KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 31 — If at all there was a social contract between the Malays and non-Malays before independence, it was the guarantee of equality and the promise of the rule of law, said former de facto Law Minister Datuk Zaid Ibrahim.
Offering his take on an issue that has been at the core of a roiling debate in the country, he said that the more racialist social contract — which places more emphasis on Malay primacy — was a product of Umno ideologues in the 1980s.
He believed that on the eve of independence, one of the elements which gave Alliance leaders and all Malayans confidence was the knowledge that "a constitutional arrangement that accorded full respect and dignity for each and every Malayan, entrenched the rule of law and established a democratic framework for government had been put in place.''
The Federal Constitution, he noted, was crafted by brilliant jurists who understood the hearts of minds of those who would call this nation their home and whose children would call it their motherland.
"Hundreds of hours of meetings with representatives of all quarters resulted in a unique written constitution that cemented a compact between nine sultanates and former crown territories, '' he said.
This compact honoured the Malay Rulers, Islam, the special status of the Malays, and created an environment for the harmonious and equal coexistence of all communities through the guarantee of freedoms, he noted in a speech at the Lawasia conference today.
This social contract was unilaterally restructured in the 1980s by "a certain segment of the BN leadership that allowed for developments that have resulted in our current state of affairs,'' said Zaid.
"The non-Malay BN component parties were perceived by Umno to be weak and in no position to exert influence. Bandied about by Umno ideologues, the social contract took on a different, more racialist tone. The essence of its reconstructed meaning was this: that Malaya is primarily the home of the Malays, and that the non-Malays should acknowledge that primacy by showing deference to the Malays and Malay issues. Also, Malay interest and consent must be allowed to set the terms for the definition and exercise of non-Malay citizenship and political rights. This marked the advent of Ketuanan Melayu or, in English, Malay Supremacy.
"Affirmative action and special status became a matter of privilege by reference to race rather than of need and questioning of this new status quo was not to be tolerated.
"The new political philosophy in which the primacy of Malay interests was for all purposes and intents the raison d'être of government naturally led to interference with key institutions, '' he said.
He urged the Barisan Nasional government to abandon the reworked concept of the social contract and embrace "a fresh perspective borne out of discussions and agreements made in good faith with all the communities in this country.''
In his speech, Zaid also touched on:
• Democracy, the rule of law and Umno
"Mukhriz Mahathir will probably be the new Umno Youth leader. In saying as he did recently that there is no need for law and judicial reforms as it will not benefit the Malays, he typifies what is perceived as the kind of Umno leader who appeals to the right wing of Malay polity.
"That he may be right is sad as it leads to the ossification of values that will only work against the interests of the party and the nation. This type of thinking may pave the way to a suggestion in the future that we may as well do away with general elections altogether as they may not be good for the Malays. We are a deeply divided nation, adrift for our having abandoned democratic traditions and the rule of law in favour of a political ideology that serves no one save those who rule.''
• The transition to democracy in Indonesia
"The majority of Indonesians have embraced democracy, religious tolerance, and religious pluralism. In addition, a vibrant civil society has initiated public discussions on the nature of democracy, the separation of religion and state, women's rights, and human rights more generally. These developments have contributed to a gradual improvement in conditions for human rights, including religious freedom, over the past few years. Since 2003, Indonesia has also overtaken Malaysia on the Reporters sans Fronteres Press Freedom Index, moving up from 110th place to 100th out of 169 countries covered. Malaysia on the other hand has dropped from 104th place to 124th place in the same period. I am not surprised. In 1999, Indonesia passed a new press law that, in repealing two previous Suharto administration laws, guaranteed free press through the introduction of crucial measures. Progress has not stopped there. On April 3 this year, Indonesia passed its Freedom of Information Act. This latest law allows Indonesia's bureaucracy to be open to public scrutiny and compels government bodies to disclose information.''
• Nation building
"We have failed miserably in dealing with complex issues of society by resorting to a political culture of promoting fear and division amongst the people. The Ketuanan Melayu model has failed. It has resulted in waste of crucial resources, energy and time and has distracted from the real issues confronting the country. The obsession with the Ketuanan Melayu doctrine has in fact destroyed something precious in us. It makes us lose our sense of balance and fairness.”
• Malays and modernity
"Dr Mahathir was right to ask that Malays embrace modernity. He fell short of what we needed by focusing on the physical aspects of modernity. He was mistaken to think all that was needed to change the Malay mindset was science and technology. He should have also promoted the values of freedom, human rights and the respect of the law.”
• The Judiciary
"The courts must act with courage to protect the constitutionally-guaranteed rights of all citizens, even if to do so were to invoke the wrath of the government of the day. In PP vs Koh Wah Kuan (2007), a majority bench of the Federal Court chose to discard the doctrine of separation of powers as underlying the Federal Constitution apparently because the doctrine is not expressly provided for in the Constitution. This conclusion is mystifying as surely the court recognises that power corrupts absolutely and can thus be abused. If the courts are not about to intervene against such excesses who is? Checks and balance are what the separation of powers is about. Surely the apex court is not saying that the courts do not play a vital role in that regard?
"The rule of law has no meaning if judges, especially apex court judges, are not prepared to enter the fray in the struggle for the preservation of human rights and the fundamental liberties. To all our judges I say discard your political leanings and philosophy. Stick to justice in accordance with the law. - The Malaysian Insider