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New Social Contract for the next half-century to create united and towering Malaysians to triumph over the challenges of globalisation

Speech at the opening of the Sarawak DAP State Convention 2006 
by Lim Kit Siang  


(Bintulu, Sunday) : When officiating the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) general meeting on Friday, the Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi called on all Malaysians to honour the social contract agreed upon by the founding fathers of the nation for the sake of racial unity and harmony in the country.

However, there is an urgent need to salvage the 1957 “social contract” on the attainment of Independence and the 1963 “social contract” for the formation of Malaysia with Sarawak and Sabah, as they have been distorted and misinterpreted by many.

One of the most glaring and blatant distortion of the “social contract” was the secular character of nation-building, that Malaya and subsequently Malaysia is a secular nation with Islam as the official religion but not an Islamic state – a position publicly reaffirmed by the first three Prime Ministers, Tunku Abdul Rahman, Tun Razak and Tun Hussein Onn, but which was unilaterally and unconstitutionally abandoned by the Barisan Nasional government in the “929 Declaration” on Sept. 29, 2001 that Malaysia is an Islamic state.

Another example of the distortion of the “social contract” happened in Parliament when the Umno MP for Jerai accused the DAP MP for Kepong, Dr. Tan Seng Giaw, of questioning the sensitive issue of Malay special rights when touching on the controversy over bumiputera corporate equity during the debate on the Iskandar Development Authority Bill.

In my speech, I said this was an unconstitutional rewriting of the “social contract” as the New Economic Policy target for bumiputra corporate equity is not protected by Article 153 of the Constitution on “special position” of the Malays and the natives of Sabah and Sarawak, and questioning the NEP targets is not questioning Article 153 of the Constitution.

The Government is getting ready for grand nation-wide celebrations to mark the 50th Merdeka anniversary next year.

The question is whether the 50th Merdeka Anniversary celebrations will be a meaningful one for the country and people, to be a milestone to assess both our achievements and failures in five decades of nation-building so as to chart the course for the next half-decade of nationhood, or whether it will be a mindless extravaganza and splurge of public funds to create a “feel good” euphoria among the people, which could be exploited for calling the next general election.

On the occasion of 50 years of nationhood, we should ask whether Malaysians have made a mark on the world stage, and if not, how Malaysians can make the international grade.

After he became Prime Minister, Abdullah had been talking about “towering Malays”. I would be happier if he had spoken and done more about “towering Malaysians”.

Last month, TIME magazine came out with a special issue to pay tribute to the Asian heroes and heroines in the past six decades to mark the 60th anniversary of its Asian edition.

Grouped into five sections, nation builders, artists and thinkers, business leaders, athletes and explorers, and “inspirations”, 65 Asian men and women were honoured.

The major Asian countries of China, India and Japan were amply represented. Almost all countries had a share of these Asian greats. Vietnam, Indonesia, Philippines, Thailand, Burma, Bangladesh, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore. Except Malaysia – not a single Malaysian represented in the Asian pantheon of heroes and heroines in the past six decades.

We need not take the TIME pantheon as the most authoritative but it is at least useful as a reference.

Why, oh why, is there not a single Malaysian?

This is a question all Malaysians must ponder on the occasion of our 50th Merdeka anniversary if we want the nation’s half-century national anniversary become a meaningful exercise.

Malaysia needs a new “social contract” to chart the course of nationhood for the next half-century to create united and towering Malaysians to triumph over the challenges of globalization.

There should be a national debate on this new “social contract” which should address the important question as to what had gone wrong with nation-building and how we can learn from the mistakes and failures of the past decades so that we can be more successful in the next 50 years, including the following issues:

National unity – why after nearly five decades of nationhood, race relations in Malaysia is “not good, fragile and brittle”, as publicly admitted by the Prime Minister, but who is in denial in refusing to acknowledge the devastating damage caused to nation building by the recent Umno general assemblies. Inter-religious relations – In the first two decades of Independence, the government sponsored the establishment of a Inter-Religious Council headed by a Minister to promote inter-religious dialogue, understanding and goodwill. Today, a very similar proposal, the Inter-faith Council, is regarded as highly sensitive and intolerable by the government-of-the day. Where has Malaysian nation-building gone wrong?

International competitiveness – the nation was the most developed country in Asia after Japan during Merdeka, but we have not been able to maintain our competitive edge. We are now in the third generation in our downward spiral in the international competitiveness stakes - after falling out of the company of Japan, we have also lost out to Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan and Hong Kong and is now engaged in competition with Thailand, Vietnam and Indonesia. Why?

An independent judiciary – Malaysia was held in high international esteem until the 1988 judicial crisis, and the nation has not fully recovered from the trauma and fall-outs of the successive series of judicial crisis for the ensuing 15 years. How to restore full public confidence in the system of justice in the country?

Excellence of education system – In the early decades of nationhood, Malaysia enjoyed international reputation for the quality of its educational system, whether primary, secondary or tertiary. Today, all levels of the education system is in permanent crisis with no solution in sight. Why?

Integrity in public life – Corruption and integrity of public life was not a big issue in the early decades of nationhood. Today, it has become a national cancer, Public Enemy No. 1, with worsening national and international perception of corruption in the first three years of the Abdullah premiership. Why?

World-class civil service - The nation has lost the world-class civil service and public service delivery system which it had started five decades ago. Why?

The new “social contract” to create united and towering Malaysians must address these issues and propose radical solutions. The new “social contract” should serve three objectives:

  • Reaffirm the cardinal principles of nation-building agreed by the major communities in the 1957 Merdeka and 1963 “social contract”;
  • Remove all distortions and misinterpretations of the “social contract” in the past two decades; and
  • Update the “social contract” to give proper recognition to the importance of human rights and good governance in the nation-building process for the next half-century.


*  Lim Kit Siang, Parliamentary Opposition Leader, MP for Ipoh Timur & DAP Central Policy and Strategic Planning Commission Chairman

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