Malaysia's Phony War on Affirmative Action

When then-Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad launched his Vision 2020 in 1991, Malaysia's reputation as a prosperous and harmonious multi-ethnic country was the envy of much of Asia. One of the key pillars of the blueprint to propel Malaysia from a rapidly developing to a fully industrialized country was to accelerate and deepen policies that transferred economic power and resources to indigenous Malays in order to ensure the "fair and equitable distribution of wealth." Since then a number of World Bank experts and veteran Malaysia watchers, such as Professor Hal Hill from the Australian National University, are becoming increasingly worried about the country's long-term future. Even the current Prime Minister, Najib Razak, admits that reform in the sensitive but critical area of affirmative action appears to have stalled. In Najib's New Economic Model (NEM), which he announced in March 2010, a Malaysian leader for the first time criticized important aspects of these decades-old policies and linked them to many of the country's structural problems.

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