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56 years later - a fractured, polarised nation

COMMENT The social contract, social compact or bargain reached by the three communities under the watchful eye of the British imperial power as a condition to Merdeka was that in exchange for full citizenship, a right to use their language and observe their religion, the non-Malays had to concede special privileges to the Malays to assist the latter to ascend the economic ladder.

It was a quid pro quo. It was a consensus arrived after hard bargaining, and has formed the basis of nationhood. In this equilibrium, the non-Malays were not to be relegated to second-class citizens: citizenship was not on a two-tier basis and there was going to be no apartheid, partition or repatriation.

10 tahun merdeka movie 041007 actor What was required from the non-Malays at the time of Merdeka was undivided loyalty to the new nation. They could no longer owe their allegiance to the mother country, China or India. Racial differences were recognised. Diversity was encouraged. There was no pressure to integrate into one Malayan race.

A new nation was to be integrated over time, but as a plural society. Assimilation was out of the question. Thus, a united Malayan nation did not involve the sacrifice by any community of its religion, culture or customs. Minorities were not to be discriminated in a system of parliamentary democracy based on constitutional supremacy. In many respects, the establishment of Malaysia six years after Merdeka strengthened the social contract.

But as Malaya completes 56 years as an independent sovereign nation today, and more significantly, Malaysia turns half a century on Sept 16, do the 26 million Malaysians have reason to celebrate? Unfortunately, the popular response would be very much in the negative...

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