Z Special Unit parachute into Sarawak’s Kelabit Highlands and win over the natives. Armed with blowpipes and led by Australian commandos, this unlikely army scores several victories over the Japanese.

  • 1946

The United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) is formed on 1 March, signalling the rise of Malay nationalism and a desire for political independence from Britain.

  • 1948

The Malayan Communist Party (MCP) take to the jungles and began fighting a guerrilla war against the British, known as the ‘Emergency,’ that will last 12 years.

  • 1951

Sir Henry Gurney, British high commissioner to Malaya, is assassinated by MCP rebels on the road to Fraser’s Hill, a terrorist act that alienates many of the party’s moderate Chinese members.

  • 1953

The Parti Perikatan (Alliance Party) is formed, an alliance between UNMO, the Malayan Chinese Association (MCA) and Malayan Indian Congress (MIC). Two years later the party wins Malaya’s first national elections.

  • 1957

On 31 August Merdeka (independence) is declared in Malaya; Tunku Abdul Rahman becomes the first prime minister and the nine sultans agree to take turns as the nation’s king.

  • 1963

In July the British Borneo territories of Sabah and Sarawak are combined with Singapore and Malaya to form Malaysia – a move that sparks confrontations with Indonesia and the Philippines.

  • 1965

In August, following Singapore’s refusal to extend constitutional privileges to the Malays on the island and subsequent riots, Singapore is booted out of Malaysia. Lee Kuan Yew becomes Singapore’s first prime minister.

  • 1967

Sultan Sri Muda Omar Ali Saifuddien III voluntarily abdicates in favour of his eldest son and the current ruler, the 29th in the unbroken royal Brunei line, Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah.

  • 1969

Following the general election, on 13 March race riots erupt in KL, killing hundreds. In response the government devises the New Economic Policy of positive discrimination for Malays.

  • 1970

Brunei Town, the country’s capital, is renamed Bandar Seri Begawan after the title accorded to the former Sultan Sri Muda Omar Ali Saifuddien III following his abdication.

  • 1974

Following the formation of the Barisan Nasional (BN) in 1973, this new coalition led by Tun Abdul Razak wins the Malaysian general election by a landslide.

  • 1981

Dr Mahathir Mohamad becomes prime minister of Malaysia and introduces policies of ‘Buy British Last’ and ‘Look East’ to encourage the country to emulate Japan, South Korea and Taiwan.

  • 1984

A somewhat reluctant Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah leads Brunei to complete independence from Britain. The country subsequently veers towards Islamic fundamentalism, introducing full Islamic law in 1991.

  • 1990

After more than three decades in the job, Lee Kuan Yew steps down as prime minister of Singapore, handing over to Goh Chok Tong.

  • 1998

Anwar Ibrahim is sacked, arrested, sent for trial and jailed following disagreements with Dr Mahathir over how to deal with the Asian currency crisis and tackle government corruption.

  • 2003

Having announced his resignation the previous year, Dr Mahathir steps down as prime minister in favour of Abdullah Badawi. He remains very outspoken on national politics.

  • 2004

A month after the election in which BN takes 199 of 219 seats in the Lower House of parliament, Anwar Ibrahim sees his sodomy conviction overturned and is released from prison.

  • 2007

As the country celebrates 50 years since independence it is also shaken by two anti-government rallies in November in which tens of thousands take to the streets of KL to protest.

  • 2008

In the March election BN retains power but suffers heavy defeats to the opposition coalition Pakatan Rakyat (PR); in August Anwar Ibrahim becomes PR leader following his re-election to parliament.

  • 2009

In April, Najib Tun Razak succeeds Abdullah Badawi as prime minister; the 1Malaysia policy is introduced to build respect and trust between the country’s different races.

  • 2011

Elections in Sarawak return a BN state government but with a reduced majority; tens of thousands rally in KL in support of fairer elections.

  • 2013

General elections in May see BN hold on to power even though opposition parties in PR won a majority of votes overall.

  • 2014

Malaysia suffers double blow as flight MH370 goes missing in March, and flight MH17 is shot down over Ukraine in July.