The mythical social contract
Lim Teck Ghee / 12 Dec 2018 / 00:36 H.
WHEN the Prime Minister’s Office announced that the Pakatan Government will not ratify the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD), it also noted that the government will defend the Federal Constitution which enshrines the social contract agreed to by representatives of all the races during the formation of the country.
The announcement apparently came out of a Cabinet meeting and was a unanimous decision.
One wonders what the Cabinet members were thinking when they agreed to inclusion of a reference to the country’s “enshrined social contract”.
The notion of a “social contract” negotiated by the country’s leaders which led to “merdeka” is one of those recent political constructs which, because it has been repeated ad infinitum by the Barisan Nasional government and its supporters, now appears to be unquestionable truth with the public, especially the Malay public.
The fact behind the wording is that the term was used for the first time in 1986 by Datuk Abdullah Ahmad, Umno member of Parliament and journalist – that is, 30 years after independence.
It was never used by members of the Reid Commission or by the leaders of the “merdeka” movement
Abdullah Ahmad’s social contract
Abdullah’s view of the social contract which he elaborated in a speech in Singapore was:
“The political system of Malay dominance was born out of the sacrosanct social contract which preceded national independence. Let us never forget that in the Malaysian political system the Malay position must be preserved and that Malay expectations must be met. There have been moves to question, to set aside and to violate the contract that have threatened the stability of the system.
”The May 69 riots arose out of the challenge to the system agreed upon out of the non-fulfilment of the substance of the contract. The NEP is the programme after those riots in 1969 to fulfil the promises of the contract in 1957 … The NEP must continue to sustain Malay dominance in the political system in line with the contract of 1957. Even after 1990, there must be mechanisms of preservation, protection and expansion in an evolving system.”
When he explained it, Dollah Ahmad gave no indication that he had read the reports of the Reid Commission; neither is there evidence that he consulted the scholars who have studied and written on that period of our history.
He was also not able to quote anyone of the first generation of political leaders such as Tunku Abdul Rahman, Onn Jaafar, Tan Cheng Lock and Sambanthan; or any subsequent political leader to support and uphold his notion of the “sacrosanct social contract”.
His objective seems to have been to argue for his concept of “ketuanan Melayu” and the extension of the New Economic Policy at a time when the ending of its 20-year timeframe was in sight.
Since then, Dollah Ahmad’s construct has been appropriated by a motley crowd including Umno political leaders, Malay mass media, self-styled academic experts, and other vested interest groups.
One prominent figure in the grouping is the former prime minister, Najib Razak, who on Oct 21, 2010 in his speech to the Umno general assembly intimated that there is a “social contract” whose terms are set in stone and which no Malaysian should question.
So can the question of the “social contract” be now raised and put back in the public arena in Malaysia baru since it has been used to push back the ICERD ratification?
Or will Malaysians again be gagged into silence on a contentious issue standing in the way of better under-standing of our political history and ethnic relations.
Demystifying the social contract
It is important to note that the majority of local and foreign scholars have repudiated the notion of Dollah Ahmad’s “social contract”.
Perhaps the most prominent in recent times is royal professor Dr Ungku Abdul Aziz, who is reported to have stated that, “There is no such thing as [a] social contract”, and that the social contract is “a fantasy created by politicians of all sorts of colours depending on their interest”.
He also said that the social contract “should rightly be called an ‘economic contract’ to justify affirmative action in areas of education and health for groups that needed it the most”.
It is possible that there are disciples of Abdullah Ahmad – including within Putrajaya today – who hold to the view that there is a “social contract” and that those contesting it are either ignorant, misguided or traitorous.
Here’s a suggestion for supporters of the “social contract”, and their allies from the anti-ICERD movement in the Pakatan Harapan government and opposition.
>> Please print out the “sacrosanct social contract” to be viewed by all Malaysians.
>> If a copy is not available, state what you understand to be part of this social contract. Your view should be supported by relevant excerpts from the Reid Commission and the findings of reputable constitutional and legal experts who have studied the negotiations preceding and after merdeka.
>> Call on the expertise of professional organisations such as the Bar Council, the Malaysian Social Science Association, and other bodies to organise talks, seminars and forums on the “social contract” to ensure that the best minds can have their opinions disseminated to the public.
The danger is that in not debating the issue openly we drive that debate underground and entrench ethno-centric interpretations that do not reflect the true intent of the agreement reached by the framers of our constitution.
