Sunday, October 19, 2008

Social Contract - Oh really?

Daniel, a commenter asked my views on the social contract as I had not touched on it in my previous post. Unfortunately, he seemed to have thought I walk around with my computer attached to me and expected an instant reply. Hey, I got a life mate.

Then when I got to writing a response, it just got to be too long and so it appears here as a new posting.

For a quick summary of what the social contract is all about, I would suggest you read There are a lot more analysis eselwhere and some good takes on it by Farish Noor and others. Surely I can't add much more to these prominent writers and historians. So, I am only going to confine to whatever about the Social Contract that I find problems with.

Obviously, any country at all with a constitution, has to have that constitution written based on the needs of that nation. In so far as the needs are concerned, usually if there are competing forces, presumably friendly, as I presume it was in the Malaysian instance, then the final constitution would have been agreed upon based on agreements reached over, what at best, must be assumptions about each of their respective claims over priorities.

That the Malaysian constitution in over 51 years has had 42 amendments to it unlike the American constitution that has had 27 over more than 200 years says something about the durability of the constitution. To even suggest that it is as well thought out as the American constitution would be a travesty. However, it would have had certain forces working on it that may not have imposed itself on the American constitution. The drafters of the American constitution would have come together believing in the commonness of their claims and hence all that might have been needed was a document that will help in their governance.

For instance, at the time the American Constitution was written and the amendments added that followed, had they then envisaged the likelihood of a black president, would that constitution have been any different? Maybe they were too self-assured that it would be an unlikely possibility. By now when in all probability the next president of the United States will be black, the society there is already ready to embrace him and the colour of his skin is immaterial. What more, this can happen even without any changes needing to be made to the constitution. Such is the durability of the American Constitution. That of course does not necessarily assure for Barak Obama that the measures used on him will be the same that has been used on all the previous presidents.

In granting independence the British insisted on settling the issue of the Chinese and Indians then. There was this presumption that the Malays were the indigenous people of this country, homogeneous in a sense. Just as there would have been the whites, blacks and native Indians in America, we had Malays, Chinese, Indians and the native Orang Asli. But in the American instance, it was an all white representation at the table that finally agreed upon the constitution with hardly any regard for the blacks or the native Indians. Slavery of course continued and the amendment to the constitution abolishing slavery came about only in 1860. Even then there did not seem to be the need for the Malaysian styled "social contract" that could have ensured Obama never had any hopes for higher office. Also, the assumptions imposing on the constitution drew from the commonness of purpose of all who signed that document.

However, in the Malaysian instance, although the "social contract" is not legislated, it provides the basis for the constitution. It presumes competing communities coming together to share the land, resources and political space of this nation. It presumes a prior claim of the Malays and that of the rulers in the land, resources and the political space and that this claim should be catered for into eternity as the forces that separate the different communities shall forever prevail. Unlike the commonness that prevailed on the American constitution, I suspect the Malaysian constitution had a greater imposition of competing interests and claims. To a certain degree that is a shame and a weakness, especially now when for many a sense of "Kita Anak Bangsa Malaysia looms, the "social contract" might be a bit of a bother.

The social contract presumes homogeneous political interests and an enduring regard of oneself amongst the Malays. I do not think they envisaged that the Malays would be divided into those supporting UMNO, those supporting PAS and those supporting Keadilan. It presumed the Chinese and the Indians would forever be tied to the MCA and MIC's articulation of their respective selves and interests. The definition of who is a Malay, was to say the least, superficial. That Khir Toyo is a privileged Malay over many others might be rather distressing considering his father only landed here in this land in 1946. I have often wondered the reverence these "recent" Indonesian imports would have for the rulers in the various states unlike the Chinese and the Indians here.

Something interesting I found was that Syed Hamid Albar's father, Syed Jafaar Albar, was an Indonesian immigrant from just before the war. Well, my father was born here in Malaysia in 1924 and so was my mum in 1933. And yet Syed Hamid fosters the social contract on me. Its the same with Khir Toyo.

And then I see all those Indonesian workers on our streets. They continue to say they are Indonesian and I believe they are not even allowed to think of identifying themselves as Malays, hence all the harassment they claim to be subject to in the hands of our Police and Rela. To make sure of that the son of a former Indonesian Migrant, our Home Minister Syed Hamid, looks after that. What irony!

Of course I don't need to tell you how passionate sons of others, who might have called themselves Indians or Arabs but now shamelessly identify themselves as the Malays referred to, are in the "social contract". Just see one Mahathir Mohammad.

Now, as for the "social contract" talked about, there is of course no social contract as such. Maybe not even an agreement. But surely there would have been agreed a number of assumptions. There may have also been a number of assumptions actively weighing themselves on the final constitution drawn up that may have never been spoken of.

