Malaysians should try to understand social contract better, says Gerakan party chief

By Chow Kum Hor, Malaysia Correspondent
The Straits Times

THE Malaysian social contract should not be used by one race to bully another, one of the country's most vocal ministers said.

Energy, Water and Communications Minister Lim Keng Yaik said neither should it be used to get away with issues that has nothing to do with the historical arrangement.

'(People cannot say) 'You have been given citizenship, shut up and get on with life'. My father can take it, I can take it (such statements). But my children and grandchildren cannot take it,' said the 68-year-old father of three in an interview this week.

The social contract is an understanding forged by Malaysia's founding fathers that has held the country's different races together over the past 50 years.

In the days leading to the nation's independence, a consensus was reached among the indigenous Malays and the large number of Chinese and Indian immigrants who had made the then Malaya their homes.

In a quid pro quo arrangement, the Chinese and Indians were granted citizenship but the Malays were accorded special rights, including political and administrative authority.

Datuk Seri Lim, who headed the multiracial Gerakan party for 26 years until his retirement in April this year, said Malaysians should try to understand the social contract better.

This is to ensure that government policies are not one-sided or discriminate against any particular groups.

Over the years, politicians have used the social contract as a front to muzzle disquiet over issues like the pro-Malay economic policies.

For example, during the Umno general assembly each year, delegates would call for the government to uphold Malay rights, including dishing out more contracts to Malay-controlled businesses.

Those unhappy with Umno's demands - particularly the non-Malays - were told that such preferential treatment should not be questioned as they were part of the social contract.

In 2005, Datuk Seri Lim drew flak from the Malay community when he said that the social contract was a 'historical burden'.

He later clarified that his statements were taken out of context.

'I wasn't questioning the social contract. I said don't use it to bully people and stop them from talking,' said the veteran politician who first served as minister at the age of 32 in the 1970s.

Datuk Seri Lim, now adviser to Chinese-dominated Gerakan, has carved a reputation for speaking his mind.

Last year, his frankness angered the Malays when he called on the government to make public its methodology to calculate corporate share ownership equity according to race.

This came after an independent academic had claimed that the Malays had amassed 45 per cent of the country's corporate equity - exceeding the New Economic Policy's target of 30 per cent - which indirectly meant that the government's pro-Malay economic policies should come to an end.

On the controversy of whether Malaysia is an Islamic state, Datuk Seri Lim echoed the views of Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi who said that the country was neither secular nor an Islamic state.

By choosing the middle path, Datuk Seri Lim sidestepped a political minefield where a sizeable number of Muslims want Malaysia to be declared an Islamic state while non-Muslims want it to be a secular one.

After over three decades in public service, he will call it a day in politics after the next general election.

And the outspoken leader's plans next? He will be helming a proposed National Dialogue Initiative under Gerakan, where sensitive issues will be discussed behind closed doors.

'Rest assured, I will continue to speak up.'