Bumiputera (Malaysia)

Bumiputera (Malaysia)

Bumiputera or Bumiputra is a Malay political term widely used in Malaysia, embracing ethnic Malays, Javanese, Bugis, Minang and occasionally other indigenous ethnic groups such as the Orang Asli in Peninsular Malaysia and the tribal peoples in Sabah and Sarawak. This term comes from the Sanskrit word "Bhumiputra", which can be translated literally as "son of earth" (bhumi= earth, putra=son) or son of the soil. Economic policies designed to favour Bumiputras (including affirmative action in public education) were implemented in the 1970s purportedly to defuse inter-ethnic tensions following the May 13 Incident in 1969. These policies have succeeded in creating a significant urban Malay middle class but have been less effective in eradicating poverty among rural communities and have caused a backlash of resentment from excluded groups (such as the Chinese and Indian Malaysians).


The concept of a "Bumiputra" race in Malaysia was coined by Tunku Abdul Rahman and has its roots in the recognition of the "special position" of the Malays given by the Federal Constitution of Malaysia, in particular Article 153. However, the constitution does not actually use the term "bumiputra", it only contains the definitions of "Malay" and "aborigine" (Article 160(2)) [ [http://www.helplinelaw.com/law/constitution/malaysia/malaysia12.php Part XII: General and Miscellaneous, Constitution of Malaysia (Articles 152 - 160)] , "helplinelaw.com". Accessed May 30, 2007.] , "natives" of Sarawak (161A(6)(a)) [http://www.helplinelaw.com/law/constitution/malaysia/malaysia12a.php Part XIIA: Additional Protections for States of Sabah and Sarawak, Constitution of Malaysia (Articles 161 - 161h)] , "helplinelaw". Accessed May 30, 2007.] , and "natives" of Sabah (Article 161A(6)(b)). Thus, there are a number of definitions of "bumiputra" in public use, varying among different institutions, organizations or other government departments and agencies.

According to the book entitled "Buku Panduan Kemasukan ke Institusi Pengajian Tinggi Awam, Program Pengajian Lepasan SPM/Setaraf Sesi Akademik 2007/2008" (Guidebook for entry into public higher learning institutions for SPM/equivalent graduates for academic year 2007/2008), by Student Entry Management under Management Department of Higher Education Institution, Malaysian Higher Education Ministry, Bumiputra are defined as follows depending on the region of origin of the individual applicant student:
#Peninsular Malaysia
#*"If one of the parents is Muslim Malay or Orang Asli as stated in Article 160 (2) Federal Constitution of Malaysia; thus the child is considered as a Bumiputra"
#*"If a father is a Muslim Malay or indigenous native of Sabah as stated in Article 161A (6)(a) Federal Constitution of Malaysia; thus his child is considered as a Bumiputra"
#*"If both of the parent are indigenous native of Sarawak as stated in Article 161A (6)(b) Federal Constitution of Malaysia; thus their child is considered as a Bumiputra"

In addition to the interpretation given above, there have been proposals for a broader definition of bumiputra to include groups such as the Thai Malaysians, Muslim Indian Malaysians, Straits Chinese or Peranakan [ [http://www.tripadvisor.com/Travel-g293951-c4204/Malaysia:The.People.Of.Malaysia.html Malaysia: The People of Malaysia - TripAdvisor ] ] and the Kristang people of Portuguese descent.


At the time of Malaya's independence from the British in 1957, many non-Bumiputera individuals were first or second generation immigrants who had come to fill colonial manpower needs as indentured labourers, a form of limited-term post-emancipation slavery, and the Malay leaders felt disadvantaged as a minorities. Article 153 of the Constitution states that:

Article 160 defines a Malay as being one who "professes the religion of Islam, habitually speaks the Malay language, conforms to Malay customs and is the child of at least one parent who was born within the Federation of Malaysia before independence of Malaya on the 31st of August 1957".

The term of this special position has been disputed; the Reid Commission which drafted the Constitution initially proposed that Article 153 expire after 15 years unless renewed by Parliament. This was later struck from the final draft. After the May 13 Incident in 1969, there was an argument within the government concerning whether the special position of the Bumiputras ought to have a sunset clause. Ismail Abdul Rahman argued that "the question be left to the Malays themselves because ... as more and more Malays became educated and gained self-confidence, they themselves would do away with this 'special position'." Ismail himself viewed the special position as "a slur on the ability of the Malays"."Snag in policy implementation", pp. 8–9. (Dec. 31, 2006). "New Straits Times".] In 1970, however, one member of the Cabinet pronounced that Malay special rights would remain for "hundreds of years to come". [Lim, Kit Siang (1978). "Time Bombs in Malaysia", p. 218 (2nd ed.). Democratic Action Party. No ISBN available.] Despite calls from the current Prime Minister of Malaysia, Abdullah Ahmad Badawi and his predecessor, Dr.Mahathir bin Mohamad for Malays to depend less on Government handouts and subsidies there is no evidence to show that the special privileges enjoyed by the Bumiputra will be taken away any time soon or at all. On the contrary there has been calls for the privileges to be expanded and extended to cover more areas of their daily lives.

