…Hundreds of hours of meetings with representatives of all quarters resulted in a unique written constitution that cemented a compact between nine sultanates and former crown territories. This compact honoured their Highnesses the Malay Rulers, Islam and the special status of the Malays even as it seamlessly allowed for constitutional government and created an environment for the harmonious and equal coexistence of all communities through the guarantee of freedoms and the establishment of the institutions that would allow for the protection and promotion of these guarantees. If at all there was a social contract, it was the guarantee of equality and the promise of the Rule of Law.
I would say that as at 31st August 1957, the Federation of Malaya was set to become a shining example of a working democracy. Though special provisions had been included in the Constitution to allow for protective affirmative action measures where the Malays were concerned, and later the natives of Sabah and Sarawak when these states merged into the renamed Federation of Malaysia, and for declarations of Emergency and the enacting of exceptional laws against subversion, these provisions were not anti-democratic nor were they undermining the Rule of Law. Conversely, if used as contemplated by the founders of the Constitution, they were aimed at protecting democracy from grave uncertainties that could undermine the very foundations of the nation.
The 1980s presented a different scenario altogether. We saw a unilateral restructuring of the so-called Social Contract by a certain segment of the BN leadership that allowed for developments that have resulted in our current state of affairs. The non-Malay BN component parties were perceived by UMNO to be weak and in no position to exert influence. Bandied about by UMNO ideologues, the Social Contract took on a different, more racialist tone. The essence of its reconstructed meaning was this: that Malaya is primarily the home of the Malays, and that the non-Malays should acknowledge that primacy by showing deference to the Malays and Malay issues. Also, Malay interest and consent must be allowed to set the terms for the definition and exercise of non-Malay citizenship and political rights. This marked the advent of Ketuanan Melayu or, in English, Malay Supremacy. Affirmative action and special status become a matter of privilege by reference to race rather than of need and questioning of this new status quo was not to be tolerated.
Umno bastardised the Malaysian spirit