From 2005 Medan was governed by a mayor, Dr. H. Abdillah Ak, MBA (appointed for the period 2005-2010). However, Abdillah and his vice mayor were caught by Indonesian Corruption Eradication Commission in 2008. Syamsul Arifin, the Governor of North Sumatra Province, then appointed Affifudin Lubis to become the acting mayor. In 2009, Affifudin Lubis resigned as mayor, and the Governor then appointed Rahudman Harahap to become the mayor. Because Rahudman wanted to be a candidate in the 2010 mayor election, he resigned as mayor. Then Syamsul Arifin became the acting mayor. In the 2010 mayor election, Rahudman Harahap is elected mayor. Medan is divided into 21 districts (kecamatan) and 151 subdistricts (kelurahan)
Based on the diary of the Portuguese merchant in early 16th century, it stated that the name of Medan was actually derived from Medina which is actually a holy city in the western of Saudi Arabia. However, other sources indicated that the name of Medan actually came from Indian Hindi language word "Maidan" meaning "ground" or "land"(like in Pragati Maidan in Delhi). One of the Karo-Indonesia dictionary written by Darwin Prinst SH published in 2002 wrote that Medan could also be defined as "recover" or "be better".
The first inhabitants of Medan came from the Malay community. It was not until the Sultan of Aceh, Sultan Iskandar Muda, sent his warlord, Gocah Pahlawan Laksamana Khoja Bintan, to be the Sultanate of Aceh's representative in Tanah Deli, that the Sultanate of Deli started to grow. This growth stimulated growth in both the population and culture of Medan. In the second year reign of Sultan Deli (between 1669–1698), there was a cavalry battle in Medan.
Medan did not experience significant development until the 1860s, when the Dutch colonialists began clearing the land for tobacco plantations. Medan quickly became a center of government and commercial activity, dominating development of Indonesia's western region.
The Dutch governed Tanah Deli from 1658, after Sultan Ismail, ruler of the Kingdom of Siak Sri Indrapura, yielded some of his once-ruled land, Deli, Langkat, and Serdang. In 1915 Medan officially became the capital of North Sumatra Province, and officially a city in 1918.
Currently much of Medans historic architecture from the colonial era is rapidly being demolished to make way for modern buildings (malls, garages, etc.).