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20 Milestones In 2023 That Shaped Malaysia’s Social and Environmental Landscape

2023 stands as the first chapter for Malaysia’s historical unit government, a year that has witnessed transformative changes across various dimensions. From policies etched into legislation to advancements in environmental conservation, social justice, women’s empowerment, economic initiatives, and education—these impactful events have sculpted Malaysia’s journey in the years to come. Join us in exploring 20 milestones that have defined Malaysia in the past year.


1. Health White Paper Received A Stamp Of Approval At Dewan Negara

Malaysia’s comprehensive Health White Paper, a first-of-its-kind initiative, lays out plans for improving the healthcare system over the next 15 years. Approved on June 15, 2023, this document addresses current challenges by proposing strategies like increased teamwork between public and private sectors, using electronic medical records, and enhancing infrastructure[1].

Source: Bernama

With insights from stakeholders and experts, this reform aims to tackle issues such as an ageing population, diseases (both communicable and non-communicable), mental health concerns, and climate change impacts. It promises improved healthcare access, personalised health plans, better-quality services, and online health facilities. The reform’s four pillars focus on transforming healthcare services, promoting health and preventing diseases, ensuring sustainable financing, and enhancing governance.

2. The Control of Smoking Products for Public Health Bill

The Control of Smoking Products for Public Health Bill Was successfully passed on December 14, 2023 at Dewan Negara[2]

However, the highly debated Generational Endgame (GEG) clause, aimed to reduce smoking prevalence to 5% by 2040, safeguarding the younger generation and curbing the societal and economic burden of smoking-related diseases has been removed. Former Health Minister Zaliha Mustaffa reassured that “if there’s a need, we can bring it back.”[3]

Earlier, the ministry’s decision to delist liquid nicotine from the Poisons Board stirred controversy and led to legal action. Three NGOs – The Malaysian Council for Tobacco Control (MCTC), the Malaysian Green Lung Association, and Voice of the Children – filed a lawsuit to challenge and overturn this decision[4].

3. Anti-Stalking Bill

As of May 31, 2023, Malaysia has strengthened its legal framework to combat stalking by activating anti-stalking and protection order provisions outlined in Section 507A of the Penal Code. Stalking is now defined as a persistent act of harassment with the intent or potential to cause distress, fear, or alarm to the victim. This includes various unwarranted behaviours such as tracking, communication, and presence, whether occurring online or offline, that instil fear or distress in the victim[5].

Survivors of stalking obtain recourse through a Protection Order for Stalking, restraining the perpetrator from further harassment. The recent amendments to the Penal Code and Criminal Procedure Code empower authorities to investigate, charge, and potentially imprison stalkers for up to three years[5].

In August 2023, a 37-year-old man became the first to be charged under Section 507A for allegedly stalking and sexually harassing a prominent female photographer over an extended period[6]

Source: The Star

4. Employment Acts Amendments

The Employment Act 1955 in Malaysia underwent substantial revisions following the enactment of the Employment (Amendment) Act 2022 on January 1, 2023. Noteworthy changes include the groundbreaking provision of 7 days of paid paternity leave for eligible working fathers, the introduction of provisions allowing employees to request flexible work arrangements, with employers having a 60-day timeframe to respond, the extension of legal protection to gig workers under specific conditions, and amendments in the employment regulations for foreign workers[7].

5. Mandatory Death Penalty Abolished

On April 11. 2023, the Dewan Negara in Malaysia approved two bills reforming death penalty sentencing, previously passed by the Dewan Rakyat on 3rd April. The Abolition of Mandatory Death Penalty Bill 2023 eliminates mandatory death sentences for 12 offences and entirely removes the death penalty for seven offences, replacing “natural life imprisonment” with 30 to 40 year prison terms[8].


However, the death penalty remains for drug trafficking under the Dangerous Drugs Act 1952. The Revision of Sentence of Death and Imprisonment for Natural Life (Temporary Jurisdiction of the Federal Court) Bill 2023 allows death row prisoners to seek resentencing within 90 days of the law’s publication, with the Federal Court having the discretion to uphold the original sentence or impose 30 to 40 years in prison. Prisoners are permitted a single application[8].

6. A Step Forward In Decriminalising Suicide 

On May 22, 2023, the Malaysian Dewan Rakyat made a unanimous decision to remove Section 309 of the Penal Code. This change means that trying to end one’s life (suicide attempts) will no longer be considered a crime. Before, this law could send people to jail or make them pay fines for attempting suicide. This decision is a big step forward in providing support to those facing mental health struggles. 

