Home Civil Society Voices 2010 Civil society voices Scholars provide feedback on ‘social contract’

Scholars provide feedback on ‘social contract’

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There is a real danger not only of driving the ‘social contract’ debate underground but also of reinforcing or entrenching ethnocentric interpretations that do not reflect the true intent of the constitutional agreement more than 50 years ago, say five scholars.

Photo credit: http://umno-kselangor.blogspot.com

We would like to provide some feedback to the speech made by Prime Minister Najib Razak on 21 October 2010 to the Umno general assembly in which he gave the impression that there is a ‘social contract’ whose terms are set in stone. He also told the delegates that no Malaysian should question it.

It is necessary to note that there is a range of views amongst us on the social contract issue and on how to respond to the Prime Minister’s advice. One colleague has argued that it is not yet time for an “organised effort” of civil society to make such a statement as it may provoke negative reactions that may be harmful to our common pursuit of a fair and united nation.

Another has expressed concern that we must not play into the hands of politicians who will mobilize Malay support by trying to show that the non-Malays have reneged on their so-called promise to accept Malay political superiority in exchange for citizenship. A third colleague has noted that there is really no need to contest what is ‘written’ in the social contract. Rather, we should question where a copy of the social contract is to be found so we can verify and discuss its contents and meaning.

Despite our different points of view, we are in agreement on three key points.

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* It is important for Malaysians not to be gagged into silence on what is perhaps the most contentious issue standing in the way of better inter-communal relations in the country. The quicker we can reach consensus on what the social contract means – not only in terms of what was agreed by the nation’s early leaders in the past but also, more importantly, on how this agreement should be understood by Malaysians today – the less divided and more hopeful will be our future.

* For us to reach this consensus, it is important to have the facts on what took place during that critical period of our history fully disclosed and available for public discussion. In particular, we will need to have the relevant reports of the Reid Commission so that Malaysians have the opportunity to read and understand the logic and wisdom of our early leaders and do not have to depend on politically skewed interpretations of what is supposed to comprise any agreement or social contract for that period.

* At the same time it is necessary for constitutional and legal experts, historians and other scholars to lend their expertise to the public understanding. Professional organisations such as the Bar Council, the Malaysian Social Science Association, and other bodies should organise talks, seminars and forums to ensure that the best minds on the subject can have their opinions disseminated to the public.

We believe that the Malaysian public has reached a level of political maturity so that we can have a rational and public debate on the way forward in terms of any inter-communal accord or understanding arrived at, and on what needs to be honoured and respected. For that reason, we are opposed to the position of Umno and MCA which is tantamount to decreeing a ban on public discussion of the issue.

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The danger is that in not debating the issue openly – which is what the two main BN parties seem to be driving at – there is a real danger not only of driving that debate underground but also of reinforcing or entrenching ethnocentric interpretations that do not reflect the true intent of the constitutional agreement reached more than 50 years ago.

Dr Lim Teck Ghee
Dr Mavis Puthucheary
Dr Azmi Sharom
Dr Toh Kin Woon
Dr Wan Zawawi Ibrahim

Kuala Lumpur, 27 October 2010

The views expressed in Aliran's media statements and the NGO statements we have endorsed reflect Aliran's official stand. Views and opinions expressed in other pieces published here do not necessarily reflect Aliran's official position.

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14 Nov 2010 5.38pm

The way I view it… Is there a so-called “Social Contract” as claimed by some in the first place? If there is ever one, it is the Federal Constitution! To discuss something that is not in existence would be a mistake by itself.

13 Nov 2010 2.01am

Many of us don’t even care for the ‘goodies’ that Bumiputras get which will be extended to all citizens. End the … disenfranchised and that the racist segment of the population will not longer be sanctioned by the government..

13 Nov 2010 12.45am

As a layman, does the Malaya “Social Contract in the 50’s” apply to those from Sabah and Sarawak joining in the 60’s ? If not, why the everyone including the politicians and highness addresses to ALL Malaysians?

12 Nov 2010 8.00pm

… The … intention is to deny equality to all non-Malay citizens. Can they progress with this short sightedness. What is the cost of suppression in a globalized world and economy.

This is not the common good, but the calculated tricks to achieve some wicked, evil personal intention of the elite politician.

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