My problem with the social contract is the continuing imposition of the assumptions that would have prevailed upon the Constitution like as if those assumptions remain a constant until eternity.

We are talking of assumptions that weighed in on the drafters of the constitutions at a time when the Malays did not eat noodles or pau, the Indians did not eat nasi lemak or satay and the Chinese may not have known the delights of thosai and idli. My grandfather would not have envisaged that I would be marrying a Chinese girl for instance. So you see, those were times when it was probably never envisaged that there would be so much of cross-cultural and racial fusion taking place. But most certainly the uncertainties that prevailed then would now not be present and confidences, rather than suspicion, in themselves as well as one another would be at a higher degree.

The constitution was drafted at a time when for many Indians and Chinese India and China were still very much home to go back to. If not for Mao's communism, the ties of Malaysian Chinese to their relatives in China would have been as strong as those of the Indians with their relatives in India. There was a temporariness of the stay of Indians and the Chinese then that certainly does not exist now.

But those factors are not valid factors anymore. The assumptions arising from these don't apply any more. It is only in the minds of the UMNOPutras, the term "social contract" means anything at all.

Sadly, the Rulers too in their Special Statement, seem to have assumed that the starting point for any views and opinions on Malaysian citizenship and the constitution has to be the "social contract" which somehow is locked in a time capsule, never to change in its character.

What is completely ignored is, the assumptions underlying the social contract have most definitely changed in form or even have become invalid and non-existent.

But you see, to acknowledge that the assumptions that prevailed upon the drafters of the constitution have changed or become invalid for certain powers that be would certainly not be profitable anymore. To push to examine these closely might just invite for myself unnecessary trouble. After all the Rulers have decided, for the moment, that the "social contract" is a given that continues to remain valid.

I have to remind myself, the last time someone did try to stump some UMNO leaders with questions over the assumptions prevailing upon the "social contract", we saw the exit from Malaysia and the birth of a new nation, Singapore.

I am not an historian nor have I the inclination to be one. But I would suggest that maybe someone better suited will be able to list down for us all the assumptions that prevailed upon the drafters of the constitution as well as those that were "agreed" on what they now call the "social contract"! One thing that is obvious to me is that of the assumptions that may have been so valid all those years ago only a few may still continue to remain valid. Of course there would be new ones. It will certainly be an interesting exercise to be able to list all those assumptions that prevailed then, including the unspoken ones, and then to delete those that may not be valid anymore. To add new assumptions that may be valid, and then to see how this will impact on the constitution we have today.

In this exercise I am not even asking for universally acceptable assumptions to apply. I recognise that there is still that "suspicion" and the angst that has been cultivated by UMNO. However, sparing the influence of political interests and forces, there is this Malaysian culture that exists and that most of us like to identify ourselves with. These are within our collective consciousness.

Thus, if an academic exercise was attempted at rewriting the constitution at this time by a group of people coming together with a commonness of purpose and interests rather than competing purpose and interests, I would expect to see the rulers retaining their pride of place and probably with greater clarity of their roles as they have stated in that Special Statement of theirs. I can expect to see Islam still recognised as being the foremost religion of the land. I can see Malay still supported to be the National Language of the Federation. However, for the constitution to have to still state that there is such a thing as "other communities" or the "Malay privileges" and so on would probably be giving in to unfounded fears.

When during the BERSIH rally on the 10th November 2007, I found myself in the midst of some PAS supporters chanting "Allahu Akhbar", the fact that I did not find that hostile or threatening. The fact that I found myself supporting and marching alongside them. The fact that I could not see them directing whatever angst they had at me. Hey, we have come a long way since independence and the competing interests that had to be compromised somehow then don't seem to be valid anymore. Something to think about.

So Daniel, I hope this gives you my take on the Social Contract. If I am wrong, help me change it. You see, there will always be a social contract. But that social contract is not something that is written in stone. It evolves as fences fall and confidences replace suspicions.

When you look at the durability of the American Constitution that has been subject to just 27 amendments since its adoption over 200 years ago, it tells you something about the foundation upon which it was built. Ours on the other hand obviously is founded on fear, suspicion, avarice, selfishness, opportunity, greed, and a lot of other negatives. I do not fear revisiting the start of this process. After all I am a whole lot more confident of the goals of my fellow Malaysians. Why should the fears of my forefathers submit me to servitude or for that matter compromise. Why should the fears of my forefathers be a restraint on the development of a truly Malaysian Malaysia? Hey, the assumptions that were brought to bear on the "social contract" may have been very real then and valid too. But now?


Post a Comment

<< Home