Additionally, the Dewan Rakyat approved the Criminal Procedure Code (Amendment No. 2) Act, focusing on the abetment of suicide involving children or individuals lacking mental capacity[9].

Improving Livelihood Of Malaysians 

7. Payung Rahmah Initiatives 

The Rahmah initiative in Malaysia aims to help the B40 community afford their daily expenses. It includes different programs like Menu Rahmah and Kafe Rahmah. This effort, credited to Allahyarham Salahuddin Ayub, former Minister of Domestic Trade and Living Costs, encourages businesses to lower their profits voluntarily to make things more affordable[10].

This initiative has expanded its focus to support university students, the B40 group, and those who are extremely poor. They’ve introduced programmes like Rahmah Basket, providing monthly food baskets; Rahmah Sale, offering discounts on more than 1,000 items; Rahmah Package, supplying essential goods; and Rahmah Cafe, which subsidizes meals for students in certain universities.

A recent addition to these initiatives is the Rahmah 5G package. It involves major telecommunication companies offering affordable 5G smartphones with good data plans.

8. Social Security For National Athletes 

Source: Malaysiakini

Starting from January 2024, a new program will begin in Malaysia. This program will let national athletes get contributions to their Employees Provident Fund (EPF) and Social Security Organisation (Socso). The announcement was made by Youth and Sports Minister, Hannah Yeoh in Dewan Rakyat. This initiative is part of the “Podium” programme, aiming to improve the welfare and well-being of national athletes [11].

This step follows a larger trend. For example, the Badminton Association of Malaysia (BAM) started giving contributions to its athletes six years ago. Additionally, since 2023, the Sabah state government has been providing EPF contributions for its athletes.

 9.People’s Income Initiative (IPR)

The People’s Income Initiative (IPR) in Malaysia, which aims to raise the income of the hardcore poor and the B40 group, has already helped 4,100 households. Economy Minister, Rafizi Ramli shared this in December 2023. The IPR received a budget of RM750 million in 2023 and is an important step by the government to create a stable income for about 130,000 individuals[12].

This programme offers participants a full support system and things they need, helping them start activities that bring in extra money. The initiative includes three pilot programmes: Farming Entrepreneur Initiative (INTAN), Food Entrepreneur Initiative (INSAN), and Services Operator Initiative (IKHSAN).

Educational Wins 

10. Sekolah Bimbingan Jalinan Kasih for the stateless 

The Sekolah Bimbingan Jalinan Kasih (SBJK) has begun its operations in Sembulan, Sabah, showing the Ministry of Education’s dedication to providing fair education for everyone, including dropouts, street kids, and undocumented children in the state. By October 2023, eight students had already joined Sekolah Kebangsaan (SK) Sembulan[13].

Source: ohbulan!

The SBJK SK Sembulan program follows SBJK modules and adapts teaching, learning, and activities to suit the students’ special needs. This is the second SBJK in the country, with the first starting in Chow Kit back in 2013. It focuses on children facing social issues, those without documents, dropouts, and orphans from preschool to secondary school.

11. Students – 1, Absent Teacher – 0

In Sabah, Malaysia, three students won a landmark case against their former English teacher who had been absent for seven months in 2017. The students, aged 22, were each given RM50,000 (US$11,000) as compensation. The court decided that several people, including the school principal, Education Director-General, Education Minister, and the government, didn’t fulfill their responsibilities and violated the student’s constitutional guarantee to education[14]

This legal action began in December 2020 when the three students from Kota Belud, Sabah, filed a lawsuit against their teacher. Tiada.Guru, an NGO, led a campaign supporting the students’ right to good education and highlighted the issue of teacher absenteeism, especially in rural areas of Sabah. 

After the court’s decision on July 18, 2023, supporting the students, Tiada.Guru is asking the Malaysian government to protect Nurhaizah Ejab, a whistleblower and teacher who testified against the absentee teacher and faced threats and intimidation[14].

12. Thousands of school toilets get a facelift 

For decades, students in Malaysia have faced unsanitary conditions in public school toilets. The recent allocation of RM650 million in July 2023 reflects the government’s commitment to rectify this issue and create a more conducive learning environment.

As of September 22, 2023, the Ministry of Education (MOE) made significant progress in addressing the longstanding issue of poorly maintained public school toilets. Out of the 8,354 schools targeted for improvement, 7,544 schools, or 90.3%, have seen ongoing or completed minor maintenance projects. These initiatives, involving repairs to toilets, have been allocated RM630.77 million, benefiting over 5 million students and 409,161 teachers across the country [15].

