Let’s have a Rukun Malaysia instead

Tenuous tradition: School children have to recite the Rukun Negara in school every week, but the principles are not inculcated in most of them.

We need to tweak our 50-year-old Rukunegara to address contemporary issues like the challenging race relations and declining moral standards.

AFTER 50 years of launching the Rukunegara (National Principles), the government is looking to re-introduce the much-forgotten tenets through a Rukunegara Education programme in schools.

Over the last few decades, many leaders have openly said that this declaration made in 1970 never had the intended effect. It had lost much steam along the way, to say the least.

Looking back, it was launched with lofty ideals but I guess the strength in the philosophy was mainly in its words, and the emphasis was to merely recite it weekly in schools.

For some reason, Malaysians have forgotten the actual thrust of the declaration.

The five principles were formulated as a balm to soothe the hearts of Malaysians after the painful racial riots that we faced in 1969. The wounds then were still fresh and I believe the leaders who introduced it had noble intentions – to make Malaysia an exemplary multicultural state in the world.

The creators of Rukunegara declared it the ambition of the nation. In the preamble, they said it was to achieve “more perfect” unity throughout the whole of the society, preserving a democratic way of life, creating a just society where all Malaysians would enjoy the national pie in a fair and equitable manner, guaranteeing a liberal approach towards the rich and varied cultural traditions, and to build a progressive society that will make use of science and modern technology.

So they declared the five principles that would guide Malaysians to this end: Belief in God; Loyalty to King and country; Supremacy of the Constitution; Rule of Law; and Courtesy and Morality.

I remember how we had to recite the Rukunegara during the Monday assemblies. Unfortunately, as far as I can remember, we were just regurgitating whatever was being read out by the prefect leading the recital.

Of course we knew their meaning but the words were not coming from our souls, something that was not inculcated in our young minds. The preamble was a declaration but it was not anywhere near a statutory proclamation, and this was probably why most did not take it seriously.

However, most of us were aware of how the May 13 incident showed then that Malaysia’s racial balance and stability was very fragile. So the government then sought ways to foster unity among the various races and decided that the Rukunegara would be one way.

It was apparently based on Indonesia’s Pancasila or National Principles.

The Pancasila, a set of lofty ideals, was included in the Indonesian Constitution during its Independence by then President Sukarno in 1945. The five principles of Pancasila were the belief in one God, just and civilised humanity, Indonesian unity, democracy under the wise guidance of representative consultations, and social justice for all the peoples of Indonesia.

What have we got to show after launching our version more than a half century ago?

Some might even ask if it is still relevant, looking at how much the political and social landscape has changed. Yet I am sure you’d agree that any principle that can unite Malaysians despite our diversity is not only relevant but also a necessity. Look at how the United States burns because of racism.

However, we would be making the same mistake again if we merely re-introduce these principles without tweaking them to address several new issues that seem to keep Malaysians apart. We need to rethink about what is actually crucial to national unity and development. We need more than mere words or a school subject and activity; we need honest and sincere policies to put the words into action. We need to re-prioritise the elements that we have believed all along that can bring us together. The truth is that the times and circumstances have changed.

By stretching the faculty of reason with some critical thinking, we also have to be honest with ourselves and admit that the principles have not had much effect on the generation which was first “taught” this in school.

I must admit that it is not that the principles were wrong but that the race-based politics of the nation have veered Malaysians away from the noble objectives.

There are definitely many reasons one can cite for why the Rukunegara has not had the intended effect, but a few things stand out.

For instance, the political direction that our ruling parties took during the first few decades after the implementation had some bearing. There was too much emphasis on claims for supremacy of race and religion, vernacular education and a shift away from merit-based policies.

Obviously the first precept “Belief in God” was meant to be inclusive of all religions and belief systems that teach the same core values of love, honesty and humanity. And our Constitution clearly states a freedom of religion.

The underlying message of the Rukunegara indicates that religious and racial diversity are important components of cultural diversity. However, it is unfortunate that some individuals and groups seem to ignore this spirit of the principle.

So whoever is entrusted with the re-engineering of these principles must find a convergent point to teach Malaysians that the existing precarious inter-racial and religious bonds matter most, notwithstanding the way of life one chooses to take. For us to be one and progressive, this must be the main thrust of the principles. So I believe that Rukunegara must morph into Rukun Malaysia and include this element.

Communication and Information Technology Minister Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah reckons that the focus must be on “Loyalty to King and Country” but I feel this is a given. I don’t think any Malaysian has an issue with this. There are enough laws, including treason, to ensure this. Surely, no Malaysian, whatever his race and religion are, or whatever his political leanings, will ever dispute the importance of swearing allegiance to our beloved King and country.

The principle of Rule of Law is vital but I believe it has now taken a different dimension. It was introduced to shape the young minds then to respect the laws and not to bend them or abuse them. But I do not remember being taught or having teachers explaining to us how important this was to bring about a just and fair society.

Today, this has become very political although the judiciary is an independent arm of a healthy democracy. It is the government and the judiciary that should ensure the Rule of Law prevails under any circumstances or any government for that matter. Incidentally, we are in the middle of this debate at the moment.

Many would probably agree with me that the last tenet – Courtesy and Morality – is being given the least emphasis today in the way Malaysians lead their lives. On social media, courtesy has been thrown out of the window, while in Parliament the word seems to have been wiped out of the dictionary.

Ironically, the Members of Parliament are the ones who legislate and debate such documents.

As for morality, at the risk of moralising, I dare say that the younger generation is willing to compromise morals to a great extent. Be it corruption or sexual behaviour, they seem to think that it’s absolutely fine as long it satisfies their material desires and sexual lust.

Some of the arguments that I hear from the young ones are flabbergasting indeed. For example, someone told me this of a multibillion-dollar scandal: “It’s okay if he takes a couple of millions but not billions!”

Talking about sexual trysts by politicians, some of which are open knowledge, another youth said: “What he does behind closed doors is his business, as long as he is a good leader.”

I am not going to judge here but personally, I consider these reactions a warped sense of morality.

If you are a public figure entrusted to carry out your duties with public funds, your behaviour must be impeccable. If you want to earn the respect of Malaysians, you have to be “whiter than white” or at least seen to be attempting to achieve that. If you cannot, don’t run for public office.

What we need now are key principles that can bring about radical changes to graciously make us accept each other’s differences and bring about a New Malaysia that goes beyond mere tolerance. The focus must be on racial and religious unity that can create a Bangsa Malaysia. In this context, National Unity Minister Datuk Halimah Mohamed Sadique who is working with Saifuddin on this matter, has a crucial role.

Crucially, before drawing up new plans, let there be an in-depth study on why the Rukunegara had not been effective in the first place. To be effective, let the committee tasked with re-looking at the principles comprise learned and experienced individuals from all walks of life. And all races and religion too. Do not just hand us down what you think will work for us. Those days are over and out.

Any national principles must have soul, and should not be mere propagandised words. It must be based on humanity, not any form of supremacy. So by calling it Rukun Malaysia, it will sure add the much needed soul and passion to the name. And the focus will be to build a united nation. Most importantly, let’s be sincere about the objectives with no hidden motive.

God Bless Malaysia!

K. Parkaran was a deputy editor at The Star and producer at Aljazeera TV. The views expressed here are solely his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Sunday Star.

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