Saturday, March 7, 2009

History is always written by the victor, never by the vanquished

History is always written by the victor, never by the vanquished
7 Mar, 2009

Soon, they will be organising a National Malay Congress to discuss Malaysia’s very confusing Social Contract. Do any of us understand what the Social Contract is? Today, we are reproducing two articles -- which have differing views on the matter. One is by Mavis Puthucheary and the other by Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad. Malaysia Today offers space for conflicting views and debates as long as it is done in a civil and matured manner. Happy debating people -- but try not to be too abrasive and emotional. Stick to historical facts and not unsupported assumptions.


Raja Petra Kamarudin

Congress on social contract

A National Malay Congress will be held to re-educate the public on historical issues like the social contract and the Malay rulers' role in society. The three-day meeting, on the theme Di Mana Bumi Dipijak, will be held from March 15 at Wisma Sejarah in Jalan Tun Razak.

It is jointly organised by the Federation of National Writers Associations of Malaysia (Gapena) and the Malaysian History Association. Gapena media and communications bureau head Borhan Md Zain said the last such congress, organised by non-governmental organisations, was in 1957.

Gapena has decided to once again hold such a congress as there was a need to re-educate the public on the cultural and academic aspects of Malay society, Borhan said, adding that the congress would help to dispel all the misconceptions that other races have had on the Malay culture.

One of the speakers will be Professor Datuk Dr Zainal Kling, from Universiti Pendidikan Sultan Idris, who will talk on multi-culturalism. The congress is open to the public and admission is free. For more information call 03-21442412. (The New Straits Times, 7 March 2009)


Malaysia’s Social Contract: Exposing the myth behind the slogan: by Mavis Puthucheary

Since the 1980s the term “social contract” has come to supersede the term “inter-ethnic bargain” that was previously used by historians to describe the agreement between the leaders of the founding parties in the Alliance. This original bargain was not spelled out in any clear and precise way so it is not clear what the contract actually entailed. All we have is the Constitution which itself is ambiguous and has been amended nurmerous times. The emergence of the term “social contract” in the public discourse has given rise to a renewal of the debate on what was actually agreed upon at the time of Independence. As we cannot determine in any fixed way what was the content of the original bargain, we are better off trying to understand the debate surrounding the re-formulation of the bargain in terms of a “social contract”.

Central to the narrative of the inter-ethnic bargain is the power-sharing arrangement in which the leaders of the political parties of the Alliance government set out the rules for the sharing of the nation. Nation-building was based on the theme of the making and sharing of nation among its multi-ethnic citizens within a framework which entails the maintenance of the special position of the Malays. It was clear that at the heart of the debate was the issue of power-sharing between the two main ethnic groups, Malays and non-Malays, within a democratic framework. As the Alliance coalition, and later its successor, the Barisan Nasional coalition, won all the national elections, the question of how power was to be shared devolved around the balance of power between the parties in the ruling coalition.

In the first ten years after Independence, the balance of power between the two main parties, UMNO and the MCA, was more or less equal. After 1969, however the balance of power within the ruling coalition shifted significantly in favour of UMNO and the political system itself became less democratic. Although both parties fared badly in the 1969 elections, UMNO leaders who had secured control of the government, concentrated their efforts on regaining Malay support while still maintaining the power-sharing structure. With the introduction of the New Economic Policy and the extension of Malay privileges especially in the fields of education and employment, UMNO regained its popularity among the Malays and consequently assumed a dominant position in the ruling coalition.

However, over the years, new problems arose. First, as the resources of the state expanded, opportunities to become rich through access to these resources resulted in greater competition for positions in all parties in the BN, especially UMNO. Faced with severe challenges from within the party, the top UMNO leadership sought to unify the party under its leadership by the notion of a social contract in which Malay dominance was enshrined. It is significant that whenever the notion of social contract is brought up in the context of Malay dominance, its timing coincides with the eve of the UMNO general assembly elections. One may be tempted to speculate the UMNO leadership may even have introduced the notion of “Ketuanan Melayu” with the intention of incurring the expected hue and cry from the non-Malays so that it can then rally the Malays around their leadership!

Second, as Malay society becomes more complex, largely as a consequence of the successes of the NEP, the race-based politics of the BN structure is becoming less tenable. As Malays have become more socially divided (along issues of class, Islamic ideology, region, etc) UMNO finds itself having to compete with other political parties for the support of the Malay electorate. By promoting the idea of a social contract while foreclosing any open discussion which would clarify precisely what this contract entails, UMNO leaders hope to get the best of both worlds - they can shift their stand between the constitutional “social contract” and the Ketuanan Melayu “social contract” depending on the circumstances. The ambiguity of the notion of the social contract is therefore productive for UMNO. It is easy to gain non-Malay support for a social contract that is couched in the language of the inter-ethnic bargain.

