What social contract?

by Clive Kessler
Malaysian Insider
September 06, 2010

“Najib warns against questioning ‘social contract’,” it is reported.

This claim is plain and simple “historical revisionism”.

To what “social contract” precisely is the PM referring?

In the 1980s a new political idea was created: that of “Ketuanan Melayu”, of Malay ascendancy, supremacy, domination.

Thereafter, especially from 2008 it has been ever more powerfully promoted, generally in association with the suggestion that a “social contract” had been entered into and constitutionally enshrined in the mid-1950s.

How was this manoeuvre executed? With what purpose and consequences?

It was, from 1986, now newly suggested that the notion of “Ketuanan Melayu” had been part of the “Merdeka process and agreements”, and that the nation’s non-Malay citizens had thereby consented to accept, and thereafter ever live subject to, Malay ascendancy and supremacy.

There was perhaps an implicit, but only implicit, “social contract” formed in 1955-1957. If that is how one chooses to denote the core political substance of the Merdeka process, then that implied “contract” was about inter-communal or inter-ethnic power-sharing and the secular nature of the Malaysian state. It was not about notion of “Malay supremacy”. That notion was only subsequently, indeed very much later, confected.

If there was at that time a “social contract”——if that is how some people later may choose to characterize the Merdeka process and agreements——then what they are referring to is merely a retrospectively imputed or implied social contract.

This term was now offered as a new way of denoting, and seeing, that national political legacy and foundation, that core political substance. But, when reached, in their own time, those agreements, that subsequently implied “contract” (to use the new, and newly inflated term) was not about and did not provide for “Ketuanan Melayu” — nor for the supremacy of Islamic shari’ah law as the supreme and uncontestable law of the land either, for that matter, as some creative constitutional revisionists also now like to suggest.

Yet there was no “social contract” as such at the time. People have only inferred and argued subsequently that there was, because there somehow must have been, such a contract at the time of Merdeka — and, driven by retrospective wish-fulfilment, they have then “filled in” what it pleases them to believe, or passionately desire, that its terms must have been. They “read back” the politics of the present, and their preferred political future that they like to imagine for themselves, into the historic past.

Yet nobody talked at the time, in 1955-1957, about there being concluded any such “social contract”. Nobody seriously imagined that any such contract formally enshrining and constitutionally entrenching Malay domination was being entered into by all the people. Nobody suggested that people, or the nation as a whole, had signed up to and agreed to be bound by any such “contract” providing for enduring Malay ethnocracy — for Malay domination in perpetuity and with the unalterable assent over the generations of the dominated.

Subsequently, from the mid-1980s, the idea that there had been an implicit “social contract” was fashioned. It was suggested that the notion of “Ketuanan Melayu” had, by inference, been part of or implied by that contract.

In this way, born only in the 1980s, the new idea of “Ketuanan Melayu” was “read back”, or subsequently “smuggled”, into the Merdeka agreements and process, or into now authoritatively offered but very questionable claims about what those agreements had provided for and “locked in” as the solemn foundations of nationhood . If there was an implicit contract at that time (it was at first subliminally and then explicitly suggested) then universal assent to “Ketuanan Melayu” was and must have been part of it.

This, quite simply and evidently, is historically erroneous. It is sheer revisionism. It is retrospective meddling with national historical truth and the nation’s constitutional foundations.

Never has the need for clear historical study, analysis, accuracy and faithfulness to the facts been greater.

* Clive S. Kessler is Emeritus Professor, Sociology & Anthropology at The University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia

  1. #1 by undertaker888 on Monday, 6 September 2010 - 4:14 pm

    there’s one. it is called

    SO-Sial contract. ya, very sial.

  2. #2 by Bigjoe on Monday, 6 September 2010 - 4:17 pm

    Other than the fact I heard it from founders such as Tunku, Tan Siew Sin and HS Lee themselves that there is no so called ‘social contract’, it makes ABSOLUTELY NO HISTORICAL SENSE there could be one. Its a badly madeup stroyline at best.

    Why would the non-Malays give up second class citizenship of superior administrator for second class citizenship of unproven administrators especially given that they were majority already. If there was one, why would Chinese accept Singapore exit from Malaysia to halve their already superior demographic if they were second class citizens? It makes absolutely no sense.

