Social Contract : The Covenant That Gave Birth To Our Constitution

By Yuktes Vijay

In his speech at the Asia Media Summit in April 2005, then Prime Minister, Abdullah Badawi (Pak Lah) cited Malaysia as a successful example where diversity has prevailed and attributed our 50 odd years of peace and stability to our social contract. When the Pakatan Government refused to ratify the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) unanimously in 2018, it also noted that they will defend the Federal Constitution which enshrines the aforementioned social contract.

Even former AG Tommy Thomas echoed Pak Lah when he stressed that the Federal Constitution is essentially a ‘social contract’ between the three main communities in Malaysia in his Malaysian Law Conference Organising Committee 2007 address.

The People's Constitutional Proposals for Malaya. Article by Yuktes Vijay

What is a social contract? THERE is no way that one can ascertain if the aspirations articulated at a country’s birth have come to fruition unless one knows what those aspirations were.

Emerging today is a view that the social contract is a process of sustaining an equilibrium between the expectations and obligations of the institutions in power and those of the rest of society. In simple English, it means citizens are required to be loyal to the state and obey its laws while the state in turn protects its citizens and undertakes to perform all its obligations and duties with a sense of trust.

In Malaysia, it must be pointed out that in political philosophy, the term “social contract” has a different meaning than assigned to it in popular jargon in Malaysia.

Citizens and politicians of all hues must, therefore, seek knowledge of the solemn pact and the manner of its formulation.

The British would not have relinquished empire and occupation on 31 August 1957 if the three major races had not reached an accommodation on power sharing. Thus, the only issue was how the Chinese and Indians were to be accommodated in the new nation. Domicile and citizenship were the solutions put forward.

Even the most chauvinistic Malay leader did not, between 1945 and 1957, publicly ask for the wholesale repatriation of Chinese and Indian immigrants from Malaya. Neither was there any call from any jingoistic Indian or Chinese leaders at the material time that they were descendants of Chozhas or Malaya’s biggest tax payers.

From the Malay perspective, Malayan citizenship required undivided loyalty to the new state, and dual citizenship was vigorously opposed. Having regard to the MCP, the Kou Min Tang and Mao Tse Tung’s take-over of Communist China in 1949, and Subra Chandra Bose, Gandhi and Nehru’s struggle for Indian Independence, Malays’ concern that the true loyalty of Chinese and Indians were to their “mother countries” and not to Malaya was understandable.

From the non-Malay perspective, citizenship had to be on the most liberal terms, and the doctrine of “jus soli” was the rallying cry.

This was the scenario ‘today’s Malaysia’-‘yesterday’s Malaya’ was facing in the process of ‘bargaining’ for Malayan independence in 1957. This was the basis on which the Reid commission report done between June 1956 and February 1957 was based on. As we had probably written during SPM for the Sejarah paper, the aforementioned Reid commission report was the very essence that created our constitution back in the day.

Basically, in simple terms, the Indians and Chinese here today are citizens of Malaysia because we agreed to certains terms as stipulated in Reid’s commission report in return for citizenships. You see, contrary to what the ‘Bangsar cluster’ has the rest of ‘educated’ Malaysians believing, the Chinese and Indians in Malaysia today have a blue IC and a ‘warganegara’ status because the Malay rulers and the Malays here agreed to it. Not because someone contributed towards the economy. Not because another was a descendent of the disposed Chozhas.

During the British rule, hundreds of thousands of Chinese people – most of whom were from the Fujian and Guangdong provinces in the south east coast of Mainland China – came to Malaya in the hopes of escaping a life of poverty from a famined China. The Chinese, along with Indian immigrants, filled labour shortages in tin mines, rubber plantations, and railway construction.

For those who don’t know Malaya, there was a rapid development in the Malayan tin industry in the mid-19th century because of the discovery of rich tin fields in Perak and Selangor. At that juncture, the other was a high demand for tin because of the development of tin canning around the world. Those two factors were the reason why, by the end of the 19th Century, Malaya was already the world’s largest tin producer with a labour shortage because the Malays here were refusing to work in the mines or any British project for the matter. Were the Malays refusing it because they were lazy? Absolutely not.

Rakyat-friendly And Liberal

Compared to the Chinese rulers and Indian kings, the Malay royalties were much more “rakyat-friendly” and “liberal” in every sense of the word. This is why the Malaysian royalty exists today and the supposed world-conquering dynasties from both China and India are mere historical references today.

