by Chandra Muzaffar
Most Malaysians would welcome the proposal by the Muhyiddin government in conjunction with the 50th anniversary of the proclamation of the Rukunegara to incorporate elements of the national philosophy in the events and activities of the 2020 National Day celebration.
According to the 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 Rukunegara. As a long-term plan, Rukunegara education will be implemented in schools, universities and other organisations.
It will be recalled that more than three years ago, on the 23rd of January 2017, a small group of activists had launched a public campaign to strengthen the role of the Rukunegara 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 the 31st of August 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 Rukunegara.
Initially, the seven of us thought that the best way to empower the Rukunegara would be to make it the preamble to the Malaysian 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 Rukunegara. We then turned to the Conference of Rulers for guidance.
On the 10th of October 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 Rukunegara should become “the guiding compass for all, leaders, administrators and the people as a whole.”
Armed with this clarion call from the Rulers, our Rukunegara campaign group decided to get in touch with the new Pakatan Harapan federal government that came to power through the ballot-box on the 9th of May 2018. I sent the Conference of Rulers’ statement and a number of other documents pertaining to the Rukunegara to the Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad and all the other 221 Members of Parliament. Our plea to them was simple and straightforward: to adopt a parliamentary resolution endorsing the Rulers’ statement to uphold the Rukunegara as the “guiding compass” for the nation and the people. There was not even an acknowledgement from the Prime Minister and the vast majority of MPs. There were only four positive replies including one from a Pakatan Harapan backbencher.
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 the 1st of March, I saw another opportunity to push for the empowerment of the Rukunegara. All the documents pertaining to our earlier campaign were handed over to one of the Prime Minister’s aides on the 15th of June. The immediate response we have witnessed in the last few days is a measure of Muhyiddin’s commitment to the Rukunegara 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 Rukunegara for its role in nation-building, the Rukunegara 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 Rukunegara campaign group.
While a deeper understanding of the Rukunegara 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 the Rukunegara. To what extent have we lived up to the rule of law, one of the principles of the Rukunegara 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.
20 June 2020.