    Putting the side the fact these days and age of such a thing to exist is never going to work, seriously, the idea should be rid of just because its such a bad story alone

  3. #3 by k1980 on Monday, 6 September 2010 - 4:39 pm

    SO-Sial contract

    It is like the mortgage agreement which still charges you interest even though you have paid off the entire loan. The interest payments will only end when you ‘konk-off’

  4. #4 by Jeffrey on Monday, 6 September 2010 - 4:43 pm

    In most senses, a written constitution is a constitutional contract, if “contract” is a reference to a set of fundamental rules by which citizens and groups within a nation state governed by it have by consensus originally agreed to abide.

    There is nothing to suggest that the Constitution is immutable and cannot be changed. It normally does so in tandem with changes of social and other expectations as time passes by.

    It can be changed by constitutional amendment, the more important ones requiring 2/3 majority in Parliament.

    Until such amendment, it can also be changed by interpretation or “revisonism” if you like of what the original Constitution stands for then as well as for the future.

    That’s how, as what Professor Clive Kessler says, certain quarters (from the mid-1980s under TDM’s watch) have implied, by interpretation a “social contract” based on the notion of “Ketuanan Melayu” as “a read back” into “the Merdeka agreements and process” in 1957.

    Are they permitted to that? Well it depends by what benchmark, license or permission to do such a thing is allowed. If one talks of the benchmark of what is reasonable and fair, then probably not. But if the benchmark is power then it can be done.

    The interpretation of what anything means including the Constitution – is not immutable truth written in the skies – but bears direct connection with the political, military and enforcement power of the party that asserts his interpretation of what is his truth, and the solidarity of its ilk in supporting his assertion as against the indolence and weakness of the other counter party adversely affected by the first’s assertion and interpretation.

    History is replete of such instances of the strong, asserting its right to interpret in its own favour. ‘Strong’ could mean the majority in political power that dictates interpretation and able to enforce such interpretation on the unresisting rest.

    Why do people sometimes say cynically that democracy of one man one vote ultimately boils down to the rule of the majority mob, if he majority were dictated by might and not right as benchmark in conduct of affairs???

    It is precisely because of this tendency that in a true democracy the minorities’ interest and rights are entrenched and protected by constitutional means, even if that arguably cannot be guaranteed to last forever since constitution can be amended. So the ultimate safeguard lies in the values of the people, whether they form majority or minority. Here the anomaly is the constitutional protection extends to majority unlike elsewhere in which it is normally extended to minorities. Here it is argued (rightly or wrongly) that majority is as of right entitled to constitutional protection justified on historical and cultural grounds and that such historical and cultural justifications remain as relevant today as they did over 50 years ago…

  5. #5 by haneasme on Monday, 6 September 2010 - 5:09 pm


    lu cari writer sokong u n dap aje. U lg kuat kuat racist. Kalau melayu hantam sama dia, mcm itu guru sekolah TAPI KALAU CINA NAMEWEE TAK APA KURANG AJAR AJE.

    WHERE GOT ROAD????????

  6. #6 by Winston on Monday, 6 September 2010 - 5:13 pm

    Perhaps it is a latter day concoction of the leadership of UMNO/BN to enable them to dominate others, especially the minority races.

  7. #7 by haneasme on Monday, 6 September 2010 - 5:13 pm


    itu writer dari australia u ada kenal ke?


  8. #8 by haneasme on Monday, 6 September 2010 - 6:00 pm


    U bias le, orang putih racist pun artikel u siar, siar le Pro KKK punya artikel sama

  9. #9 by dagen on Monday, 6 September 2010 - 6:15 pm

    As far as I am concerned, social contract does not exist. And that is the end of all arguments.

    I urge all non-umnoputras to ignore the claim of ketuanan.

  10. #10 by haneasme on Monday, 6 September 2010 - 6:25 pm


    hahahaha, baca le Prof KKK artikel.

    Agak tak leh nak mengutuk le tu

  11. #11 by c730427 on Monday, 6 September 2010 - 6:30 pm

    What does ketuanan melayu could achieved if all non muslims didn’t exist or were asked to return to their ancestor’s original country?

    I foresee absolute poverty, a bankrupt nation.