That the pressure of politically driven ethnocentric mindsets is becoming more perilous as a result of formal and informal censorship on the subject is clearly evident from the ethnic controversies that bedevil us today.
Lim Teck Ghee’s “Another Take” is aimed at demystifying status quo orthodoxy. Comments: firstname.lastname@example.org
Social contract (Malaysia)
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
The social contract in Malaysia refers to the understanding made by Malaya’s founding fathers in the Constitution, nearing its independence. The social contract refers to a trade-off through Articles 14–18 of the Constitution, pertaining to the granting of citizenship to the non-Bumiputera of Malaya (particularly Malaysian Chinese and Indian), and this was carried over to Article 153 when Malaysia was formed on 16 September 1963, which grants the Malays a special position in the country. This circumstance does not apply in Sarawak as all racial groups were citizens, bestowed by the legitimate Brooke government, way before the founding of Malaysia.
In its typical context related to race relations, the social contract has been heavily criticised by many, including politicians from the Barisan Nasional coalition, who contend that constant harping on the non-Malays’ debt to the Malays for citizenship has alienated them from the country. Such criticisms have met with opposition from the Malay media and the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), the largest political party in Barisan Nasional.
On 22 October 2010, Malaysian exiled popular blogger RPK (Raja Petra Kamarudin) revealed page by page of the 33-page document (a report by Lord Reid in year 1956 to Queen Elizabeth II) which he retrieved from the archiving library in England. RPK claimed that the Malaysian government has since distorted the content of Lord Reid’s report into what is called the ‘Social Contract of Malaysia’.
The Constitution does not explicitly refer to a “social contract” (in terms of citizenship rights and privileges), and no act of law or document has ever fully set out the social contract’s terms. This was created by Tan Sri Abdullah Ahmad in 1986 as a political ploy to win communal support.. Its defenders often refer to the Constitution as setting out the social contract, and the Malaysian founding fathers having agreed to it, although no reference to a “social contract” appears in the Constitution. Instead, the social contract is typically taken to mean a quid pro quo agreement that provides the non-Malay and other non-indigenous peoples of Malaysia (mostly the Malaysian Chinese and Malaysian Indians) with citizenship, in return for recognising the special position of the Malays and indigenous people of Malaysia, collectively referred to as the Bumiputra (“sons of the soil”).
A higher education Malaysian studies textbook conforming to the government syllabus states: “Since the Malay leaders agreed to relax the conditions for citizenship, the leaders of the Chinese and Indian communities accepted the special position of the Malays as indigenous people of Malaya. With the establishment of Malaysia, the special position status was extended to include the indigenous communities of Sabah and Sarawak.”
Another description of the social contract declares it to be an agreement that “Malay entitlement to political and administrative authority should be accepted unchallenged, at least for the time being, in return for non-interference in Chinese control of the economy”.
Economist Professor Dr Ungku Abdul Aziz, is reported to have stated in 2008 that, “There is no such thing as [a] social contract”, and that the social contract is “a fantasy created by politicians of all sorts of colours depending on their interest”.
The Constitution explicitly grants the Bumiputra reservations of land, quotas in the civil service, public scholarships and public education, quotas for trade licences, and the permission to monopolise certain industries if the government permits. In reality, however, especially after the advent of the Malaysian New Economic Policy (NEP) due to the racial riots of the May 13 Incident which occurred in 1969 when Malays held only 4% of the Malaysian economy, Bumiputra privileges have extended to other areas; quotas are set for Bumiputra equity in publicly traded corporations, and discounts for them on automobiles and real estate ranging from 5% to 15% are mandated.
The Constitution also included elements of Malay tradition as part of the Malaysian national identity. The Malay rulers were preserved, with the head of state, the Yang di-Pertuan Agong, drawn from their ranks. Islam would be the national religion, and the Malay language would be the national language. These provisions, along with the economic privileges accorded by Article 153 of the Constitution, made up one half of the bargain, and have been referred to as the Malay Agenda. The nature of these provisions is disputed; although many Malays refer to them as “rights” – a term common in UMNO rhetoric – critics have argued that the Constitution never refers to special rights for the Malays:
There is no such thing as a racial “right” to be given special treatment. And that is not me being argumentative, it’s the Constitution. You won’t find “Malay rights” in the supreme law of our land, instead, you will find terms such as “special position” of Malays. The difference is more than semantics. A right implies something inalienable. A privilege on the other hand is a benefit, presumably given to those who need it.