Masing: No such thing as citizenship ‘social contract’ in Sarawak

Tan Sri Dr James Jemut Masing - file pic

By Karen Bong

KUCHING, Oct 24: Deputy Chief Minister Tan Sri Dr James Masing argued that the conception of “social contract” (with the Malays as basis for other races to receive citizenship) has nothing to do with Sarawak.

“It does not affect Sarawak as it was applicable back in 1957, which was the pre-Malaysia era.

“It was just an understanding like an MoU (memorandum of understanding) to say ‘you scratch my back, I scratch your back’ among those people in Malaya. It has nothing to do with us (Sarawak),” he said.

Masing was approached by reporters after the state pre-council meeting chaired by Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari Tun Openg at PBB headquarters here today.


He pointed out that the so-called “social contract” was also not legally binding and has time limitation.

“Once you give them (enter into) the social contract, they (other races) become so-called citizens. Once they become citizen and the Federal Constitution comes in, you cannot simply just kick them out if they did not breach any Constitutional Law,” he said.

Masing was responding to a report on a national news portal, in which commentator Joe Samad shared his views concerning ‘the Malaysian social contract’ that Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad wrote in a blog post on July 12, 2008.

Recently, the Malay Dignity Congress had reminded other races in the country of their “social contract” with the Malays, saying that it was the basis for them to receive citizenship, which could be suspended if they broke the contract.

While the commentary stated that the origin of the social contract was not clear, the argument posits that individuals have consented, either explicitly or tacitly, to surrender some of their freedoms and submit to the authority of a ruler or the decision of the majority, in exchange for the protection of their remaining rights or maintenance in a pecking order.

In his opinion piece, Joe noted that East Malaysians will always view the social contract argument from the perspective of the Malaysia Agreement 1963 (MA63). What preceded this was history and has no relevance to Malaysia.

He argued that there was never a ‘Malaysian’ social contract but there was an agreement relating to Malaysia between the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland, the Federation of Malaya, North Borneo, Sarawak and Singapore, signed on July 9, 1963.

For Sabah, the basis of the Malaysia Agreement was the findings of the British government, working with the Federation of Malaya government-appointed commission of inquiry known as the Cobbold Commission. A list of 20 points was drawn up by North Borneo, proposing terms for its incorporation into the Malaysian constitution prior to the formation of Malaysia.

One of the points drawn up was: “While there is no objection to Islam being the national religion of Malaysia, there should be no state religion in North Borneo, and the provisions relating to Islam in the present Constitution of Malaya should not apply to North Borneo.”

Dr Mahathir’s blog, “chedet”, stated that the embodiment of the social contract is therefore the constitution of first, the Federation of Malaya and then Malaysia.

According to the post, when Sabah and Sarawak joined the peninsular states to form Malaysia, the social contract was extended to the two Borneo states. The natives of Sabah and Sarawak were given the same status as the Malays.

At this time, the word Bumiputera was introduced to distinguish the indigenous Malays and Sabah and Sarawak natives from those descendants of foreign immigrants. Because Malay was widely used in the Borneo states, there was no difficulty in the acceptance of Malay as the national language.

The fact that the natives of the two states are not all Muslims necessitated no change in the constitution once the word Bumiputera was accepted. But the official definition of a Malay remained, the post continued.

“There is little evidence of a social contract being extended to East Malaysia. The Bornean states, which cover a bigger territory than Peninsular Malaya, were never Tanah Melayu and never will be. Tanah Melayu is confined to Peninsular Malaya. If the Bornean states left Malaysia like Singapore, there would be no Malaysia,” it said.

Meanwhile, among the resolutions proposed at the recent Malay Dignity Congress was for top government positions to be held only by Malay Muslims.

Joe argued that such calls would deprive Sabah (and Sarawak) Bumiputeras of holding top positions in Malaysia, voiding any social contract extended across the South China Sea. This despite Mahathir’s claim that Bumiputeras in Sabah (and Sarawak) have been given the same status under the “social contract”.

“Like the Chinese and Indian ‘pendatangs’, none of the ethnic groups in East Malaysia can occupy high positions if we heed the calls of the academics at that congress. The only qualification would be for office bearers to be Malay Muslim. It won’t matter whether they are corrupt,” the commentary said.

He reminded that when Tan Sri Richard Malanjum, a native from Sabah, was appointed as chief justice, there was a howl of protest from Muslim groups who questioned his integrity and religion.

“The kind of social contract the academics demanded at the Malay Dignity Congress had raised racial tension and appeared confrontational in nature. If there are claims of a social contract, it would be better to have peaceful dialogue rather than lashing out diatribes with heavy racial overtones.” — DayakDaily