In addition to the crucial distinction between the constitutional “social contract” and the Ketuanan Melayu “social contract” is the distinction between the generally received idea of the social contract as enunciated by the western philosophers and Abdullah Ahmad’s peculiar Malaysian appropriation of the term. By appropriating what was a philosophical notion of the individual giving up some of his “natural” rights to the state, it was hoped to transform what was in effect nothing more than a partisan agreement to the level of a “national consensus” that is binding for all time. Most of all once this idea is accepted, the UMNO-dominated political system would be in a position to decide the substance of this social contract. If this is UMNO’s position, then it is clear that the “social contract” is nothing more than part of UMNO’s strategy to demonstrate its claim to being the sole champion on Malay interests.

Such a system has adverse consequences for the democratization process. We should not feel bound to deal supposedly made in the past and which we have no knowledge of its contents. Ironically, the social contract was developed in the west by liberal-minded thinkers to challenge the authoritarian rule of absolute monarchs. Those who promote the idea of a social contract in Malaysia, however, want to see a political system in which secret deals are struck by the ruling elite in an environment where the scope and level of political participation is severely limited.

In such a situation it is unwise to recognise the legitimacy of the social contract as it is applied in the Malaysian context. In the Philippines, it has been found that the domination of the ruling elite is secured by its ability to effectively use the very principle and ideals of the dominated and then interpret these principles in its own interest. Allusions of the past which have been generally accepted as the single unifying force that contributed to the building of the nation function to disseminate signs that can be apprehended in different ways. In the same way, by using the idiom of the inter-ethnic bargain, which was in effect a partisan agreement, and giving it the status of a national consensus, UMNO’s agenda of Malay dominance is secured within the formal structure of multiracialism.

The UMNO version of the social contract would allow for Malay interests as defined by UMNO (”Ketuanan Melayu”) to be given greater emphasis. For this reason the consensus that is required is limited to the idea without allowing any open discussion. Any call for debate on its contents is viewed as a challenge to the existing political system.

In the search for solutions to dismantling the “social contract” we should be concerned about the impact it is likely to have on race relations in Malaysia. In the current political scenario there are three political parties that claim to protect and advance Malay/Muslim interests - UMNO, PAS and PKR.

Although not mutually exclusive, these parties adopt three different positions. UMNO’s stand is that Malay interests (as defined in terms of Malay dominance) are best safeguarded in a multi-ethnic coalition where UMNO is the sole representative of the Malay community. PAS attempts to unite the Malays through their religion, claiming that in an Islamic-based political system of universal values of social justice and fairness would be automatically delivered. In contrast the PKR takes a non-racial approach to politics claiming that Malay interests would be advanced only through policies and programmes specifically targeted at assisting the poorest sections of the society while at the same time making sure that they have the capabilities to compete with the other races on equal terms. The challenge facing the PKR leadership is how to develop broad principles of social justice, equal citizenship rights and a system of rewarding people based on meritocracy while at the same time having to deal with criticisms of selling out Malay rights.

If the Malay version of the social contract gains wider acceptance among the Malays, PKR may be under considerable pressure to abandon its more inclusive approach to politics and pander exclusively to Malay chauvinism and that would mean the end of PKR’s claim to multiracialism. Therefore it is important for the PKR to strike a balance between the non-compromising “Malaysian Malaysia” position of the DAP on the one hand, and the extreme positions of “Ketuanan Melayu” as enunciated in UMNO’s re-formulation of the social contract or the “Islamic State” of PAS on the other. (September 2008)

Mavis Puthucheary was formerly associate professor in the Faculty of Economics and Administration, University of Malaya. Since retiring, she has continued to research and write about politics in Malaysia, particularly on the issue of the ’social contract’. In 2005, she edited a book with Norani Othman on Elections and Politics in Malaysia.


The Malaysian Social Contract: by Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad

1. Before there was Malaya and Malaysia the peninsular was known as Tanah Melayu, or Malay Land.

2. Saying this alone would result in accusations of being racist.

3. But I need to go back in history if I am going to be able to explain about Malaysia's social contract.

4. Through treaties signed by the Rulers of the Malay States of the Peninsular the British acquired the right to rule the Malay States. These treaties obviously recognised and legitimised the States as Malay States. No one disputed this. Even the aborigines accepted this as shown by their submission to the rule of the Malay Sultans.

