The New Economic Policy and Contesting Bumiputera Identity Among Orang Asli and the Indigenous Peoples of Sabah and Sarawak
The New Economic Policy and Contesting Bumiputera Identity Among Orang Asli
The New Economic Policy (NEP) was Malaysia’s first state-driven transformation policy. At the core of the NEP project was the official institutionalisation of Bumiputeraism as an authority-defined identity central to the self-identification of the nation-state.
Contrary to the claim of the NEP in promoting national unity, the Bumiputera identity is one that is fraught with its own ambiguities and contradictions and has arguably contributed to greater social inequalities and underpinned the persistence of “race thinking” in Malaysian public discourse. With the benefit of hindsight, the NEP’s after-effects have been to institutionalise and embed a divisive social cleavage, as it proactively defined who to include and who to exclude within its terms of reference, and thus who to empower or marginalise. Its initial impact was to homogenise some sections of society, even to the point of creating a sense of egalitarianism among those deemed Bumiputeras (those considered “indigenous” or, literally, “sons of the soil”), propelled by its own developmental claims and legitimation processes, and with it rising expectations among those who felt that they were the identifiable beneficiaries. However, as the logic of Bumiputeraism played itself out, so too did the (intended and unintended) consequences of this state-driven identity begin to unfold.