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The Forgotten History Of Malaysia’s 6 Timezone Changes

The Forgotten History Of Malaysia’s 6 Timezone Changes

Ever wondered why the timezone lines curve around Malaysia and Singapore?

Danyal Cheah

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What Time Does The Sun Rise ? 

If you’ve travelled to Jakarta or Bangkok, you may have noticed that compared with Peninsular Malaysia, the sun rises about an hour earlier (sometimes up to an hour and a half) in these places. As it turns out, it’s the sun in Peninsular Malaysia that actually rises late.

Bangkok and Jakarta are almost on the same longitude position as Kuala Lumpur, yet we are in different time zones. If you look at a map of the world time zones, you will find that there is an unusual encapsulating line around Peninsular Malaysia (and because they decided to follow suit, Singapore).

Credit: World Time Zone Map/Wikipedia

If we were to go purely by longitude, Kuala Lumpur and Singapore should fall within the GMT +7:00 time zone.

Singapore and Malaysia, can we at least agree on the time?

During their tenure as premiers, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad and Lee Kuan Yew disagreed on a great many things, but one thing they could agree on was the time. That it should be set forward to GMT +8 for a number on advantageous reasons. 

Namely, having hours of sunlight later in the day being beneficial to all, especially farmers; and having our markets open and close the same time as Hong Kong’s – a boon for the business community. 

Lee Kuan Yew and Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad.
(Credit: Asiaone)

What is the Malaysian Standard Time (MST) ?

Dr Mahathir passed the Malaysian Standard Time Act (1981), which set the clocks ahead 30 minutes on 11.30pm December 31st 1981. New Year’s celebrations came early that year.   

Under his administration, he united East Malaysia and Peninsular Malaysia’s time zones into Malaysian Standard Time (MST) which is equivalent to GMT+8. Synchronising our time with Perth, Hong Kong and Manila. Which is why you can travel to these places without having to reset your watch. Even though, if you have a look on the map, they’re further east.

Credit: Andrey Grushnikov/Pexels

Adjusting the Time 

That’s the last time we changed timezones, but not the first. We’ve actually changed zone 6 times before that in our history. 

  • Prior to 1901, GMT+6.46
  • After 1901, GMT+6.55 (Set to Singapore Mean Time by Colonial Powers) 
  • After 1905, GMT+7.00  (Rounded off the time to the Standard Zone Time) 
  • After 1933, GMT+7.20 (Adjusted for Daylight Savings) 
  • After 1941, GMT+7.30 (Further Adjusted for Daylight Savings) 
  • After 1942, GMT+9.00 (Adjusted to Tokyo Standard Time during Japanese Occupation) 
  • After 1945, GMT+7.30 (Return to Daylight Savings Time) 
  • After 1982, GMT+8.00 (Malaysia Standard Time) 

One imagines that all this time alterations would make time travel quite tricky on Peninsular Malaysia. 

It’s not the time you think it is. The true time is about an hour and fourteen minutes earlier.


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