"SOCIAL CONTRACT": A Class Perspectives (Part I)
Kua Kia Soong
(DR KUA KIA SOONG is a Director of Suaram)
Related article: Read here former PM Dr. Mahathir's ETHNOCENTRIC view of the history of Malaysia
This paper sets out to put history in its proper perspective.
The routine usage of (the phrase 'social contract' ) TODAY does not mean that its legitimacy should go unchallenged.
This so-called ‘social contract’ was the product of COLONIAL MANIPULATION of the constitutional proposals, from the Malayan Union to the final Merdeka Agreement.
The Alliance formula of three racially-based parties (UMNO, MCA, MIC) made up of the MALAY ruling class and the NON-Malay capitalist class ....the neo-colonialist alternative to the truly Malayan nationalist movement grounded in the workers’ movement.
The Alliance won the upper hand mainly through the help of British colonial repression of the mass-based nationalist movement and the failure of the latter to mobilise the Malay peasantry.The concept of a “social contract” presumes there was a trade-off between granting citizenship for the non-Malays and special privileges for the Malays by the representatives of the different communities at Independence. Its emergence is hard to trace.
The Federation of Malaya proposals, culminating in the Merdeka Agreement, were intended to deflect the working class revolt by introducing RACIALISM in the Independence package.
The ‘social contract’ would have looked very different if the ‘Peoples’ Constitution’ of the AMCJA-PUTERA coalition had won the day.
(On) the citizenship issue, by 1947, three-fifths of Chinese and one-half of Indians in Malaya were local born.
In 1950, ONLY 500,000 Chinese (one-fifth of the total) and 230,000 Indians had Malayan citizenship.
-Dr. Kua Kia Soong
Excerpts: Read here for more
‘Social contract’ and ‘Ketuanan Melayu’ are terms introduced by communalist politicians in recent years and it is worth taking note of the origin and the illegitimacy of their coinage.Part Two: The so-called ‘quota system’ (TO BE CONTINUED IN NEXT POSTING)
‘Ketuanan Melayu’ or Malay Dominance can be traced to the infamous speech by Abdullah Ahmad, then UMNO Member of Parliament in Singapore in 1986.
The emergence of this concept of a “social contract” which presumes that there was a trade-off between granting citizenship for the non-Malays and special privileges for the Malays by the representatives of the different communities at Independence is hard to trace.
Its routine usage today, however, does NOT mean that its legitimacy should go unchallenged.
This paper sets out to put history in its proper perspective.
It is the premise of this paper that the Independence agreement has to be understood in class terms:
Thus the so-called ‘social contract’ would have looked very DIFFERENT if the ‘Peoples’ Constitution’ of the AMCJA-PUTERA coalition had won the day.
- the RULING CLASS in gestation represented by UMNO, MCA and MIC on the one side and
- the truly anti-colonial forces in the PMCJA-PUTERA coalition representing the workers, peasantry and disenchanted middle class on the other.
This paper emphasises the fact that this so-called ‘social contract’ was the product of colonial manipulation of the constitutional proposals, from the Malayan Union to the final Merdeka Agreement.
Furthermore, it has in fact undergone three transformations since Independence:
- the post-Independence situation before May 13;
- post- 1969 Malaysian society, and
- the attempt to rationalise “Malay dominance” since the Eighties.
The Class Forces at Independence
The UMNO leadership after the Second World War represented the interests of the Malay aristocracy. They were prepared to establish a neo-colonial Malaya with British interests intact.
The workers’ movement was the main threat to colonial interests.
The Federation of Malaya proposals culminating in the Merdeka Agreement were intended to deflect the working class revolt by introducing racialism in the Independence package.
The Emergency (1948-60) was as much a crackdown of the workers’ movement as it was a war against the anti-colonial insurrection.
The subsequent ‘Alliance Formula’ comprising the Malay aristocratic class and non-Malay capitalist class was designed to deal with the workers’ revolt and put in place a neo-colonial solution.
The post-colonial Malayan economy saw a neglected peasantry while the crucial questions of neo-colonial exploitation, land ownership and size of landholdings of the Malay peasantry (for which the Malay aristocracy was responsible) were deflected into grievances against the non-Malay middlemen.
The Malayan Union proposal by the British in 1946 was opposed by the political left and right in Malaya for different reasons.
The post-war Labour Government in Britain had to grant basic civil rights, including citizenship for the non-Malays as implemented elsewhere in the post-war world, but the Malay elite were opposed to this.
- The peoples’ anti-colonial forces opposed it because it did not propose self-rule and no elections were contemplated. Singapore was also to be excluded from the federation.
- The Malay aristocracy opposed it because they wanted to transfer the sultans’ jurisdiction to the British and abolish the need for royal assent to legislation.
