The mythical social contract

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:

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