KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 6 — Former Umno minister Datuk Zaid Ibrahim has suggested that Datuk Seri Najib Razak take the lead in reviewing the social contract, saying there was no need to commission expensive studies or form special committees to stop racial discrimination here.
The maverick politician said the most important element in the pre-Merdeka contract that should first be understood is the privileges given to the Malays under Article 153 in exchange for the granting of citizenship rights to the non-Malays.
The privileges had meant to be temporary, he insisted, accusing Umno of rejecting this interpretation.
“To the party, Article 153 conferred special rights to the Malays,” Zaid said in a statement here last night.
“The difference is not semantic but substantive. Part of Umno believes in the concept of Ketuanan Melayu because special people have special rights.”
The former law minister had in the past voiced his disdain for the concept of Ketuanan Melayu (Malay supremacy), earning major backlash from his fellow Malays when he once called it a failed doctrine.
At the time of his statement, the government was still reeling from its lacklustre performance in Election 2008. Zaid, once a lawmaker under Umno’s banner, had just quit his government post after disagreeing with the administration over its use of the Internal Security Act (ISA) to quell opposition dissent.
In his remarks, the politician had told the government to embrace a fresh perspective of the social contract, which he maintained had not meant to glorify one race above another.
In last night’s statement, Zaid said the best way to move ahead in the struggle for racial harmony and national unity is by way of a “strong and fair leadership”.
He disagreed with a suggestion by Umno Youth chief Khairy Jamaluddin that a special committee should be formed for the sake of renewing the 1950s agreement, saying it was enough to have the prime minister himself take the lead in things.
“There is no need to revise history, form committees or spend money on McKinsey-type studies. The Prime Minister can do it if he wants to,” he pointed out.
Khairy had last week mooted the idea of reworking the social contract, saying there was a need for a new commitment among the country’s races to ensure national unity.
But Zaid dowsed Khairy’s suggestion on the need for education to foster integration in cold water, calling it “typical” of Umno leaders to believe that values and ideals can be shaped through creating compulsory subjects in school.
Education’s primary purpose, the politician said, should be in giving youths the necessary skills needed for their survival in society.
“Besides knowing to read and write, they must learn the ability to think critically,” he said.
“From these basic tools they can then articulate and defend their opinions while remaining open to the ideas of others, make sound and informed decisions, and navigate the sometimes tricky moral landscape we find ourselves in.”
Integration, Zaid said, should come naturally, and be born of an environment where the education system is void of political interference and teachers are permitted to educate instead of being “so busy with political activities”.
“If we want integration then we must go back to the basics. That means removing politicians altogether from the education system.
“That means letting educationists set the curriculum, letting the children have good teachers regardless of their race, and choosing the best among them for higher learning, again regardless of race,” he said.
“That means removing the institutionalised discrimination that alienates our young,” he added.
The social contract in Malaysia is a quid pro quo arrangement pre-Merdeka that was arranged as a trade off with the Malays for the granting of citizenship to the non-Bumiputeras here.
It is not expressly mentioned in the Constitution but has always been the point of contention among politicians here, particularly over the special rights accorded to the Malays, the country’s most dominant ethnic group.
Oftentimes, the social contract has been used to defend the concept of Ketuanan Melayu, a controversial terminology that the non-Malays have argued suggests the supremacy of one race above another.
Federal opposition pact Pakatan Rakyat (PR), a loosely form coalition of multiracial PKR, secular DAP and Islamist PAS, has been fighting for an end to the era of Ketuanan Melayu, insisting that it propagates the concept of master and slave.