Tun Dr Ismail Abdul Rahman is a man almost unknown to most from my generation, and virtually invisible to the generations later. We knew him best as the dude that Taman Tun Dr Ismail (TTDI) in KL was named after.
In the NST article ‘The Tunku never acknowledged my worth publicly...’ [first of an enlighting series of articles on NST about this early UMNO stalwart], we are shown more insight of what truly constitutes the 'social contract' and 'special position of Malays' - which has proven to be dual thorns in the side of race relations in this country.
The social contract is bandied about by the politicians at every opportunity. It is blatantly used as an excuse to implement racially discriminatory policies and any discourse on it is labelled insensitive. And young non-bumi Malaysians are expected to comply and submit, as they are supposedly bound by the 'social contract' agreed to by their grandparents.
In any case, it is commonly believed [and we are frequently reminded by UMNO] that the social contract consitutes the granting of citizenship for Chinese & Indians, in exchange for their acceptance of the 'special position of Malays'
Taken from an article from NECF entitled 'Social Contract'That's what you and I have been told all these years, but... according to Tun Dr Ismail [in NST's article referred above], that is untrue and a misconception!
In his speech at the Asia Media Summit in April 2005, the Prime Minister, Dato’ Seri Abdullah Badawi, cited Malaysia as a successful example where social contract had ensured peace and stability for 50 years.
"Perhaps the most significant aspect of the contract was the agreement by the indigenous people to grant citizenship to the immigrant Chinese and Indians. Chinese and Indians now sit in the federal Cabinet and state executive councils. In return, the immigrant communities agreed to special economic privileges for the indigenous people given their disadvantaged position."
The leaders of the Alliance concluded that in an independent Malaya, there should be one language to unify the various races into one nation. The obvious choice was Malay.There you have it!
It was imperative that if the Chinese — the real political problem since the other races were not dominant — were to be persuaded into accepting Malay as the national language, they should be granted citizenship as a quid pro quo
This was the real basis of the agreement between the three partners, particularly between the Malay and the Chinese.
In no uncertain terms, the deal was that: Citizenship was granted, in exchange for the use of the Malay language. NOT in exchange for the special position of Malays.
So what is the basis then, for the special position of Malays? According to Tun Dr Ismail, the special position is a privilege accorded to the underprivileged..., not a birthright entitled to a certain race.
This proved a less intractable problem because the leaders of the Alliance realised the practical necessity of giving the Malays a handicap if they were to compete on equal terms with the other races.As you can read, the privileges enjoyed by the Malays is supposed to be ONLY as long as their economic disadvantages warranted it. It is a 'TEMPORARY' measure, to be removed as soon as the necessity for it ended. It is NOT a birthright ie. permanent freebie given to someone for simply being born Malay or bumiputra.
The only point of controversy was the duration of the ‘special position’ — should there be a time limit or should it be permanent? I made a suggestion which was accepted, that the question be left to the Malays themselves because I felt that as more and more Malays became educated and gained self-confidence, they themselves would do away with this ‘special position’.
In itself, this ‘special position’ is a slur on the ability of the Malays and only to be tolerated because it is necessary as a temporary measure to ensure their survival in the modern competitive world: a world to which only those in the urban areas had been exposed.
This analysis provides insight into how Dr Ismail perceived the Malayan situation. What is striking is Dr Ismail’s belief that the Malays would do the right thing in the long run, as well as his faith in the Alliance as a model of government capable of meeting these challenges taken as a whole.
With it, Malays are supposed to work even harder to make up lost ground. It is an INTIATIVE, NOT an ALTERNATIVE to hard work. It is supposedly something shameful to be 'TOLERATED'. It is NOT meant to be worn as a badge of pride and wielded as a keris to demand concessions from other races.
Tun Dr Ismail's revelations directly rejects the concept of Ketuanan Melayu which is being seen as one of the ways the special position manifests itself.
He also outright rejects the notion of granting privileges to the rich and powerful, even if they be Malay. In fact, he categorises urban Malays as having been exposed to the 'modern competitive world', and [by my interpretation] should already be in a position to ensure their own 'survival'.
And THAT, folks... is the real social contract.
Read Lee Kuan Yew's take on the social contract: The Original Quest for a Malaysian Malaysia