Safeguarding And Empowering Women In Malaysia 

13. MRT Debuts Women Coaches

Starting September 18, 2023, a new safety measure for female passengers has been put in place on the MRT Kajang line[16]. Women-only coaches are now available at all stations and trains along this line. These coaches, marked with pink stickers, are positioned in the middle of the train to provide a specific area for female passengers.

14. Amanita: The Police-Homemaker Alliance Combating Crime in Malaysia

Source: The Star

Launched by the Royal Malaysia Police (PDRM) in 2013, the Aman Wanita (AMANITA) initiative, also known as Peace Lady, aims to involve homemakers in the fight against crime in residential areas. Homemakers participating in AMANITA are assigned a female officer from the district police headquarters as their contact person. This collaborative effort leverages their insights, often well-acquainted with neighbourhood affairs, particularly domestic crimes that may go unreported. 

The Amanita squad aims to foster collaboration between the police and the community to decrease common crimes in their areas. The newest addition of the fearsome squad is at Lenggong, Perak, with plans to ensure there’s one in each district in the state[17].  

15. Extended Maternity Leave And Safeguarding Expectant Mothers

The Employment Act 1955  had important changes in 2022, especially benefiting working mothers in Malaysia. One big change is that new mothers now get a longer paid maternity leave—extended from 60 days to 98 days. This update matches the international standards of the Maternity Protection Convention 2000 (No. 183)[7].

These changes also give more protection to pregnant employees and those with pregnancy-related issues. Since January 1, 2023, it’s against the law (under the Employment Act 1955) for employers to fire or give notice to fire pregnant female employees, except in cases like breaking a contract, doing something wrong, or if the business closes[7].

However, in October 2023, reports showed that 28 employers might not be giving pregnant employees their full 98-day maternity leave. These incidents highlight the importance of making sure people know and follow the new rules to protect the rights of working mothers [18].

Big Steps To A Greener Malaysia 

16. YTL Cement’s Legal Victory: A Monastery’s Battle Against Eviction

In 2022, a century-old Buddhist monastery situated in the Kinta Valley Geopark faced the threat of eviction to make way for quarry activities. This sacred site, the Dhamma Sakyamuni Caves Monastery, is nestled on Gunung Kanthan, a limestone hill with a geological history spanning 5 million years.

Despite being home to about 30 monks and serving as a place for prayer and meditation, the monastery is in danger of being demolished to make room for a cement factory. After facing numerous rejected applications and pending appeals, the bid to evict the monks from the monastery was dismissed by the High Court on October 4, 2022, preserving the sanctity of this historic Buddhist site amid the karst formations inside the caves.

However, the Court of Appeals rendered a unanimous decision in favour of APMC, a subsidiary of YTL Cement. According to a report by a news portal, APMC filed an Order 89 action to evict residents of the monastery. The Court of Appeal, on 5th September 2023, reversed the High Court judgement and ordered the eviction of the monastery. The decision was based on the court’s determination that no triable issues had been raised, and there was no suppression of material facts by APMC[19]

17. The Tioman Airport Saga, To Be Continued For Now 

The proposed Tioman International Airport project, planned for development over seven years from 2024 to 2030, aims to enhance accessibility by facilitating flights connecting Tioman Island with airports in Malaysia, ASEAN countries, Eastern India, south to mid-China, and West Australia. 

Despite being designed to boost tourism on the island, the project has faced resistance from local communities, environmentalists, and advocates, who express concerns about the potential environmental impacts and the island’s ability to manage increased tourist inflow, considering existing issues like water shortages and waste disposal challenges.

The plan was approved by the Pahang Exco and the National Physical Planning Council in 2020-2021, the Cabinet in 2023, considering environmental and social impacts, decided against continuing the project. As of September, the state government is planning to extend the existing airport runway[20]

18. Sarawak Paves the Way for Climate Action Legislation

Sarawak’s Environment (Reduction of Greenhouse Gases Emission) Bill, 2023, has achieved unanimous approval in the State Legislative Assembly, marking a significant step in addressing climate change. Sarawak becomes the first state in Malaysia to have legislation aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions and achieving net-zero carbon emissions by 2050[21]

In support of these initiatives, the state government intends to form an advisory panel focusing on climate change, carbon capture, utilisation and storage, carbon credits and pricing, emission thresholds, energy transition strategies, and the net-zero target. 

Greater Equality Among All 

19. Raids and Morality Crackdowns

Malaysian authorities conducted raids on stores and confiscated 164 watches from the Pride Collection, asserting that the timepieces “bore LGBT connotations.” These operations occurred in multiple malls across Malaysia, targeting watches with six colours mirroring the gay pride flag and adorned with two rainbow loops on their straps[22].