The word "Bumiputra" was first used in Parliament in 1965 during the debate of the act which would create the Majlis Amanah Rakyat (MARA), a government agency formed to preserve Bumiputra interests. [Tan, Chee Koon & Vasil, Raj (ed., 1984). "Without Fear or Favour", p. 10. Eastern Universities Press. ISBN 967-908-051-X.]


Certain pro-bumiputra policies exist as a means of affirmative action for bumiputras. Such policies include quotas for the following: admission to government educational institutions, qualification for public scholarships, positions in government and ownership in business. Most of them were established in the Malaysian New Economic Policy (NEP). Many of them focus on establishing a Bumiputra share of corporate equity comprising at least 30% of the total. This target was originally proposed by Ismail Abdul Rahman, after the government was unable to agree on a suitable policy goal.

Examples of such policies include:

* Companies listed on the Kuala Lumpur Stock Exchange (Bursa Saham Kuala Lumpur) must find Bumiputras to take up a minimum 30% of equity to satisfy listing requirements. Foreign companies that wish to operate in Malaysia also must adhere to this requirement.

* A certain percentage of new housing in any development has to be sold to Bumiputra owners for limited period. Housing developers are required to provide a minimum 7% discount to Bumiputra buyers of these lots. This occurs irrespective of the income level of the potential buyer. Remaining unsold houses are allowed to be sold to non-bumi if the developer proves attempts have been made after a given time period. There is no bumiputra discount on established housing.

* A basket of government run (and profit guaranteed) mutual funds are available for purchase by Bumiputra buyers only. This is called the Amanah Saham Nasional (ASN), with return rates approximately 3 to 5 times that of local commercial banks.

* Many government tendered projects require that companies submitting tenders be bumiputra owned. This requirement has led to non-Bumiputras teaming up with Bumiputra companies to obtain projects in a practice known as "Ali Baba" where Ali (the Bumiputra) exists solely to satisfy this requirement and Baba (the non Bumiputra) gives Ali a certain sum in exchange.

* Projects were earmarked for Malay contractors to gain expertise in various fields. Often these projects would be sold to non-Malays as the bidders were not interested in the work, only in the gains that could be made from winning such a tender.

* Approved Permits (APs) for automobiles preferentially allow Bumiputra to import vehicles. Automotive companies wishing to bring in cars need to have an AP to do so. APs were originally created to allow Bumiputra participation in the automotive industry since they were issued to companies with at least 70% Bumiputra ownership. In 2004, the Edge (a business newspaper) estimated that APs were worth approximately RM 35,000 a piece. They also estimated that Nasimuddin Amin, chairman of the Naza group received 6,387 for 2003, making him the largest recipient of APs. 12,234 APs were issued in 2003. In addition to APs, foreign car marquees are required to pay between 140% to 300% as import duty.

Consequentially, as a result of these policies, many Bumiputera millionaires were born at the stroke of a pen due to their connections, and according to Rafidah Aziz ("AP Queen"), this policy was about achieving "Towering Malays", coming from her speech "If there are young Malay entrepreneurs whose companies are successful, then we appreciate their success, we want Towering Malays of glokal (global and local) standard", and she also said the way Approved Permits (APs) are issued, had produced many Bumiputera entrepreneurs in the automotive industry. [http://web5.bernama.com/events/umno2005/news.php?id=146744&lang=en]

In addition to the above economic advantages, Bumiputras previously received other privileges in public tertiary education, such as ethnic quotas. In 2004, Dr. Shafie Salleh, the newly appointed Higher Education Minister, stated that he "will ensure the quota of Malay students' entry into universities is always higher". This was demonstrated in 2004 when Non-Bumiputra students who scored 5As in the STPM (the highest possible grade) were denied admission to their first choice of study in public universities while Bumiputra students with lesser grades were nonetheless admitted.

Since 2000, the Government has discussed phasing out certain discriminatory practises, and reinstating "meritocracy". The eventual result was the system of "Malaysian model meritocracy" begun in 2003. In the implementation, admission to public universities was not based upon a common examination like the SAT or A-Levels but rather upon two parallel systems of a one-year matriculation course and a two-year STPM (literally translated as "Malaysian Higher School Certificate") programme. Bumiputras compose an overwhelming majority of entrants to the matriculation programme, leading to some complaints from the public, as the public university entry requirements are suggested to be easier for matriculation students. Quotas also exist for Public Services Department (JPA) scholarships, which are full scholarships offered to students to study in leading universities worldwide. These scholarships are given on the basis of SPM (translated as "Malaysian Education Certificate", the equivalent of O-Levels) results, race and certain quotas. The JPA scholars then are sent to selected pre-university programmes offered by the government — from there, they apply to universities.