Those who watch Netflix’s The Crown would relate to what I had just mentioned. In one episode during Season 1, Prince Philip would be seen telling a very young Queen Elizabeth about how monarchies around the world are being toppled by the people’s revolution around the world. Monarchies which included that of Sweden. The lineage Prince Philip was from.

This scene led me into a bit of Googling and I discovered that monarchies have always been toppled by people’s power everywhere around the world. Everywhere except here in Malaysia. In fact, Malaysia’s monarchy was the only one saved by the post World War 2 tidal wave of independence and nevertheless it got me wondering what, why and how again.

There must be a reason for it surely and upon another round of Googling, I discovered that most Malays were allotted lands by their respective Sultans for their ‘economic purposes’ and the Malays were only required to pay a token amount as ‘tax’ to the Sultan for his harvest and nothing more.

Therefore, did the Malays need to work? No. This is why the Chinese were allowed to even be here by the British. The Indians on the other hand were brought here to fill the labour shortage faced here by the British India Company which was also governing Indian back then.

(Those with any qualms about what you just read should read Lim Goh Tong’s biography My Story in which the reason why he came to Malaya (certainly not to develop it’s economy) and why it was Malaya that helped the Chinese and Malays at that time, never vice versa.)

Besides the prestige (the Great British Empire title), the British maintained colonies all over the world because those colonies provided valuable raw materials, manpower and strategic bases. After the Second World War, the disintegration of Britain’s empire had to be done. This was because the United States’ rising global influence and its opposition to imperialism made colonialism less politically viable, while Japan’s wartime victories had destroyed Britain’s imperial prestiges. Above all, those colonies known as the Commonwealth today, were an expensive liability to the British government rebuilding after World War 2, whereby Hitler had almost threatened to destroy them.

Hence, the British found it not ‘economically viable’ to send the Chinese and Indians back to ‘balik China’ and ‘balik India’. Therefore, a deal was struck with the Malay rulers on this issue.

Enshrined Into The Constitution

It was agreed that in exchange for citizenships for the Chinese and Indians here, the status of the Malay Rulers as heads of state, Islam as the Religion of the Federation, Malay language as the National Language and the Malay Special Rights would be enshrined into the constitution. Historically, these four plus one (granting of citizenships to non-Malays) provisions were the fundamentals on which our Federal Constitution today was based on. It essentially was a result of the consensus of multiracial bargaining in the process of its enactment.

Again, in simple English, the Chinese and Indians are citizens here today because of this chain of events. Not because the Chinese developed the economy (never once mentioned in the Reid Commission Report as a point of consideration). Certainly, not because the Indians were part of the Chozha dynasty (British has records of any Chozha descendent receiving citizenship here. Ask Hindraf who filed the case in UK.).

The sequence of events that led to Malaysia as it is today has been forgotten and rewritten to fit a certain ‘political narrative’ in order to gain political power. It is easy to nurture and instigate such false views when individuals like Mohamed Tawfik Ismail the son of former Deputy Prime Minister, Dr Ismail Abdul Rahman, who was part of the delegation sent to London to negotiate terms of independence for Malaya, states that there was no such phrase as a “social contract” during the drafting of the Federal Constitution. (If that is the case, is Tommy Thomas a bad lawyer who does not know the constitution? Heck, wasn’t that why he was appointed as AG in the first place?).

As per my first article in this very column, I assert my view again that the distrust and disunity negaraku faces today is because of the politicking AND ALSO due to the lack of knowledge about the birth of our country, nor its history.

Everything written here is in other words a prelude as to why constitutional and policy practices in our country regardless under UMNO led BN or DAP led Pakatan has often emphasised a Malay-non-Malay dichotomy on all economic, social and political dimensions. Is it because of racism and apartheid practices? Definitely not and you ought to know that by now having read everything above.

From this, it is certain that the average Malaysians therefore must empower themselves with the knowledge of the Constitution so that they will not be easily misled by skewed constitutional interpretations, so that there will not come a day where we cross the rubicon because of perceptions, arguments and opinions that were wrong from day one!

As I write this, the words “there is nothing worse than too late” from a poem written by Charles Bukowski comes to mind.

Don’t let it get too late to rectify the obvious disintegration we are in today due to distortion of history and it’s subsequent replacement by political narratives.

Understand the constitution. Know your country. – New Malaysia Herald

Together 4 Unity - New Malaysia Herald and Ministry of Unity Malayisa

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