It’s not good for Malaysia, and will ultimately lead to violence and misery. I think some background is required before getting into the actual policy.
When Malaya was colonized by Great Britain, the colonizers set in motion a dangerous course for a multicultural society like Malaysia is today. By bringing immigrants from India and China to do the majority of the work they needed and mostly leaving Malays to continue living as fisherman or simple servants, they educated and lifted up Chinese and Indian immigrants while allowing Malays to fall or remain behind.
When it came time to give up their colony and create the Malayan Union, the British realized the problem they had created with probably huge disparities of wealth, education, and influence among the races. This is probably primarily what led to so much tension and even the infamous race riot of 1969.
So it’s not surprising that the solution proposed by Malaysian government officials was to give Bumiputera special subsidies and advantages over other races with the New Economic Policy. As I understand it, this was intended to last for 20 years. That might have been an okay idea on paper, but in practice it was doomed to fail. To paraphrase a wise man: The closest thing on earth to eternal life is a government program.
So it never ended, but was only revised in 1991 (and maybe even made worse).
The most pernicious thing about the current Bumiputera policy is that while it hurts everyone, the people it hurts the most are the people it is designed to help the most. It is the epitome of “the soft bigotry of low expectations”. The subconscious message delivered to those being “helped” by a program which provides certain advantages based on a person’s race is “Your race is inferior to these other races and there’s nothing you can do about it but rely on the benevolence of government assistance.” Have a conversation with enough Bumis in Malaysia and they will eventually reveal this deep-seated insecurity.
(You can see a similar effect among Native Americans in the US, who receive more “help” in real dollars than any other race in America, and have many of the same problems as Bumis do today).
Of course, things have not gotten better for the Bumiputera. While the data to back up that claim is sorely missing (deliberately so, I believe), it’s fairly obvious to anyone willing to make some simple observations. Take a look at a list of the wealthiest Malaysians and notice how few Bumiputera there are. The diabetes (and obesity) rate among Malaysians over 30 years old is something over 21%, and you can pretty much guarantee that number is higher among Bumiputera. Despite huge advantages in education, Bumiputera still lag behind their non-Bumi peers.
The Bumiputera policy has also led to unofficial discrimination which has resulted in Malaysia’s civil service being dominated by Bumiputera. That includes a police and military force which doesn’t come close to resembling the mixed racial makeup of the country.
The Bumiputera policy also has the effect of making non-Bumis feel like second class citizens who, almost anyone would admit, could never become Prime Minister in their own country. Because of that sentiment, a massive brain drain of bright young Malaysians fleeing government-enforced stagnation of their own success is under way as they look for opportunities in other countries where they will be rewarded for their own merit.
[Source : Quora - Dan Jones]