IT CAME like a big bang.
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak unveiled a new economic policy a week ago aimed at increasing Malay participation and control of the economy.
The so-called Bumiputera Agenda is expected to run into the year 2020 and beyond.
The overtly pro-Malay agenda was deliberately timed just before the ruling United Malays National Organisation (Umno) opened nominations for its party elections, which will be held during next month's general assembly. Datuk Seri Najib will be seeking an endorsement of his leadership at a time when he is seen as having a weak grip on the party.
The agenda is widely seen as an attempt to consolidate his position in Umno, but it threatens to hurt Malaysia's interests in the long run. The new policy will not only breed more cronyism and corruption, but also accelerate the brain drain of minority Chinese and Indian professionals.
A crutch mentality will be further entrenched within the Malay community.
Known as Pemerkasaan Ekonomi Bumiputera or Bumiputera Economic Empowerment, the programme involves an ambitious plan to boost the equity ownership of Malays and other bumiputeras, upgrading their skills and assisting them in owning homes and businesses.
The bumiputeras, mostly ethnic Malays and indigenous tribes of Sabah and Sarawak, form almost 68 per cent of the population.
For all intents and purposes, the agenda is yet another affirmative action policy introduced 42 years after the first was launched as the New Economic Policy (NEP) by Mr Najib's father, then- prime minister Abdul Razak Hussein, in 1971. Although the NEP ended in 1990, the tenets of affirmative action continued through other programmes.
When announcing the new policy, Mr Najib made no bones about the purpose of the Bumiputera Agenda, namely, to reward the Malays for their support of the Umno-led Barisan Nasional (BN) in the May 5 general election that saw Umno's hold in Parliament increase from 79 seats in the 2008 elections to 88 seats.
The new pro-Malay economic agenda is said to have caused much unhappiness among Umno's coalition partners as it was pushed through without prior consultation with them.
After Mr Najib took over as Prime Minister in April 2009, he introduced the New Economic Model (NEM) as a replacement for the NEP.
The model is aimed at transforming Malaysia into a high-income nation by 2020 and improving the quality of life of the bottom 40 per cent of households, regardless of race. This raised hopes that Malaysia was moving away from race-based policies.
One question now on the minds of many is whether the new pro-Malay agenda is a death knell for the NEM and its related schemes.
Another question concerns Mr Najib's much-touted 1Malaysia policy, which is based on the concept of fairness to all.
First introduced by the Prime Minister on Sept 16, 2010, it seeks to turn the country into a great nation where every Malaysian perceives himself or herself as Malaysian first, and by his race, religion, geographical region or socio-economic background second.
Since the May 5 general election which saw the ruling BN failing to regain its two-thirds majority, Mr Najib has not been heard uttering the 1Malaysia slogan. Has this inclusive policy aimed at promoting national unity been abandoned?
Malay right-wingers in Umno who used to oppose the 1Malaysia policy had argued that the Umno president should give up on the Chinese and concentrate only on the Malay vote. The election results, they claimed, prove that it is futile to try to win back the Chinese.