Professor Shamsul Amri Baharudin, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia’s Institute of Ethnic Studies (Kita) director
First of all, I would like to say he (Ungku Aziz) is giving an economist response whereby he goes by the letter of the law and he’ll look at statistics and the cost-benefit analysis of things. I don’t know what he reads aside from economic books but political scientists and historians have said that we do have a social contract.
Our constitution has a general and miscellaneous section. No other constitution in the world has this section and it shows that the Reid Commission acknowledged the right of Malay rulers, customs and language. The social contract is a convergence of different opinions. It is an agreement to be different by the people.
The translation of ketuanan Melayu is wrong. It is not Malay supremacy, it is Malay sovereignty. Ketuanan is a very colonial term. (Former deputy minister) Abdullah Ahmad had very little knowledge as to what it means when he first raised it in 1986. Sovereignty is not a foreign concept as it is prevalent in other countries such as Belgium and England with monarchs. The idea that Malays are the boss and the rest is not, is a misconception.
Nobody is dominant. The social contract was raised when the constitution was created and the Reid commission included the condition to satisfy all groups possible. The people then began to see it as a form of agreement and convergence. However, later on, people started seeing it as a contract. Not in a legalistic sort of way but how it was made and how the terms are constantly being renegotiated.
(PKR de facto leader) Anwar (Ibrahim)’s ketuanan rakyat (people supremacy) is no different from ketuanan Melayu. If rakyat means demographics and clearly Malays and bumiputeras being the majority at 60 percent. It is just another idiom to hide the point that Malays are sovereign. Don’t just focus on Malay sovereignty because otherwise it would just be ethnic talk and not a constitutional or Malaysian talk. We have to get rid of such racist perceptions.
Has anyone asked why Sabah has 20 extra conditions like requirement of work permits from those in Peninsula Malaysia? Why don’t we talk about that? We have to look at the social contract from the larger context and not just at the Malays. Peninsula Malaysians should demand for work permits to be abolished if Sabah wants more royalties. The problem is that the issues are skewed and people are blinded by it.
In 1969, the consultative councils made up of 100 representatives around the country thought of formulating this policy in addressing the problems of backwardness faced by the ethnic groups. They were thinking of solving the ownership problems as almost 60 percent of property belonging to foreigners and 21 percent to the Chinese.
The NEP was about increasing property ownership so that it reflected the demographics equitably. The majority at that time did not have majority ownership so to change this, they started with the economy.
Article 153 of the constitution provides the basis which creates the paradigm for NEP. NEP provided the package that stated the target and objectives but there are other ways of doing this. The discussion and debates that we have now is how the package is not working. It is creating unhappiness all around.
This is why ‘Umnoputera’ is now a word, not bumiputera. If you want to go back and change things, the Parliament will have to change it and make it clearer. The social contract will remain relevant so long as the constitution is relevant. The social contract is realised in the constitution which gives us the symbol of the contract.
The NEP was created from the understanding of Article 153 and it ended in 1990. But it persisted until now so it is known as ‘Never Ending Policy’. However, I think it warrants another name – ‘Never Ending Polemic’ as it continues to divide society.
Society is already divided ethnically and to proceed to the next stage, the politicians should use rational thinking instead of exploiting the emotional thinking of the people. The nature of political parties that are ethnicise is that they have to go on being emotional to garner votes.
To me, (Umno Youth chief) Hishammuddin (Hussein) and (DAP chairperson) Karpal (Singh) are no different. They are voicing different voices but it’s all the same and it’s divisive. Our politicians organise themselves on differences.
Onn Jaafar from Umno is the greatest example. After two years he was expelled from his party which shows that if you took a non-ethnic stand, it’s goodbye for you.
Dr Mavis Puthucheary, associate research fellow at Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia’s Institute of Malaysian and International Studies (Ikmas)
Ungku Aziz is right. It is not a social contract which implies the relationship between the state and the people. If you look at the Western concept of social contract like John Locke, the idea of a social contract is that people give up some powers to their political representatives in return, the state will protect them.