  12. #12 by haneasme on Monday, 6 September 2010 - 6:42 pm


    lebih malaysia berada dalam bankrup dan kemiskinan dari mempunyai penduduk yang tidak tahu berterima kasih

  13. #13 by haneasme on Monday, 6 September 2010 - 6:47 pm


    Kita tengok le apa akan jadi kepada mereka apabila mereka pulang ke negara asal. Hahahahaha

  14. #14 by haneasme on Monday, 6 September 2010 - 6:48 pm


    U punya moderator dah nak sekat komen i ke

  15. #15 by lorry_driver_malaysia on Monday, 6 September 2010 - 7:49 pm

    Bro haneasme,

    Please write in english la. Even a lorry driver is learning english. Why malays are so lazy, unwilling to learn new things. You talked so much but nobody understand you. Or you just like to talk to yourself? hehe…

  16. #16 by haneasme on Monday, 6 September 2010 - 8:14 pm

    Bro lorry_driver,

    TQ 4 yr comment on my writing in Bahasa Malaysia on this blog. I thought this is a free country where we practice democracy where we can converse in language that is understandable to others. When i wrote in Bahasa, it show me that i’m a malaysian cause Bahasa Malaysia is National Language in this country, it is upseting u. Oh!!!!! how sorry i’m that u don’t understand what i write.

    Bro Lorry_Driver ,

    I can say that u are a racist, why should u use the phrase ” Why malays are so lazy” or are u learning a new thing from namewee. It’s my right to speak and write in Bahasa Malaysia , English or Mandarin, for your information i can converse and write in English, Bahasa Malaysia and Mandarin quite fluently.

    Dear Moderator,

    Why should u let this type of comment to be posted on the blog… comment that insult other race??? Maybe this comment wouldn’t be release eh????

    Dear LKS,

    Are u free, have sometime and go thru’ the comments posted on your blog, if u have the time.

    Finally, dear bro lorry_driver for your info i’m not a Malay as u suggested. Tq v much for your comment in my writing.

  17. #17 by Loh on Monday, 6 September 2010 - 8:25 pm

    Najib said that people should not question the social contract. He certainly did not ask the Malays not to do that because Ibrahim Ali has done worse, and yet Najib held his elegant silence. By social contract Najib could only refer to the written constitution since contract means a legally binding agreement. An understanding among persons does not constitute a contract. If the contract in the form of the constitution could be changed, then it is unreasonable that people whose interests are affected by the change cannot ever question it. If Najib wants to honour the so-called social contract, then he should honour the written constitution as it was formulated, at least in so far as it affects the relative positions of the different communities. In particular the amendment to article 153 should not be made, and that a review of that article after 15 years from 1957 should be held.

    If Najib pretends to mean social contract as the formulation of NEP UMNO should honour the promise to remove NEP and all government regulations flowing from NEP which include race as a criterion for decision process, now that it has gone on for 40 years when his father promised to end it in 20 years. If UMNO argues that the 30% objective had not been met by 1990, it should have convened an independent assessment of the shortfall, and seek agreement to carry out programmes to meet that target. UMNO government did not bother to prove that it was objective to assess NEP achievements either in 1990 or even today, and it proves that UMNO is not sincere in honouring the so-called ‘social contract’. UMNO has the might to do what it pleases but it has lost its moral authority to even mention about ‘social contract’. It is UMNO arrogance to declare that people should not even question the so-called contract.

    In a democracy voters have a right to know how to vote. They should be told how UMNO government has made use of the instrument for racial polarization and how such actions affect the interest of Malays even though UMNO pretends to safeguard their interest by getting rich so that Malays could be proud of them. Malays of the early independent days might be contented with the vainglory that some among them became rich, or became a Prime Minister, at no cost to them. They will now realize that even if they did not pay directly to make those Malays rich, the wealth of those filthy rich Malays came from government coffers which could have been utilized to improve their income status, through a clean and efficient government such as of Singapore’s quality. Malays are equally entitled to know that there is alternative to UMNO.

  18. #18 by asia on Monday, 6 September 2010 - 11:04 pm

    Before independent those Malay work for British Administration and royal are rich.

    Before independent many ordinary Malay are poor.

    In order to run independent campaign activities one need a lot of money.

    Do you think those rich Malay work for British dare to support the activities or fund it?

    Without those rich Chinese and India business people fund do you think those politicians have enough money run the campaign, flied to london to talk independent?

    Without enough money, you don’t need to talk about independent a nation.

    Before independent many Malay are poor.

    Before independent who have the money to fund the independent campaign?

    Do you think without enough money can you run the campaign to get independent?

  19. #19 by drngsc on Monday, 6 September 2010 - 11:17 pm

    Will Kit or someone wiser, enlighten me as to the ” social contract “. Is it the line that says, you kiss me, feed me and support me, as I kick your a…? It is time for all Malaysians to be 1Malaysian in words, slogans and also deeds.

