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Bumiputra (translated literally, it means "princes of the Earth") is an official definition widely used in Malaysia, embracing ethnic Malays as well as other indigenous ethnic groups. It is generally considered that all Malays are bumiputra and that all bumiputras are Malay. This is technically incorrect, as there are cases of non-Malays declared as bumiputra, and similarly of Malays (who are not muslim) who are not considered bumiputra. This confusion is compounded by the fact that different ministries of the government may have different definitions themselves. What is not obscure is that legally-based preferential racial bias for bumiputra is built into the Malaysian constitution. In practice, racial policies were a consistent, even fundamental basis for the long regime of Mahathir bin Mohamad, 1981 - 2003, as laid out in his own book The Malay Dilemma (1970).

The Malaysian Federal Constitution has clauses specifically addressing this area. For example, article 153 states that:

"the Yang di-Pertuan Agong (The King of Malaysia) shall exercise his functions... in such a manner as may be necessary to safeguard the special position of the Malays... to ensure the reservation... of such proportion... in the public service... and of scholarships... and other similar educational... privileges or special facilities given... by the Federal Government".

The Constitution defines Malays as being one who "professes the religion of Islam, habitually speaks the Malay language, conforms to Malay custom". Consequently, Orang Asli (the indigenous people of Peninsular Malaysia) are not considered for this "reservation of quotas".

Since 1970, bumiputras have enjoyed numerous legal and economic advantages in Malaysia, including admission to college, positions in government and ownership in business. Since 2000, the Government has discussed phasing out these advantages, and reinstating a "meritocracy". In 2003, the government opened up university admissions.

Some of the advantages afforded to bumiputras are said to border on outright racism. For example, it is required for bumiputras to own a certain percentage of stock in a publicly traded company. Bumiputras are also traditionally charged less for purchases like houses or cars compared to those of other races in Malaysia. ;;;