MOST Malaysians would welcome the proposal by the government in conjunction with the 50th anniversary of the proclamation of the Rukun Negara to incorporate elements of the national philosophy in the events and activities of the 2020 National Day celebration.
According to Communications and Multimedia Minister Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah, a number of agencies under his ministry would be involved. Attempts will be made to inculcate every Malaysian with an appreciation of, and a commitment to, the Rukun Negara. As a long-term plan, Rukun Negara education will be implemented in schools, universities and other organisations.
It will be recalled that more than three years ago, on Jan 23, 2017, a small group of activists had launched a public campaign to strengthen the role of the Rukun Negara in the nation’s life. It was felt that since in concrete terms the direction the nation was moving was unclear especially with contradictory policy positions on what Malaysia’s identity and character were, there was a need to reiterate our commitment to the national philosophy with its clearly articulated aspirations and principles enunciated by His Majesty the fourth Yang di-Pertuan Agong on Aug 31, 1970. Besides, the significance of the five aspirations and five principles had proven their worth and value through the trials and tribulations of time and it was only right that Malaysia re-affirmed its fidelity to the Rukun Negara.
Initially, the seven of us thought that the best way to empower the Rukun Negara would be to make it the preamble to the Federal Constitution. But the process was fraught with severe difficulties primarily because the Barisan Nasional, the ruling coalition, did not have a two-thirds majority in Parliament, a prerequisite for amending the Constitution. Neither did the BN show any interest in this citizens’ endeavour on behalf of the Rukun Negara. We then turned to the Conference of Rulers for guidance.
On Oct 10, 2017, the Conference of Rulers confronted with other issues with an ethno-religious connotation, issued a lucidly worded statement through the keeper of the royal seal which inter alia emphasised that the aspirations and the principles of the Rukun Negara should become “the guiding compass for all, leaders, administrators and the people as a whole.”
Armed with this clarion call from the rulers, our Rukun Negara campaign group decided to get in touch with the new Pakatan Harapan federal government that came to power through the ballot-box on May 9, 2018. I sent the Conference of Rulers’ statement and a number of other documents pertaining to the Rukun Negara to the then prime minister, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad and all the other 221 members of Parliament. Our plea was simple: to adopt a parliamentary resolution endorsing the rulers’ statement to uphold the Rukun Negara as the “guiding compass” for the nation and the people. There was not even an acknowledgment from the vast majority of MPs. There were only four positive replies.
When the Pakatan Harapan government collapsed at the end of February 2020, and Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin was sworn in as the new prime minister on March 1, I saw another opportunity to push for the empowerment of the Rukun Negara. All the documents pertaining to our earlier campaign were handed over to one of the prime minister’s aides on June 15. The immediate response we have witnessed in the last few days is a measure of Muhyiddin’s commitment to the Rukun Negara as a vital piece of architecture in the creation of a united, democratic, just, liberal and progressive Malaysian nation. It offers a glimmer of hope for the present and for the future.
In developing the Rukun Negara for its role in nation building, the Rukun Negara campaign group had also elaborated upon the commentaries on the aspirations and principles of the national philosophy first prepared in 1970. The revised commentaries focus upon issues that have gained currency in recent decades. They can be accessed through perpaduan.org, the website of Yayasan Perpaduan Malaysia, the successor to Yayasan 1Malaysia which served as the secretariat to the Rukun Negara campaign group.
While a deeper understanding of the Rukun Negara would be most useful, what really matters is the actual application of its aspirations and principles. Society as a whole – and not just the government of the day – should assess and evaluate the implementation of the Rukun Negara. To what extent have we lived up to the rule of law, one of the principles of the Rukun Negara or how much have we achieved in our journey towards a progressive society orientated towards science and technology?
It is our failure to assess critically and honestly the implementation of our lofty aspirations and principles that often results in a huge gap between a nation’s ideals and its realities.
Dr Chandra Muzaffar was the former chair of Yayasan Perpaduan Malaysia. Comments: firstname.lastname@example.org