In retaliation, the Swiss watchmaker Swatch Group filed a lawsuit against the Malaysian government and Home Ministry officials, seeking compensation and the return of 172 seized watches allegedly linked to the Pride movement.

In August 2023, the Home Ministry officially banned all elements of “Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and Plus (LGBTQ+)” on Swatch watches and accessories, citing powers under the Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984. The prohibition order applies to the printing, importation, production, reproduction, publishing, sale, issue, circulation, distribution, or possession of Swatch watches with “LGBTQ+” elements throughout Malaysia, deeming it prejudicial to morality[23].

Additionally, a separate raid on Toko Buku Rakyat, a bookstore owned by local author and educator Benz Ali, resulted in the confiscation of two books. In addition to the confiscation of books at Toko Buku Rakyat, authorities seized one copy of each of the two titles, invoking the Printing Press and Publications Act 1984.

20. National Day Marks First Sign Language Interpretation of Rukun Negara

A significant moment unfolded during the National Day celebrations as, for the first time, the recital of the Rukun Negara was accompanied by a team of sign language interpreters. The presentation in sign language was carried out by 36 students from the Teachers Education Institute’s Kampus Ilmu Khas in Cheras. Sports icon and national athlete Muhammad Haikal Roslan led the oral pledge before thousands gathered at Dataran Putrajaya.

Source: The Star

Cover image: AP Photos/ Vincent Thin

Explore our sources:

  1. I.Ikram & H.Chung. (2023).Health White Paper passed in Dewan Rakyat via voice vote. The Edge. Link 
  2. The Star. (2023). Dewan Negara passes Control of Smoking Bill. Link
  3. Boo,S.L. (2023). Tobacco Bill Passed At The Cost Of GEG And Democracy. CodeBlue. Link
  4. Tan, C.T. (2023). Why is the government being sued by tobacco control NGOs? Free Malaysia Today. Link
  5. Women Aid Organisation. (2023). Malaysia’s Anti-Stalking Law Now Operational. Link
  6. Camoens, A. (2023). Man, 37, to be first person charged under anti-stalking law. The Star. Link
  7. Nicholas. K. (2023). Employment Act 1955: Must-Know 2023 Amendments for HR Managers in Malaysia. AltHr. Link
  8. Human Rights Watch. (2023). Malaysia Repeals Mandatory Death Penalty. Link
  9. The Star. (2023). Attempted suicide no longer a crime. Link
  10. Salehuddin, Q. (2023). Exclusive: Rahmah initiative to be expanded to cover four new areas. New Straits Times. Link 
  11. Basyir, M. (2023). Malaysian athletes under podium programme to contribute to EPF, Socso next year. The Star. Link 
  12. Malay Mail. (2023). Rafizi: 4,100 low-income households benefitted from People’s Income Initiative. Link
  13. The Star. (2023). First SBJK in Sabah to start at SK Sembulan on Oct 23. Link
  14. Channel News Asia. (2023). In Malaysia’s Sabah state, former students win suit against teacher who was absent for 7 months. Link 
  15. The Malaysian Insight. (2023). School maintenance work to be completed by Oct, says PM’s office. Link
  16. Yusoff. T.A. (2023). Female commuters hail women-only coach on MRT Kajang line. The Star. Link 
  17. FMT Reporters. (2023). More housewives being roped in to fight crime in Perak. Free Malaysia Today. Link 
  18. Gimino, G., Rahim, R., & Vethasalam, R. (2023). 28 employers denied workers 98-day maternity leave, Dewan Rakyat hears. The Star. Link 
  19. FMT Reporters. (2023). Cement company wins appeal to evict century-old Perak monastery. Free Malaysia Today. Link
  20. Alagesh. T.N. (2023).After Tioman airport project shelved, Pahang govt plans to extend existing runway. New Straits Times. Link 
  21. Ling, S. (2023). Sarawak first in the country to enact anti-climate change law. The Star. Link
  22. AP News. (2023). Malaysia raids Swatch stores, seizes colorful watches linked to gay pride. Link
  23. Lim, I. (2023). Three months after raids, Home Ministry bans ‘LGBTQ+’ on Swatch watches. Malay Mail. Link 
  24. Loheswar. R. (2023). Home Ministry raids bookstore, seizes a copy of book on Karl Marx and education. Malay Mail. Link 
  25. Iskandar, I.M., Nizam, F. and Kamal, A. (2023). National Day: Sign language accompanies Rukun Negara recital at Dataran Putrajaya. New Straits Times. Link

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