5. Initially the peoples living in the States were divided into indigenous Malays and aborigines who were subjects of the Malay rulers and foreign guests who were not subjects of the rulers. There were no citizenship or documents about citizenship status as in most countries.

6. The foreign guests prospered in the British ruled Malay States and in the British colonies of Penang, Malacca and Singapore. The Malay subjects of the Rulers and the Rulers themselves did not feel threatened by the numbers of these non-Malays and the disparities between the general wealth and progress of the foreign guests and the subjects of the Rulers. They did not think that the foreigners who had settled in the country would ever demand citizenship rights.

7. When Japan conquered the Malay States and the colonies of the Straits Settlements, the Chinese felt insecure as the Japanese were their historical enemies.

8. Many Chinese formed and joined guerilla forces and disappeared into the jungle. When Japan surrendered the Chinese guerillas came out and seized many police stations in the interior and declared that they were the rulers of the country. They seized many people, Chinese and Malays and executed a number of them.

9. Malay villagers retaliated by killing the Chinese in the rural areas. Tension rose and a Sino-Malay war was only averted because of the arrival of British forces. But the ill feeling and animosity between the two races remained high.

10. It was in this tensed situation that the British proposed the Malayan Union which would give the "guests" the right of citizenship as indistinguishable from that of the Malays.

11. The Malays rejected the Malayan Union and its citizenship proposal. They forced the British to return to the status quo ante in a new Federation of Malaya.

12. Only Chinese who were British subjects in the colonies of the Straits Settlements were eligible to become citizens in this new Federation. Naturally the Malay citizens far outnumbered the Chinese Malayan citizens.

13. Chinese leaders appealed to the British, who then persuaded the UMNO President, Dato Onn Jaafar to propose to open UMNO to all races. This proposal was rejected by the other UMNO leaders and Dato Onn had to resign.

14. The British kept up the pressure for the Malays to be more liberal with citizenship for non-Malays.

15. Tunku Abdul Rahman, the President of UMNO decided on a coalition with MCA (Malaysian Chinese Association) and the MIC (Malaysian Indian Congress). In the 1955 elections to the Federal Legislative Assembly, since there were very few constituencies with Chinese or Indian majorities, the MCA and MIC partners had to put up candidates in Malay majority constituencies after UMNO undertook not to contest in these constituencies but to support MCA Chinese and MIC Indian candidates instead.

16. Such was the support of the Malays for the MCA and MIC alliance candidates that they won even against Malay candidates from PAS. The MCA and MIC candidates all won. Only UMNO lost one constituency against PAS.

17. The Tunku as Chief Minister of a self-governing Federation of Malaya then decided to go for independence. The British continued to inisist on citizenship rights for the Chinese and Indians as a condition for giving independence.

18. To overcome British resistance to independence and to gain the support of the Chinese and Indians, the Tunku decided to give one million citizenship to the two communities based purely on residence. One notable new citizen was (Tun) Leong Yew Koh, a former general in the Chinese National Army who was later appointed Governor of Malacca.

19. It was at this stage that the leaders of the three communal parties who had formed the Government of self-governing British Federation of Malaya, discussed and reached agreement on the relationship between the three communities in an independent Federation of Malaya.

20. It was to be a quid pro quo arrangement. In exchange for the one million citizenships the non-Malays must recognise the special position of the Malays as the indigenous people. Certain laws such as the pre-eminence of Islam as the state religion, the preservation of Malay reserve land, the position of the Malay Rulers and Malay customs and the distribution of Government jobs were included in the understanding.

21. On the question of national language it was agreed that Malay would be the national language. English should be the second language. The Chinese and Indians could continue to use their own languages but not in official communication.

22. Chinese and Tamil primary schools can use their languages as teaching media. They can also be used in secondary schools but these have to be private schools.

23. For their part the Chinese and Indian leaders representing their parties and communities demanded that their citizenship should be a right which could not be annulled, that they should retain their language, religion and culture, that as citizens they should have political rights as accorded to all citizens.

24. Much of these agreements and understandings are reflected in the Federal Constitution of Independent Malaya. For everything that is accorded the Malays, there is always a provision for non-Malays. Few ever mention this fact. The only thing that attracts everyone's attention and made a subject of dispute is what is accorded the Malays and other indigenous people.

25. Thus although Malay is to be the National Language, Chinese and Tamil can be used freely and in the Chinese and Tamil schools. In no other country has there been a similar provision. Even the most liberal countries do not have this constitutional guarantee.

26. The national language is to be learnt by everyone so that Malayan citizens can communicate with each other everywhere.

