Malaysia is a federal constitutional monarchy in Southeast Asia. It is made up of two separate regions: Peninsular Malaysia (Semenanjung Malaysia) and East Malaysia (Malaysia Timur). These two regions are separated by the East Philippine Sea. East Malaysia shares land borders with Brunei and Indonesia, and maritime borders with the Philippines and Vietnam. Meanwhile, Peninsular Malaysia shares a land border with Thailand and maritime borders with Singapore, Vietnam, and Indonesia. The national capital of Malaysia is Kuala Lumpur. However, its old capital, Putrajaya, is still the seat of the federal government. Malaysia was once a part of the British Empire and gained independence in September 1963. It is a member of the Commonwealth. Singapore was once a region of Malaysia but seceded in August 1965. The Malaysian economy is the fourth largest in the Southeast Asian region. It has a fast-growing export-oriented economy. It is a major producer of rubber and palm oil. It is also one of the largest sources of commercial hardwoods. However, Malaysia’s largest sector is the manufacturing sector, contributing to nearly one-third of the country’s GDP.
The official currency of Malaysia is the ringgit. One ringgit is equivalent to 100 sen. The word ringgit comes from beringgit, the obsolete Malay word for jagged. This refers to the jagged edges of Spanish coins that circulated the region during the 16th and 17th centuries. The ringgit was adopted in June 1967.
The Bank Negara Malaysia (Central Bank of Malaysia, BNM) has sole issuing authority over all Malaysian currency. It was established in January 1959.
The very first series of ringgit banknotes were introduced in June 1967. These banknotes had one design: the portrait of Tunku Abdul Rahman, the first Prime Minister of Malaysia, wearing a tengkolok headgear on the front and the denomination and the Bank Negara Malaysia logo at the back. Each denomination is distinguishable only by its distinct color scheme. However, the 1,000 ringgit banknote, which was introduced a year later, also featured a view of the Bangunan Parlimen (parliament building) in Kuala Lumpur at the back. This design persisted until 1981.
The second series of ringgit notes were introduced in 1981. Though the obverse side still featured a portrait of Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman, the reverse side of the banknotes was changed to include different landmarks and local flora. In 1996, a new family of banknotes was introduced. The “Wawasan 2020” themed banknotes reflect “Malaysia’s economic development and achievement towards achieving the status of a fully-developed country” according to BNM. The reverse side of the notes featured either a different technological advancement or an economic activity.
In 2004, the first polymer note was introduced: the 5-ringgit banknote. In December 2007, the BNM issued a new commemorative 50-ringgit banknote to both celebrate the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Federation of Malaya Independence Agreement and to introduce a family of newly-designed ringgit banknotes. These banknotes highlight the cultural and natural wealth of the country by featuring cultural artifacts, natural landscapes, and endemic species along with heightened security features.
In 2017, the BNM released two commemorative banknotes: the 60-ringgit and the 600-ringgit. These notes celebrate the 60th anniversary of Malaysia’s independence. The obverse side of the notes shows 15 different monarchs and heads of states circling the royal throne. The reverse side portrays the nine rulers signing the Federation of Malaya Independence Agreement, the silhouette of the first prime minister, and the different government buildings in Putrajaya. The 600-ringgit banknote is currently the physically largest legal tender note issued.