  20. #20 by vsp on Monday, 6 September 2010 - 11:49 pm

    Actually the social contract that Najib is referring to was the unwritten contract that was devised between UMNO, MCA and MIC. It was essentially a political pact that was only beneficial to the contracting parties and was exclusive of other parties outside the ambit of the National Front. The basic agreement of this contract comes to something like this:

    National Front’s pact: Guidance on how to share the loot:

    UMNOputra warlords = 90%
    MCA mandarins and cronies = 5%
    MIC super-mandores = 1%

    When the NEP was first mooted it was supposed to benefit the poorer section of society regardless of race. But since the Malays form the majority of the population, naturally they would benefit the most. Unfortunately, UMNO hijacked the NEP for their own political purpose and they used this policy to turn it into a racist one. The Malays were tricked to believe that UMNO is the only party that can protect their rice bowls. Allocations from the NEP was channelled through the UMNO local warlords network for distribution to their constituencies. Unfortunately, only a portion of the allocations trickled down to the poor Malays while the major part of it leaked through the porous hands of the BN warlords.

    What was supposed to be the cornerstone of lifting the poor of every races out of poverty, the NEP was turned into a vehicle to create millionaires, especially for those of the UMNOputra breed and the non-Malay putras and cronies from MCA, Gerakan and MIC. After more than 30 years and trillions of ringgit of NEP being squandered, there still exist large pockets of poverty in every states in Malaysia, especially in Sabah and Sarawak. A time-limited policy has morphed into a never-ending policy of elitist privileges and rights which was never endorsed by the Constitution.

    Meanwhile the NEP totally bypassed the other races, even for the original natives. MCA, Gerakan and MIC did not stop the abuses of the NEP by UMNO but became the appendages of those that benefitted criminally from the NEP. By turning a blind eye to the suffering of the poor which the NEP was supposed to alleviate, they had become the slaves of the social contract that was hammered out between them and UMNO and have bastardised a national policy of uplift into a robber barons’ paradise.

    The only true contract was the original Constitution before its butchery and bastardisation by the BN.

  21. #21 by vsp on Tuesday, 7 September 2010 - 12:09 am

    Never confuse the NEP with the nebulous social contract that was devised by the National Front’s parties but was unknown to other parties that was outside the ambit of the National Front.

    The NEP is a national policy to uplift the economic statys of the poor from every section of society regardless of race. The NEP is time-limited to 20 years.

    Unfortunately, due to the brute force of UMNO, the NEP was turned into a vehicle to create a class of millionaires and to become an elitist policy of never-ending privileges and rights which was never the intention of the Constitution.

  22. #22 by ktteokt on Tuesday, 7 September 2010 - 9:53 am

    Social contract? What social contract? If the non-Malays in Malaysia are being forced to the brink, you think the Malays will benefit?????

  23. #23 by ktteokt on Tuesday, 7 September 2010 - 9:54 am

    Just apply the theory of “PARASITE AND HOST”. If the host dies, can the parasite survive?

  24. #24 by Loh on Tuesday, 7 September 2010 - 9:56 am

    Khoo Kay Kim, the Emeritus Professor who looked down Chinese school students said recently that those who did not accept Article 153 as Malay right are history-blind. Khoo is certainly not blind to know that some preferential treatments were given to Malays, such as the Malay reserve land, during the British Administration in Malaya, but Khoo cannot be called a historian if he thinks that new dynasties have no choice but to follow the rules and policies of the preceding dynasty. The British administration of Malaya cannot be equated to the Independent Malaya. So the constitution of Malaya is what Malaya government should uphold. The fact that a constitution is specially written for Malaya says that Malaya differed from British Administration of Malaya. Article 153 was written into the constitution because at that time the leaders considered that there was a need to recognize the special position of Malays. That special position relates to ability rather than birth rights. The following paragraph should be of interest to Khoo Kay Kim.

    ///It is also pertinent to note, that according to the Reid Commission that drafted the constitution, Article 153 was intended as temporary preferences to seek racial parity, subject to be reviewed after 15 years by Parliament as to its continued need.—Nurul Izzah Anwar

    Khoo Kay Kim should read the report of the Reid Commission once again, if he had not done so previously, and not to be blind to this period of Malaysian history.

  25. #25 by undertaker888 on Tuesday, 7 September 2010 - 10:11 am

    well, khoo had to say what he had to say..if not, his “Emeritus” title will become “Hampus-tikus” in no time.

    he is a lover of titles and pleasantries. take away the emeritus, professor and tan sri titles, what else has he got?

