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.