At a forum recently, the Youth and Sports Minister Khairy Jamaluddin suggested that we revisit and rewrite our social contract to allow Malaysians “to do a hard reboot” of the country.
Such a move, he says, will also allow Malaysians to reshape the basis of our union and better reflect the challenges of today’s generation.
In fact, this is not a new suggestion from the Honourable Minister. It is consistent with the suggestions he made through his column in The Edge few years back, prior to being appointed as a Minister while holding only onto the posts of the UMNO Youth Chief and the Member of Parliament for Rembau.
Back then, he suggested that there be a new national consensus that put “the interests of all Malaysians ahead of any one community, guided by the principles of fairness, justice and unity”.
The proposals by Khairy to reach this new national consensus included reforming our education system into a single, unitary school system and setting clear deadlines to ethnic preferential type economic policies.
The willingness and courage of the Rembau MP to open up the discussion on the social contract, a topic which was not too long ago deemed too sensitive to be deliberated, deserve compliments.
Such discussions, if done with rational and open minds, could very well be the key that opens the lock that will bring Malaysians together to build a better nation where, to paraphrase Martin Luther King, a person is judged by the content of his character and not his ethnicity.
On that premise, I agree with Khairy’s suggestion that we should revisit our social contract.
When we do so, the first obstacles we are likely to face from the defenders of the present social contract are concerns that there will be amendments to the fundamental provisions of the Federal Constitution.
But this is not, and should not be, the objective of the new social contract.
Like many Malaysians of my generation, we are accustomed to and recognise the fact that Islam is the national religion, the Malay language is the national language, and the Malay rulers are the head of the states in the 9 Malay states.
We will never challenge this simply because there is no need to; we accept and respect this principle of nationhood.
What we hope to see, however, is that Malaysia will progress and develop as a country where race and ethnicity are non-factors.
And how are we to do this? We need to forge ties amongst the people of all races. We need to enhance the understanding of each other’s cultures and beliefs. We need to share the common experiences as Malaysians.
And we can start from the formative years of our children through education by having a single, unitary education system where all our children will attend the same type of schools.
By growing up together with maximum contact hours, it will serve to foster greater understanding amongst our children and thereby unite them as Malaysians regardless of ethnicity. Whilst this may go severely against my political affiliation, it is a route we must give serious consideration to, for the sake of a better Malaysia for all.
In addition to the above, as Malaysia matures and edges closer to Vision 2020 to be a developed nation, we need to reflect on the existing ethnic preferential economic policies. Has the affirmative action adopted in the 1970s reduced the gap between the different races? Has the same action reduced the gap between the rich and the poor?
As poverty does not recognise race, as there are many Malaysians of all races who are in dire need, perhaps it is time for us to gradually phase out the existing ethnic preferential economic policies and replace the same with a new set of economic policies based on social structure as opposed to racial structure. Perhaps, it is time for us to move towards needs based economy that is fair and just.
Given these questions and issues, a generational reset and a new social contract as suggested by the young Minister may indeed be the right way forward, for the better of our collective future.
On this note, and also in conjunction with our 56th National Day which has just passed, I would like to share a quote from our nation’s founding father, Tunku Abdul Rahman, which reads “For those who love and feel they owe undivided loyalty to this country, we will welcome them as Malayans.
They must truly be Malayans, and they will have the same rights and privileges as the Malays”.
The views expressed are entirely the writer’s own