The New Economic Policy Beyond Fifty: Assessing its Strengths and Weaknesses to Chart a Cohesive Malaysian Society

November 23, 2021


The New Economic Policy’s 50th anniversary in 2021 provides an opportunity to reflect on its achievements and shortfalls, and imagine boldly into the future. Undoubtedly, Malaysia has been transformed by the NEP at all levels and aspects. The debates surrounding the NEP tend to be polarising and often reach a stalemate; however, a more constructive engagement is possible through re-appreciating the NEP’s strengths and examining its weaknesses/omissions, grappling with its policy discourses as well as with its popular but misguided perspectives. This paper suggests that by doing all these, we can ultimately recraft the NEP to forge a cohesive and inclusive Malaysian society.

Over the decades, the NEP immensely expanded socioeconomic access for the Bumiputeras and grew its middle classes – but decidedly fell short in the ultimate goal of cultivating Bumiputera capability and their confidence, especially in the higher education and enterprise development policy sectors. This paper proposes a new “cohesive Malaysian society” paradigm comprising the following principles, objectives and instruments:

  1. safeguarding equality of well-being, basic rights and dignity on a universalist basis;
  2. fostering fairness in participation, achievement and diversity through group-targeted interventions. The first entails providing basic needs and rights protection for all, regardless of one’s identity, and gives much deeper assurance of belonging and equality than the established slogan of ‘helping the poor irrespective of race’.