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Citation Information

Type Book
Title Ethnicity and inequality in Malaysia: A retrospect and a rethinking
Publication (Day/Month/Year) 2005
Publisher Centre for Research on Inequality, Human Security and Ethnicity
URL http://www.cpiasia.net/v3/images/policy_papers/Maznah2005_ethnicity ineq_retrospect.pdf
This paper examines the role of Malaysia’s New Economic Policy (NEP) in
contributing to the absence of widespread inter-ethnic violence in the country since
1969. The paper begins by discussing dominant approaches to understanding the
impact of the NEP. It argues that these suffer from two interlinked shortcomings.
Firstly, they have all given a central role to the state in explaining ethnic relations,
although more recent scholarship is starting to build on the innovations of scholars
beyond Malaysia to develop more society-focused accounts. Secondly, it is argued
that this state-centric approach has failed to address issues of intra-group
contestations over issues such as the precise definition of what is required to be
classified as Bumiputera, the main group that benefited from the NEP.
While inter-ethnic stability in Malaysia has often been attributed to the NEP, the
paper provides an alternative explanation. The paper argues that a series of
‘extraneous political factors’ account for this stability, including the success of the
campaign of Malay ‘language nationalism’; the Islamic revivalism of the 1970s and
1980s; the development of a system of political patronage; and the populist policies
of Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad (1981-2003). The paper concludes by
identifying newly emergent sources of inequality that are usurping the old MalayChinese
dichotomy and threatening ethnic stability, including the increasing divide
between West and East Malaysia and the new articulation of Malay-Indian tensions.

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