Make Rukun Ne­gara the pre­am­ble to the Fed­eral Con­sti­tu­tion

The Sun (Malaysia) - - SPEAK UP - By

THE Rukun Ne­gara should be made the pre­am­ble (muqadimmah) to the Fed­eral Con­sti­tu­tion. There are seven com­pelling rea­sons for sug­gest­ing this.

One, the ob­jec­tives of the Rukun Ne­gara are linked to val­ues which are peren­nial – val­ues such as unity, jus­tice and free­dom. Pream­bles of most con­sti­tu­tions em­body this time­less qual­ity since they are meant to serve peo­ple be­yond the present.

Two, the ob­jec­tives and the prin­ci­ples of the Rukun Ne­gara are in­clu­sive. They tran­scend gen­der, eth­nic­ity, re­li­gion and re­gion. This is what makes the Rukun Ne­gara, po­ten­tially, a force for unity in a di­verse so­ci­ety.

Three, the Rukun Ne­gara com­mands a high de­gree of le­git­i­macy. All its prin­ci­ples and ob­jec­tives res­onate with the vast ma­jor­ity of Malaysians. This in­cludes the be­lief in God, on the one hand, and the com­mit­ment to a demo­cratic way of life, on the other. Be­sides, this na­tional phi­los­o­phy or ide­ol­ogy as it has been dubbed was pro­duced by a Na­tional Con­sul­ta­tive Coun­cil – al­beit op­er­at­ing un­der Emer­gency Rule – which rep­re­sented a wide cross-sec­tion of so­ci­ety. All re­li­gious groups had seats in the coun­cil. Both labour and busi­ness were in­cluded. All ma­jor po­lit­i­cal par­ties from the gov­ern­ment and the op­po­si­tion with the ex­cep­tion of one par­tic­i­pated in the NCC un­der the chair­man­ship of Tun Ab­dul Razak. It is equally sig­nif­i­cant that the Rukun Ne­gara was pro­claimed to the na­tion by the Yang di-Per­tuan Agong on Aug 31, 1970.

Four, given its le­git­i­macy, its in­clu­sive­ness and its time­less­ness, the Rukun Ne­gara should now be en­dowed with the force of law. Only then will the courts be able to be­stow it with mean­ing and sub­stance. Though some judges have over the decades al­luded to the Rukun Ne­gara in their judg­ments, it has no role in the ad­ju­di­ca­tion process.

Five, since per­cep­tions of state and so­ci­ety have be­come more and more po­larised in re­cent years, it would make sense to bring back to the cen­tre a phi­los­o­phy which has the ca­pac­ity to draw peo­ple to­gether. There is no rea­son why Malaysians of dif­fer­ent back­grounds and per­sua­sions should not rally around a set of ob­jec­tives and prin­ci­ples like the Rukun Ne­gara.

Six, the el­e­va­tion of the Rukun Ne­gara has be­come im­per­a­tive partly be­cause of the some­times sub­tle push by sec­tions of the Mus­lim pop­u­lace for laws and poli­cies that re­flect their own par­tic­u­lar­is­tic in­ter­pre­ta­tion of Is­lam which does not al­ways rep­re­sent the essence of the faith and its prac­tice. Be­cause this ten­dency is get­ting stronger, we have to em­power a phi­los­o­phy which is all-em­brac­ing and yet res­onates with Is­lamic val­ues and as­pi­ra­tions. The Panca Sila, the guid­ing prin­ci­ples of the In­done­sian state which has many par­al­lels to the Rukun Ne­gara, and is deeply rooted in the psy­che of the peo­ple has un­doubt­edly played an ef­fec­tive role in check­ing big­otry and dog­ma­tism in the world’s largest Mus­lim na­tion.

Seven, as against the big­otry of some Mus­lim groups, there is the other trend associated with a seg­ment of the non-Mus­lim cit­i­zenry that in the name of hide­bound secularism seeks to deny re­li­gion any role at all in the pub­lic square. In a so­ci­ety where Is­lam has been a fun­da­men­tal fac­tor in shap­ing the iden­tity of the ma­jor­ity of the peo­ple, it is naïve to try to marginalise the re­li­gion when ad­dress­ing so­ci­etal con­cerns. It is how Is­lam is un­der­stood and prac­tised that is the crit­i­cal chal­lenge. The Rukun Ne­gara at least at­tempts through its first prin­ci­ple, the be­lief in God, to ar­tic­u­late a univer­sal vi­sion of faith that tran­scends re­li­gious bound­aries which is re­in­forced in its fifth prin­ci­ple by a no­tion of good be­hav­iour and moral­ity that is not con­fined to a spe­cific com­mu­nity.

The quest to make the Rukun Ne­gara the pre­am­ble of the Fed­eral Con­sti­tu­tion has a long his­tory be­hind it. In early 1971, the late Pro­fes­sor Syed Hus­sein Alatas, in an es­say en­ti­tled, “The Rukune­gara and the Re­turn to Democ­racy in Malaysia” (Pa­cific Com­mu­nity Vol­ume 2, Nos 1-4, Tokyo) ar­gued that the Rukun Ne­gara could ful­fil the func­tion of a pre­am­ble.

“It can be con­sid­ered”, he wrote, “as an ap­pro­pri­ate in­tro­duc­tion to the Con­sti­tu­tion. It re­flects the pre­dom­i­nant trend in the po­lit­i­cal and philo­soph­i­cal think­ing of the na­tion.” It is in­ter­est­ing that he also ob­served “that the late Dato Onn bin Ja’afar, the founder pres­i­dent of the United Malays Na­tional Or­ga­ni­za­tion (UMNO), the first ma­jor po­lit­i­cal leader that emerged from post-war Malaya, lamented to me pri­vately that the Con­sti­tu­tion did not con­tain a pre­am­ble.”

Af­ter the Rukun Ne­gara was in­au­gu­rated as the na­tion’s phi­los­o­phy in Au­gust 1970, Tun Razak and his deputy, Tun Dr Is­mail Ab­dul Rah­man, gave some em­pha­sis to the doc­u­ment through schools and the me­dia.

On their demise in the mid-sev­en­ties, Prime Min­is­ter Tun Hus­sein Onn and one of his key min­is­ters, Tun Muham­mad Ghaz­ali Shafie, con­tin­ued to cham­pion the Rukun Ne­gara.

It was from the eight­ies on­wards that the na­tional phi­los­o­phy be­gan to re­cede into the back­ground. In 2005 and 2006, there was a brief ef­fort to re­vive the doc­u­ment but it did not take off.

From the early eight­ies, a hand­ful of us – civil so­ci­ety ac­tivists and aca­demics – tried to keep the Rukun Ne­gara alive through our writ­ings and via sem­i­nars and fo­rums.

The Rukun Ne­gara’s ob­jec­tives and prin­ci­ples were used as yard­sticks to mea­sure the per­for­mance of the pow­ers that be. Our mod­est en­deav­ours did not make a dent.

Now some of us are once again seek­ing to raise the sta­tus and role of the Rukun Ne­gara. In the midst of the new chal­lenges that have sur­faced, mak­ing the Rukun Ne­gara the pre­am­ble to the Con­sti­tu­tion will give it the weight and value it de­serves.

It will be so much eas­ier for the citizen to in­sist that those who wield power and au­thor­ity should through deeds prove that they are gen­uinely com­mit­ted to the ob­jec­tives and prin­ci­ples of the Rukun Ne­gara.

Dr Chan­dra Muzaf­far is the chair­man of the Board of Trustees of Yayasan1Malaysia. Com­ments: letters@the­sundaily.com

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