Racial Inequality and Affirmative Action in Malaysia

Topics: Malaysia, Parliament of Malaysia, Constitution of Malaysia Pages: 6 (1870 words) Published: September 18, 2012
In a response to clam racial unrest and narrow the income gap difference between different races, Malaysia government instituted affirmation action programs that were Malay-exclusive. Such policies caused strife within the minorities group, affected Malaysia’s education system and unintentionally brought adverse effects to the Bumiputera community. This paper urges the termination of affirmative action in Malaysia, conjoins with a change in societal thinking to build an accepting country that advocates for equal opportunities.


Malaysia stands out for having a majority race group that is politically dominant but yet economically disadvantaged. In light of the racial unrest in the late 1960s in Malaysia, an extensive affirmative action programs were instituted to favor the majority, the Bumiputera , which translates to ‘sons of the soil’. Bumiputera is a term to embrace the Malay people of the Malay Archipelago, including indigenous groups from Sabah and Sarawak, which joined the Peninsula to form Malaysia in 1963. The Malaysian Federal Constitution has clauses specifically addressing the area of Malay rights but does not explicitly protect any Bumiputera rights per se. Article 153 of the Malaysian Constitution (Refer to Appendix I) states that:

“the Yang di-Pertuan Agong (The King of Malaysia) shall exercise his functions under this Constitution and federal law… to ensure the reservation for Malays and natives of any of the States of Sabah and Sarawak of such proportion as he may deem reasonable of positions in the public service (other than the public service of a State) and of scholarships, exhibitions and other similar educational or training privileges or special facilities given or accorded by the Federal Government...”.

Affirmative action programs, notably in public sector employment and scholarships, have operated in Malaysia since Independence in 1957 as noted in article 153. What that would require our attention is the rapid expansion of affirmative action programs that were implemented from 1971 onwards under the New Economic Policy (NEP). Policies under NEP are Malay/Bumiputera-exclusive, have long been a controversy in Malaysia and regarded as a set of unusual public policies where preferential actions are benefiting the majority race of a country. Some argue that the advantages offered to the Bumiputera advocate outright racial discrimination in the nation.


a.“We are the Bumiputera.”

In 1957, the various racial groups in Malaysia did not enter into Independence on equal footing. European, particularly British, held a gargantuan portion in the tin and rubber industry which was Malaysia’s rich and primary commodity production. Whereas large groups of the Malay population lived in rural area, detached from wage labor markets and private capital as they were heavily involved in rice plantations. As compared to the Chinese and Indians, Malays were unable to take advantage of the English school system due to locational and cultural reasons and could not gain sufficient entry into managerial positions or to the State’s office. They felt threatened by their minority status. The Malays and other indigenous people believed that they had a special claim to be dominant in government because they were the Bumiputeras, or, the original sons of the soil. British administrators recognized this claim. Thereafter, United Malay National Organization (UMNO) focused on consolidating Malay political control and its use to improve the condition of Malays.

b.Pressures Arising for State Support

Within the Malay community, sense of exclusion fuelled as they placed high emphasis on the difference between themselves and the Chinese. The result was adverse: manifestation of inter-racial conflicts. In the 1960s, the Malay community pressured for state support. Many development agencies were birth forth to train and fund Malay...
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