The laws and rules favouring bumiputras are present in every level. For example, in the secondary school level English Language Debate, at least one of the three active speakers must be a bumiputra. Any team which does not follow this rule is disqualified.

Legitimacy of special rights

Bumiputra privileges and quotas are based on article 153 of the constitution which states that : 'It shall be the responsibility of the Yang di Pertuan Agong to safeguard the special position of the Malays and the legitimate interests of other communities in accordance with the provisions of this Article'. Malaysia is a constitutional monarchy hence the responsibilities of the YDP are regarded as the responsibilities of the state.

Clause 5 of article 153 specifically reaffirms article 136 of the constitution which states: 'All persons of whatever race in the same grade in the service of the Federation shall, subject to the terms and conditions of their employment, be treated impartially.'

Clause 9 of article 153 states 'Nothing in this Article shall empower Parliament to restrict business or trade solely for the purpose of reservations for Malays.'

Article 8 of the constitution (clause 2) states: 'Except as expressly authorised by this Constitution, there shall be no discrimination against citizens on the ground only of religion, race, descent or place of birth in any law or in the appointment to any office or employment under a public authority or in the administration of any law relating to the acquisition, holding or disposition of property or the establishing or carrying on of any trade, business, profession, vocation or employment.'


The Bumiputra laws stand out as an unusual public policy where preferential actions benefit the majority race of a country, and someWW|date=September 2008 argue that the advantages afforded to Bumiputras are unfair and border on outright racismFact|date=June 2007. OthersWW|date=September 2008 argue that the Malaysian situation at the time the policy was introduced was an unusual and deeply unstable situationFact|date=June 2007: where a minority ethnic group widely regarded as non-native controlled most of the locally-owned sector of the economy, due in no small part to colonial legacies which had assisted Chinese migrants to become dominant in the business sector to the point that Malays were largely excluded from economic life, other than as subsistence farmers, small-scale fishermen, and laborers. The government also argues that the legal and economic advantages are necessary for Malaysia to reduce ethnic conflict. The NEP, in particular, was spurred by large racial riots on May 13, 1969.

Another controversial aspect is that the Orang Asli of peninsular Malaysia are not considered Bumiputra under the Federal constitutionFact|date=June 2007. As their settlement predates that of the Malays, this is considered unfair by many, especially as they are also much worse off than the Malays. As such, various groups including SUHAKAM, the Malaysian Commission of Human Rights have called for the government to recognise Orang Asli as Bumiputra [ [http://www.suhakam.org.my/docs/document_resource/orangasli.pdf suhakam.org.my] (PDF)] Others argue that the Orang Asli are in fact considered Bumiputra. [ [http://www.temiar.com/temiar.html temiar.com] ]

Recently, members of the Indian community have also been vocal in demonstrating for Hindu rights and protesting that their community has long been worse off than the Malay community, a situation compounded by unfavorable treatment as non-Bumiputras. Several members of the Hindu Rights Action Force (HINDRAF) are currently in detention under the Internal Security Act (ISA).

Early debate

In the 1965 session of Parliament, Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew (who was also a Member of that Parliament) questioned the implementation of Malay rights as proposed. Lee asked, "How does the Malay in the kampong find his way out into this modernised civil society? By becoming servants of the 0.3 per cent who would have the money to hire them to clean their shoe, open their motorcar doors?" and "How does telling a Malay bus driver that he should support the party of his Malay director (UMNO) and the Chinese bus conductor to join another party of his Chinese director (MCA) — how does that improve the standards of the Malay bus driver and the Chinese bus conductor who are both workers in the same company?"

Lee closed with "Meanwhile, whenever there is a failure of economic, social and educational policies, you come back and say, oh, these wicked Chinese, Indian and others opposing Malay rights. They don't oppose Malay rights. They, the Malay, have the right as Malaysian citizens to go up to the level of training and education that the more competitive societies, the non-Malay society, has produced. That is what must be done, isn't it? Not to feed them with this obscurantist doctrine that all they have got to do is to get Malay rights for the few special Malays and their problem has been resolved."

It soon became clear that the PAP's campaign for a Malaysian Malaysia under the Malaysian Solidarity Convention as an indirect challenge against the racial policies was not well received by the ruling Alliance, led by the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO). Amidst the escalating communal issues in the state of Singapore, and the problems regarding the persistent neglect of the Federal Government concerning the economy of Singapore, Lee announced Singapore's separation from Malaysia on 9 August 1965, hours after the Malaysian Prime Minister made a similar announcement in the Malaysian Parliament.


