Reinventing Malaysia is deconstructing Malaysia

The five social contract beyond the Federal Constitution must be maintained.

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Published by Malaysiakini, The Malay Mail, The Star, & Sin Chew. Images from Malaysiakini.

Malaysia works on five social contracts beyond the Federal Constitution.

The first, while richly storied but hardly shared in daily conversations, involves a delegation led by the late Tunku Abdul Rahman, with Tun HS Lee and Tun Sambathan in tow, to urge London to agree to a peaceful transition of power.

That led to the country’s independence on August 31 1957, only to be joined by Sabah and Sarawak on September 16, 1963. Had Singapore not been expelled from Malaysia in 1965, they too would have been part of the social contract as a gentlemen’s agreement in London was to grant legal citizenship to all Malayans and/or Malaysians.

The second social contract involves the importance of “Rukun Negara”, the national governing principles in 1970, which among others acknowledge the belief in God by all races. The original formulation of Rukun Negara until this day speaks positively of liberalism in the context of progressive politics. This is an element which Professor Chandra Muzaffar noted has been intentionally neglected over the last twenty years.

The third social contract involves a colour-blind affirmative action in the form of National Economic Policy (NEP) between 1979-1990. Unfortunately, the NEP while still in existence has been impoverished by the kleptocracy of the previous regime to the degree where even Mara cannot afford to send more Malay students abroad. Even its own Mara digital mall is suffering a terrible run of business due to poor execution.

The policies are mostly nice and good with noble intentions but unfortunately, the execution is far from satisfactory resulting in few hijacking the fruits.

The fourth social contract involves the agreement to respect the royalties and vice versa. The sultans, including, the governors in states like Sabah and Sarawak, would to the best of their abilities to maintain the rich diversity in various states, in every sense.

The final social contract, according to my favourite Professor, KS Jomo, would have Wawasan 2020, where all races ideally see themselves as Malaysians, with equitable income and a comfortable social safety net to cushion their retirements and health care benefits in old age. Vision 2020 was the idea mooted by Dr Mahathir Mohamed.

By 2023, more than 15 percent of Malaysia’s population will be over the age of 60 which effectively makes Malaysia an ageing society by the definition of the United Nations.

All the social contracts are the key edifice of Malaysia. But as can be seen from the fifth and final one, economic prosperity is a “black swan event”. No one predicted, or knew, by 2018 that China would reach such a level of economic sophistication to be able to compete head to head with the United States. So much so, they are now trapped in a high tech trade conflict.

Malaysia cannot move forward based on the regurgitation or repetition of the five social contracts only. That would be akin to using the economic and political model of 1950-2000 to steer the country forward. Old solutions cannot, and must not, be used to solve current or new challenges in 2019 simply because it is devoid of the simple logic of suitability.

Governance, according to Professor B Jessop, is indeed “steering” beyond “who gets what, when, and how”, a definition by Professor Harold Lasswell. It is also beyond what the late Professor David Easton called “the authoritative allocation of values”.

Governance, ironic as it may sound, involves what Professor Alex Callinicoss called the “abolition of politics”. In fact, the original view of Karl Marx called for a state that can abolish “politics” too. That is, of course, a utopia, and true enough, the Soviet Union collapsed by 1990.

If Malaysia once decays into a kleptocracy – only to be revived into a democracy once again – it means the country is just as capable of future decay, if bad rulers are once again at the top. As Professor Francis Fukuyama said: “If the state can be formed, it too can decay.

To prevent decay from setting in, Malaysia needs to look at the three areas where people will take “order” for granted.

First, multi-racial peace cannot be assumed as a given, no matter how peaceful and peaceable most Malaysians are. Thus, the politics of race as purveyed by Umno and PAS must be resisted as they are already allegedly corrupted by vested interest and money, indeed to save themselves from being put behind bars rather than to redeem the dignity of the Malays and Malaysia. Their return must be checked at all costs.

Secondly, Malaysians should not further assume that the state is there to extract oil and gas from the ground, export them at a premium and use such largess to adopt a policy of blind subsidy. Universal Basic Income (UBI) can be considered for all poor people, but all able-bodied men and women must work hard and smart to adapt themselves to the digitised world.

Third, the politics of Pakatan Harapan cannot be based on a coalition of the possibility of a more creative form of coalitions, such as the rumours of Hishammuddin Hussein leading a new coalition that will eliminate the role of DAP and Amanah.

Harapan, especially the presidential council, must stay strong, honouring all promises in the election manifesto and test themselves against the winds of global economic disruption based on this template.

Reinventing Malaysia means de-constructing old ideas of Malaysia without harming the social contract. And, stick to everything in the manifesto as a run-up to the 2023 General Election, which among others means honouring the mother of all – delivering what the rakyat ones best encapsulated by five deliverables:

  1. Mitigating costs of living
  2. Enhancing the quality of living through holistic and relevant education, better purchasing power et cetera
  3. Creation of sustainable and credible jobs
  4. Providing affordable healthcare
  5. Ensuring affordable homes

Businesses also need certainty, not an absolute certainty, but reasonable certainty with regards to the right economics policies or direction as Malaysia, as studies show, seems to have a high correlation between political leadership and economics performance unlike Japan, South Korea and even Thailand.

Harapan needs to address this to attract the right foreign direct investments (FDIs) to re-energise the Malaysian economy. Time and tide wait for no man, as they say.

Dr. Rais Hussin is President & CEO of EMIR Research, a think tank focused on data-driven policy research, centered around principles of Engagement, Moderation, Innovation, and Rigour.

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