There is no social contract because it involves the leaders of the Alliance and the bargain was then placed in the constitution but that does not represent a social contract. The social contract did not come into debate until Abdullah Ahmad raised it in 1986 that there was something that was agreed to by a few people in the past that binds future generations. I’ve challenged it.
The whole question on power sharing is very relevant. One needs to spell it out and it must be agreed upon but some leaders still disagree on what it means. Some say the non-Malays agreed to ketuanan Melayu in this so-called social contract but some say non-Malays only agreed to some kind of bargain without conceding their right to liberal democracy, equal rights and justice.
Political parties are using the social contract out of this context and it has no meaning in Malaysia. So that’s why we need a discourse and debate on this. We need to work out a national consensus in figuring out what and where do we go from here and now. We can all agree that something more than a bargain was made when the state was formed but I won’t call it a social contract.
Dr Azmi Sharom, associate professor, law faculty, Universiti Malaya
In the context of the constitution, there is a certain give and take because the constitution provides for special privileges to Malays. In any normal or ordinary constitution, there would not be any racial bias in it. But this was agreed to by the non-Malays so these special privileges is the beginning of the so-called social contract.
However, to a certain extent it is true – the special privileges involves safeguarding the Malay language, the sultanate and Islam on the surface appears to be going against the grain of equality. The non-Malay Malaysians were happy to accept this then. But the idea of give and take does not extend to the concept of Malay supremacy created by political parties, namely Umno.
The original constitution has elements of compromise but that compromise is from the layman’s perspective, the document does not suggest Malay supremacy or mastery. Ketuanan Melayu is a fallacy. I just don’t see the justification for this. The so-called social contract is relevant only to racists and people who want Malaysians to continue to be divided along racial lines.
But I am also uncomfortable with Ungku Aziz’s view that the social contract should be called an economic contract. The society made a compromise and it is not a contract which implies the people are bound to it for life. Citizenship is not about the economy but the society.
Dr Johan Saravanamuttu, visiting researcher, Institute of Southeast Asian Studies (Iseas), Singapore
It is obviously a term used by political analysts and there is no formal or legal contract. But the 1957 constitution was written based on a considerable amount of negotiations including various ethnic and political groups.
Not all of their demands could have been included therefore when the constitution was agreed upon by all parties after the entire process, for all intents and purposes is the social contract of Malaysians. The constitution incorporated many of these provisions which people have generally learned to accept.
The relevance of this is that the constitution is a document that is historical and represents the agreement by particular political parties at that particular era. The impact in reading beyond the document is that it lays out provisions of a pact that is not meant to be absolutely permanent. After all, the constitution has been amended hundreds of times, it means the conditions are not cast in stone.
On ketuanan Melayu, there is no such thing as ketuanan Melayu. It is a concoction by political entrepreneurs by Umno on promoting Malay supremacy. The constitution does not say anything about Malay supremacy but only on the special privileges such as land and language afforded to them. It is the jaundiced Malay politicians who use it to embed themselves in position or create and perpetuate power for themselves.
Dr Chandra Muzaffar, academician and political scientist
Well, I think that it is true that the social contract doesn’t exist as a physical document which is drafted and sealed or has a label that tells us it is a social contract. What we have is the Merdeka constitution which is an attempt to balance interests between different communities and ethnic interests within a framework for a certain vision of what a nation state is.
It is very clear that the nation state would be called Malaysia and the basis of the state was from a Malay polity that features the Malay monarch, Islam as the religion of the federation and the Malay language.
On the special position of the Malays and indigenous communities is part of the Merdeka constitution, there was a feeling by the Reid commission that the massive accommodation of recent domiciled non-Malays required some sort of protection of the Malay community which was economically weaker than say the Chinese. The special position was a socio-economical condition.
I don’t see ketuanan Melayu as part of the social contract or Merdeka constitution. By accepting the Malay polity, it does not make Malays and non-Malays unequal and it doesn’t make non-Malays second-class citizens.
Ketuanan Melayu is an idea that is an impediment to ethnic relations for the country. It does not mean one race is dominant and another race is subordinate or a master-servant connotation.