Economic policy

The New Economic Policy Beyond 50: Retire or Refresh?


About the seminar
Malaysia’s NEP has just turned fifty. Launched in 1971, the NEP transformed Malaysia through its “two-pronged” development strategy: (1) alleviating racially-neutral poverty; (2) social restructuring to reduce racial imbalances, particularly by promoting upward mobility and the capacities of the Bumiputera.
In 2021, the country was consumed by pandemic recovery and political turmoil, but also launched two policy frameworks: the Twelfth Malaysian Plan (12MP) 2021-25 in August and the Bumiputera Development Action 2030 Roadmap (TPB2030) in december. While 12MP and TPB2030 have started, national debates have stagnated.
Two debates do Malaysia a disservice. The first perpetuates polarization and stalemate, with opposing sides adopting tough, uncritical pro-NEP stances against anti-NEP. The second, closer to a non-debate, stems from a consensus around nebulous notions of “needs-based” assistance as a complete replacement for “race-based” policies.
Misguided mindsets persist, but Malaysia can start afresh by building on both strands of the NEP – with key resets and updates. This new paradigm systematically identifies goals and instruments, with two policy areas aimed at: (1) maintaining equality in well-being and dignity through universal provisions; (2) promote fairness and equitable representation in participation and ability, through group-targeted actions based on identity, need and merit.

About the speaker

Lee Hwok Aun is a Senior Researcher and Coordinator of the Malaysian Studies Program at the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute. He is the author of Affirmative Action in Malaysia and South Africa: Preference for Parity, and numerous articles on affirmative action, inequality, discrimination, social protection, labor and education. Various works on the NEP of Malaysia are published in the series ISEAS Perspective and ISEAS Trends in Southeast Asia.


This is a hybrid event to be held at ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute (ISEAS).

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