Malaysia’s Bumiputera Preferential Regime and Transformation Agenda: Modified Programmes, Unchanged System



About the Seminar

Malaysia’s Bumiputera preferential regime is fundamentally ethnicity-based, but in recent years the Bumiputera Economic Transformation Programme introduced new initiatives and modifications, aimed at building capable and competitive Bumiputera businesses, and reaching out to disadvantaged Bumiputera students. Policy rhetoric and popular discourses recurrently – and erroneously – maintain that need-based and merit-based affirmative action have replaced ethnicity-based programmes. I propose a systematic framework for integrating and evaluating need-based selection (prioritizing the disadvantaged or limiting benefits to the already empowered) and merit-based selection (cultivating capability and competitiveness) as enhancements of the Bumiputera preferential regime, focusing on three main policy spheres: higher education, high-level employment, and enterprise development. Need-based selection remains under-utilized in higher education to target the disadvantaged and to promote inter-generational upward mobility, and in enterprise development as a means to curb rent-seeking and facilitate graduation. Merit-based selection has gradually expanded, but can be more widely applied in all policy spheres, especially in enterprise development. Effective utilization of need and merit considerations bolsters Bumiputera empowerment, and lays foundations for graduating and exiting from overt Bumiputera preference. Formulating transitions away from the current Bumiputera preferential regime will require a systematic, programme-specific approach.

About the Speaker

Lee Hwok-Aun is Senior Fellow at the ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute. He was previously Senior Lecturer in the Department of Development Studies, University of Malaya. Hwok-Aun obtained a PhD in Economics from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and an MSc in Political Economy of Development from the School of Oriental and African Studies. He has researched and published in the areas of affirmative action, inequality, labour, social policy, discrimination, and education, focusing on Malaysia and Southeast Asia, as well as South Africa. He also served on the Technical Committee of the National Wage Consultative Council, and was national consultant to the inaugural Malaysian Human Development Report.

For registration, please fill in this form and email to by 24 November 2017.


Nov 27 2017


3:00 pm - 4:30 pm


ISEAS Seminar Room 2