September 28, 2022

The five social contracts: To reinvent Malaysia, deconstruct Malaysia

4 min read

MALAYSIA works on five – not just one – social contracts beyond the Federal Constitution.

The first, while richly storied but hardly shared in daily conversations, involves the delegation led by Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra Al-Haj, with Tun HS Lee and Tun Sambanthan in tow, to urge London to agree to a peaceful transition of power.

That led to the country’s independence on Aug 31 1957, later to be joined by Singapore, Sabah and Sarawak on Sept 16,1963 to form Malaysia.

Had Singapore not been expelled in 1965, they too would be part of the social contract, as the gentlemen’s agreement in London was to grant citizenship to all Malayans and/ or Malaysians.

The second social contract involves the importance of the Rukunegara, the national governing principles formulated in 1970, which among others acknowledged a belief in God by all races. The Rukunegara, to this day, speaks positively of liberalism in the context of progressive politics, an element which Dr Dr Chandra Muzaffar noted has been intentionally neglected over the last 20 years.

The third social contract involves colour-blind affirmative action, in the form of the National Economic Policy (NEP) that was supposed to stretch from 1979 to 1990.

Unfortunately, the NEP, while still in existence, has been impoverished by the kleptocracy of the previous regime.

The fourth social contract involves the agreement to respect the Malay rulers and vice versa. The Sultans and governors in states like Sabah and Sarawak would, to the best of their abilities, maintain the rich diversity in their states.

The final social contract, according to economist Professor KS Jomo, would be Vision 2020, where all races ideally see themselves as Malaysians, with equitable incomes and a comfortable social safety net.

Vision 2020 was mooted by Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad in first tenure as prime minister.

All these social contracts form the key edifice of Malaysia. But as can be seen from the fifth and final one, economic prosperity is a “black swan event”. No one predicted, or knew, that by 2018, China would reach such a level of economic sophistication to compete head-to-head with the United States; so much so that both countries are now trapped in a trade conflict.

Malaysia cannot move forward based only on the regurgitation or repetition of the five social contracts. That would be akin to using the economic and political model of 1950-2000 to steer the country forward in the 21st century.

Old solutions cannot and must not be used to solve current or new challenges in 2019 simply because they simply would not be suitable.

Governance, according to British academic Professor Bob Jessop, is indeed “steering” beyond “who gets what, when, and how”, a definition by US political scientist and communications theorist Harold Lasswell. It is also beyond what Canadian-born American political scientist David Easton called “the authoritative allocation of values”.

Governance, contradictorily though it may sound, involves what British political theorist and activist Alex Callinicoss called the “abolition of politics”. In fact, the original view of Karl Marx called for a state that could abolish “politics” too.

If Malaysia had once decayed into a kleptocracy, only to be revived into a democracy once again, it means the country is just as capable of future decay – if bad leaders are once again at the top.

As US political economist, writer and futurologist Francis Fukuyama said, if a state can be formed, it can also decay.

To prevent decay from setting in, Malaysia needs to look at the three areas where the people will take “order” for granted.

Firstly, multiracial peace cannot be assumed as a given – peaceful and peaceable as most Malaysians are. Thus, the politics of race, as purveyed by Umno and PAS, must be resisted.

Secondly, Malaysians should not further assume that the state is there to extract oil and gas from the ground, export them at a premium, and using such largess, adopt a policy of blind subsidy.

The Universal Basic Income (UBI) can be considered for all poor people, but all able-bodied men and women must work hard and smart to adapt themselves to the digitised world.

Thirdly, Pakatan Harapan – especially its presidential council – should not be sidetracked and must stay strong and honour all promises in its GE14 election manifesto.

Reinventing Malaysia means de-constructing old ideas of what Malaysia is, without harming the social contracts.

And also by sticking to everything in the election manifesto, delivering what the rakyat most wants: 1) Mitigating the cost of living; 2) Enhancing the quality of living through holistic and relevant education and better purchasing power, etc.; 3) The creation of sustainable and credible jobs; 4) Affordable healthcare; and 5) Affordable homes.

Businesses also need a reasonable degree of certainty with regards to the right economic policies or direction, since Malaysia, as some studies have shown, seems to have a high correlation between political leadership and economic performance unlike Japan, South Korea or even Thailand.

Pakatan needs to address this to attract the right Foreign Direct Investments (FDIs) to re-energise the Malaysian economy.

Time and tide wait for no man, as they say.

Dr Rais Hussin is Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia strategist. The views expressed here are entirely the writer’s own.

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