Saturday, March 15, 2008

Unsocial contract

Oops. Who’s a racist now?

Looks like a lawyer has lodged a police report against the new Penang CM for making seditious and racist statements when LGE said that Penang would not be sticking to the NEP. “I believe that the statement is seditious, racist, irresponsible, and may endanger public peace and national security,” he said.

I’m really confused. Can someone help me understand this?

In the book Sharing the Nation: Faith, Difference, Power and the State 50 Years After Merdeka Dr Mavis Putchucheary in her essay titled, Malaysia’s Social Contract: The Invention and Historical Evolution of an Idea questions the so-called ‘social contract’ and wonders if there was an open negotiation, or was it simply imposed. Looking at the title of the essay, there is no doubt what the well-known Malaysian political scientist’s position is.

I have just bought the book from Kinokuniya (after reading excerpts in the last issue of OFF THE EDGE) so I can’t really say more, but this little book (91 pgs) is tantalizing in its thesis. Some sneak peeks:

Inclusion of Article 153 in the Constitution in no way implied that Malay dominance was recognized by the UMNO’s non-Malay Alliance partners, as some who have more recently invoked the idea of a “Malaysian social contract” have at times claimed. Although recognizing that the nucleus of national political leadership would continue to be Malay for years to come, this did not mean that the Constitution guaranteed Malay political dominance in perpetuity…

The author noted the drift or rather ‘metamorphoses’ as Article 153 was reinterpreted by the dominant Malay elite first as a form of necessary affirmative action in favour of the historically disadvantaged Malays. By the 1980s, the term more commonly bandied about to bludgeon dissent was “Ketuanan Melayu” (or Malay dominance).

[… the connotation that Malaysia is the Malay homeland, the Malays are the “masters” of the “national house”] came to be used increasingly to describe the UMNO’s dominance in the multi-ethnic coalition government. By this time UMNO seemed to have taken ownership of the Malay agenda, and to be possessed by it. The dichotomy of Malay and non-Malay had shifted from denoting simply the distinction between Malaysians of “indigenous” and “non-indigenous” local origins. It was now taken to another level, to suggest difference, and an unequal relationship, between people of the homeland and immigrants.

And, finally, what will this persistent and adamant claim to Malay dominance do to nation-building? Dr Mavis warns:

A constitution built on ideas of a competitive bargain among ethnic blocs, our Malaysian experience indicates, is fraught with difficulties…. No nation can be securely grounded if the founding charter of its existence is confused or contested. A frail or fractured foundation is no basis for “sharing the nation.”
Do you see how much is invested in our votes AGAINST BN? So Barisan Rakyat, can we please move on and move forward now? And people, can we also live out intentionally the change we want to see in our nation?

Related reading:

Dr Mavis Puthucheary on her previous book Elections and Democracy in Malaysia (2003)

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