  26. #26 by boh-liao on Tuesday, 7 September 2010 - 10:24 am

    Looks like NIA better informed n wiser than KKK

  27. #27 by drngsc on Tuesday, 7 September 2010 - 11:15 am

    It is well known, Emeritus Prof KKK, that for every warload, there is a running dog.

  28. #28 by lorry_driver_malaysia on Tuesday, 7 September 2010 - 12:27 pm

    Bro haneasme,

    wow, u know so many languages! I truely salute u:) Just one thing i dont understand.. Since you know english so well, why should u reply in malay when an eurasian speaks to u in english? Did you write your anwer in malay when sitting for english test? Or u prefer to speak malay to a chinese tourist when he is asking u for direction? You should promote Malaysia and give full assistance to them instead of confusing them. Or u just dont know how to tune to the correct channel? For what knowing so many languages when u dont even know which language to be used? hehehe..

  29. #29 by lorry_driver_malaysia on Tuesday, 7 September 2010 - 1:30 pm

    opps typo, answer* hehe.. one more thing bro haneasme, i’m just a low educated lorry driver, unlike u, higly educated and u can converse and write in English, Bahasa Malaysia and Mandarin fluently. U said u were not a malay but it seems like malays upsetting u the most. That’s why u r so concerned about malays being lazy. Relax la bro, dont forget u r a higly educated person who knows many languages. But i think u still need a translator. hehe..

  30. #30 by PoliticoKat on Tuesday, 7 September 2010 - 1:31 pm

    Nice we have an imaginary contract that all our grandfathers apparently signed.

    Why don’t we Non-malays also play with the “Social contract.”

    We all know what article 1 says on the “Social contract.” Malays have a special position, yada yada. All races respect this unquestionable lordship of the Malay race, yada yada. In return non-malay get citizenship.

    But the social contract goes further. If you don’t believe me, go find the “Social contract” in the national archives and show me that the contract says differently!

    In article 2 of the social contract, it clearly states. If the Malay leaders of Malaysia fail the task of governing Malaysia (as defined in section 45), absolute power must be turned over to non-malay, non muslims, non BN politicians for the duration of 50 years. All malay leaders must resign their political position with immediate effect. All heads of the civil service must retire with immediate effect. As penalties, all special privileges of the Malay people will be stripped for the duration of 50 years. The malay race will be redefined as the people known as the orang Asli. People with a history that extends past 2000 BC in Malaysia

    Thus we have many Indonesian immigrants in this country.

    In section 45, it is stated failure of good governance is defined as
    1 – having a per capital income lower than Singapore
    2- not maintaining the nation’s position as the second most developed nation in Asia.
    3- not being the largest economy in East Asia

    I dare anybody to say I am wrong. Like Najib, I too have read the un-tangible social contract. And from this imaginary paper, I have found other clauses that the grandparents of the Malay people have signed on their behalf.

  31. #31 by Taxidriver on Tuesday, 7 September 2010 - 7:15 pm

    Yes, what Social Contract?

    I’ve never read of one, I did’nt know there is one. If indeed, there is one, show me the documentation to prove it. If any of you wants to fight over the Social Contract, ponder deeply over the three questions by Paul Gauguin: ”Where do we come from? What are we? Where are we going”?

  32. #32 by good coolie on Friday, 10 September 2010 - 10:31 pm

    There was a social contract, as determined by the Constitution. According to that contract, the following monstrosities were absent:-
    I. Bumiputra – Non Bumiputra dichotomy;
    2. Ketuanan Melayu (notice that we were once all equal)
    3. Malaysia as a Muslim Country (Note the constitution only
    says that Islam is the Religion of the Federation).
    4. Amendments to the Constitution made by bullying and threatening ( e.g. Indefinite extension of special privileges of Malays/Natives; Removal of the Jurisdiction of the High Court to determine fact of conversion to Islam – a sub- article of Article 121 (121(1)A, perhaps).
    5. Making the higher echelons of the civil service almost entirely Malay/Native, and the armed forces almost fully Malay/Natives.
    Perhaps we need a White-man’s domination, a Japanese invasion, a Communist threat, and a konfrantasi to finally make everyone equal.
    The Author of Disunity, the Malaysian Dilemma, has to answer for much disunity.

    Merdeka! Selamat Hari Raya!

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