27. It was understood also that the Chinese language referred in the understanding were the Chinese dialects spoken in Malaysia, not the national language of China. Similarly for Malayan Indians the language was Tamil, not Hindi or Urdu or whatever became the national language of India. However, the Chinese educationists later insisted that the Chinese language must be the national language of China i.e. Mandarin.

28. The official religion is Islam but other religions may be practised by their adherents without any restriction. As the official religion, Islam would receive Government support. Nothing was said about support for the other religions. The non-Malays did not press this point and the Federal Constitution does not mention Government support for the other religions. Nevertheless such support have been given.

29. A quota was fixed for the Malayan Civil Service wherein the Malays would get four posts for every one given to Chinese or Indians. However it was recognised that the professional post would be open to all races as it was never thought possible there would be enough Malays to take up these posts.

30. The result was that in the early years of independence there were more non-Malays in Division 1 than Malays.

31. The Agong or the Rulers of the States should determine quotas of scholarships and licences for Malays. But no one should be deprived of whatever permits or licences in order to give to Bumiputras.

32. The position of the Malay Rulers was entrenched and could not be challenged. There would be a Paramount Ruler chosen from among the nine Rulers who would serve for five years.

33. The rulers were to be constitutional rulers. Executive power was to be exercised by elected Menteris Besar, Ketua Menteri (Chief Minister) and Prime Minister, assisted by members of councils and cabinets. The British practice was to be the model.

34. The most important understanding was the adoption of Parliamentary Democracy with a Constitutional Monarch, again after the United Kingdom model. It should be remembered that the British imposed an authoritarian colonial Government on the Malay State, the power resting with the Colonial Office in London.

35. Before these the Malay States were feudal with the Malay Rulers enjoying near absolute power. Only the elites played a role in State politics. The Malay subjects had no political rights at all. Certainly the guests had no say in politics. Even the Chinese and Indian British citizens had no say though they may be appointed as Municipal or Legislative Councillors.

36. The decision to adopt a democratic system of Government was a radical step in the governance of the Federation of Malaya and of the Malay States. This was agreed to by the leaders of the three major communities as represented by their political parties i.e. UMNO, MCA and MIC. There can be no doubt that these parties represented the vast majority of the three communities in Malaya. The Communists and the other leftists did not signify their agreement to the understanding.

37. The Reid Commission was briefed on all these agreements and understanding so that they will be reflected in the Constitution to be drawn up. All the three parties approved this Constitution after several amendments were made. In effect the Constitution became a contract binding on all the three communities in the Federation of Malaya upon attaining independence in 1957.

38. When Sabah and Sarawak joined the Peninsular States to form Malaysia the social contract was extended to the two Borneo States. The natives of Sabah and Sarawak were given the same status as the Malays. At this time the word Bumiputra was introduced to distinguish the indigenous Malays and Sabah, Sarawak natives from those descendants of foreign immigrants. Because Malay was widely used in the Borneo States there was no difficulty in the acceptance of Malay as the national language. The fact that the natives of the two states are not all Muslims necessitated no change in the Constitution once the word Bumiputra was accepted. But the official definition of a Malay remained.

39. The embodiment of the social contract is therefore the Constitution of first, the Federation of Malaya and then Malaysia.

40. To say it does not exist is to deny the contents of the Constitution which was based upon the acceptance by the leaders of the three communities of the original social contract.

41. All subsequent actions by the Government were the results of this social contract. The fact that the initiators of this social contract and their successors were endorsed by the people in every election reflects the undertaking of the people to honour this social contract.

42. Saying that the social contract does not exist is like saying that Malaysia exists in a vacuum, without a Constitution and laws based on this Constitution.

43. Implementing the social contract requires understanding of its spirit as much as the letter. The social contract is aimed at creating a multi-racial nation that is stable and harmonious. Any factor which would cause instability and result in confrontation between the races must be regarded as incompatible with the spirit of the social contract.

44. For 50 years no one seriously questioned the social contract. Even today the majority of Chinese and Indians and the indigenous Malays and natives of Sabah and Sarawak accept the social contract. But because Dato Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi basically lost the 2008 election and now heads a weak Government the extremists and erstwhile detractors have questioned the social contract. The Bar Council has now become a political party believing that its expertise in law will exempt it from being questioned as to its credentials and its political objectives.

45. Abdullah's UMNO is incapable of countering any attack on the social contract. If anything untoward happens Abdullah and UMNO must bear responsibility. (12 July 2008)

Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad was the Fourth Prime Minister of Malaysia.

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