In 2004, Mohd. Johari Baharum, parliamentary secretary of the Prime Minister's Department, stated that the PSD scholarships would remain quota based. He added that there were no plans to convert this to a merit based system, and that the total value of the PSD scholarship since 1996 was 2.4 billion Ringgit. [ [http://www.malaysiakini.com/news/30623 malaysiakini.com] ] There have been reported cases of students who failed to get PSD scholarships, but were later admitted to leading universities.

In an autobiographical book, "A Malaysian Journey", by former Malaysian journalist Rehman Rashid, the author claims that the teachers are pressured in the universities to give favorable grades to the bumiputra students, even if they have inferior answers compared to the non-bumiputra students. He also suggests that the grants given by private corporations to students may in fact be unofficially earmarked to bumiputra.

Public questioning of rights

At the 55th annual general assembly of the largest political party in Malaysia, the United Malays National Organisation, the deputy chairperson Badruddin Amiruldin cautioned against questioning the Bumiputras' special rights, and was met with approval from the delegates: "Let no one from the other races ever question the rights of Malays on this land. Don’t question the religion because this is my right on this land."

Present condition of the Bumiputra

Former Prime Minister Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohammad has bemoaned the extreme reliance of Bumiputras on their privileges: "We have tried to tell them if you depend on subsidies, you are going to be very weak. But they don’t seem to understand. We tell them if you use crutches, you will not be able to stand up. Throw away the crutches, stand up straight because you still have the capacity. I have talked about this thing and as a doctor I know very well the meaning of crutches but somehow or rather they want the easy way out. If I get an AP " [car import permit] " and I sell it and make some money, it’s all right, they say."

Mahathir (who was also education minister previously) also said in 2004 that Malay graduates tend to have low employment rates because "the Chinese graduates choose the right subjects so they are employable. We find that the Malay graduates, especially those from the Malay stream, can’t speak English at all. No matter how much value you put on a certificate, the fact remains that an employer wants somebody with whom he can communicate. The employer is not Malay, he is a foreigner. And if he’s not going to be able to communicate with you, he will not take you."

Furthermore, the Malay students, with Government-issued scholarships and study loans, tend to take up subjects like Syariah Law, Islamic History and other Islam-related subjects. Instead of choosing to learn English and taking up subjects that are of more secular tangible benefits (e.g. Engineering, Medicine, etc.) some have gone to great lengths to further their studies in Middle Eastern countries, learning Arabic in the process. Even so, this has not always been to the benefit of the students. In June 2006, it was revealed that a batch of 169 students sent to the Al-Azhar University in Cairo had difficulties with the Arabic language, resulting in only 5 students making it through their course. [ [http://www.bernama.com/bernama/v3/news.php?id=201761&vo=93 Only Five Students Complete Course] . Bernama. June 5 2006.] The Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, had strongly criticized this trend among Malay students to choose "simple subjects" which are worthless in the job market.

The current (2006) Minister of Higher Education, Mustapa Mohamad, has [http://thestar.com.my/news/story.asp?file=/2006/8/30/nation/15280966&sec=nation stated] that that he wants public universities to recruit more non-bumiputra academic staff in order to "strive for world-class institutions", which may signal a move toward less racial profiling in academia.

However, as of 2007, Chinese Malaysians dominate the professions of accountants, architects and engineers while Indian Malaysians dominate the professions of veterinarians, doctors, lawyers and dentists well exceeding their respective population ratios compared to Bumiputra. [http://www.indianmalaysian.com/economy.htm] [http://books.google.com/books?id=Cjb9Qhbbv9sC&pg=PA193&lpg=PA193&dq=bumiputra+accountants&source=web&ots=jJE06d68dT&sig=hwuMfFprb4XFVk_IQRXbl47JOIs#PPA194,M1]

It should be noted that the manufacturing sector is exempted from the Foreign Investment Committee (FIC) Guidelines. The 30% Bumiputera equity and restrictions in market entry have been removed for all sub-sectors. [http://www.apec.org.au/amfta-Mansurpaper.pdf (pdf)]

The state of Penang has announced that it will no longer favour Bumiputras in state sector employment, following the 2008 elections in which the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition was defeated in that state.

ee also

*Article 153 of the Constitution of Malaysia

Notes and references

Other references

*Gatsiounis, Ioannis (Oct. 2, 2004). [http://atimes.com/atimes/Southeast_Asia/FJ02Ae05.html "Abdullah stirs a hornets' nest"] . "Asia Times".

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