In their demonstrations against the Malayan Union, UMNO carried banners calling for, among other things:
UMNO’s opposition to the Union had been mainly provoked by the brusque manner in which the British had forced the sultans to sign the treaties.
- “Malaya belongs to the Malays - We (UMNO) DON'T want other races to be given the rights and privileges of Malays”;
- “Reinstate British Justice”;
- “Father protect us till we grow up…”
Progressive Malay Nationalist Party (MNP)
By contrast, the Malay Nationalist Party (MNP) called for, among other things:
On 20 October 1947, the AMCJA-PUTERA coalition launched a general strike and economic boycott or hartal to protest against the constitutional proposals.
- the right to self-determination of the Malayan people;
- equal rights for all races;
- freedom of speech, press, meeting, religion;
- improving standard of living of all the peope;
- improving farming conditions and abolishing land tax;
- improving labour conditions; education reform on democratic lines;
- fostering friendly inter-racial relations.
It brought the country to a complete standstill. It also called on all parties to boycott the Federal Legislative and State Councils.
Realising the different class forces opposing the Malayan Union, the British did a volte face and began to consult only with the Malay ELITE to the exclusion of all the other interest groups.
The colonial power again used its divide and rule strategy to put the anti-colonial forces on the defensive by tightening up citizenship rules from five to fifteen years’ residence under the Federation of Malaya proposals of 1948; Singapore was to be excluded from the federation and no representative democracy was considered.
The constitutional crisis and labour unrest led to the Emergency being declared on 17 June 1948.
During the period from 1948 to 1960, thousands were deported to China while some 500,000 were displaced into ‘New Villages’.
In looking at the citizenship issue, it is worth noting that by 1947, three-fifths of Chinese and one-half of Indians in Malaya were local born. In 1950, only 500,000 Chinese (one-fifth of the total) and 230,000 Indians had Malayan citizenship.
The 1952 Kuala Lumpur Municipal Council elections which saw the successful application of the Alliance formula gave the British colonial power an indication of the political forces to back for the neo-colonial solution.
The 1955 federal elections confirmed their choice of the Alliance and when the Alliance reneged on its amnesty proposals for the guerrillas at the Baling talks in 1955, the British were assured of the Alliance’ reliability as the custodians of British interests.
When the Constitutional (Reid) Commission was considering the provision for Malay special privileges, it made the following comments:“Our recommendations are made on the footing that the Malays should be assured that the present position will continue for a substantial period, but that in due course the present preferences should be reduced and should ultimately cease so that there should be no discrimination between races or communities.”The proposal to review Malay special privileges after fifteen years by the legislature was opposed by UMNO and they got their way.
The jus soli principle was applied for all born AFTER 1957; citizenship was granted to all over 18 years of age, who were born in the country and had lived five out of seven years in the country and knew elementary Malay.
For those born outside the country, there was a condition of eight out of twelve years’ residence in the country.
The Alliance formula of three racially-based parties made up of the Malay ruling class and the non-Malay capitalist class was plainly the neo-colonialist alternative to the truly Malayan nationalist movement grounded in the workers’ movement.
The Alliance won the upper hand mainly through the help of British colonial repression of the mass-based nationalist movement and the failure of the latter to mobilise the Malay peasantry.
This so-called ‘social contract’ has in fact undergone three transformations since Independence:
In the 1957 Constitution, Article 153 was framed simply as follows:
- After Independence in 1957, the affirmative action policy was sparingly used according to Article 153;
- After May 13 in 1971, while the country was still under Emergency decree, Article 153 was amended to introduce the so-called “quota system” allowing wider affirmative action policies but still within stipulated conditions;
- Then in 1986, Abdullah Ahmad’s infamous ‘Ketuanan Melayu’ speech was actually a declaration of the new status quo, routinising the racial discrimination through the abuse of Article 153 since 1971.Sheridan & Groves commentary on Article 153 is as follows:
“It shall be the responsibility of the Yang di-Pertuan Agong to safeguard the special position of the Malays and the legitimate interests of other communities in accordance with the provisions of this Article…and to ensure the reservation for Malays of such proportion as he may deem reasonable of positions in the public service…and of scholarships, exhibitions and other similar educational or training privileges or special facilities given or accorded by the Federal Government and, when any permit or licence for the operation of any trade or business is required by federal law…
Nothing in this Article shall operate to deprive or authorise the deprivation of any person of any right, privilege, permit or licence accrued to or enjoyed or held by him…”“This article had its inspiration in the protective discrimination provisions of the Indian constitution; but it is fundamentally different from those provisions because the LARGEST class in whose favour the discrimination operates in Malaysia is the class which possesses political control, the Malays…”