FEBRUARY 8 is the day of birth of Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra Al-Haj, the father of our nation and the guiding light behind the Merdeka Agreements, the Merdeka Constitution and the “social contract” that is implicit in our constitutional charter.
In honouring the memory of Tunku, it would be appropriate to rededicate ourselves to the ideals and values that animate our Federal Constitution and to reaffirm the Constitution’s position as the chart and compass and sail and anchor of our nation’s endeavours.
A group of civil society leaders has done just that by proposing that our nation’s Rukunegara be adopted as the Preamble to our Constitution.
The Rukunegara, proclaimed by the Yang di-Pertuan Agong on Aug 31, 1970, contains five far-reaching, social and political objectives and five cardinal principles that gel well with the glittering generalities of our Constitution.
The five objectives are: to achieve greater unity among Malaysians; to maintain a democratic way of life; to create a just society in which the wealth of the nation is equitably shared; to ensure a liberal approach to our rich and diverse cultural traditions; and to build a progressive society which shall be oriented towards modern science and technology.
To achieve these five admirable objectives, the architects of the Rukunegara adopted five cardinal principles: belief in God; loyalty to King and country; upholding the Constitution; rule of law; and good behaviour and morality.
Not surprisingly the “Rukunegara Muqaddimah Perlembagaan” (RMP) initiative has been opposed by many groups. The prominent criticisms, most of them grossly unjustified, are the following:
Initiative is redundant: It is argued by some scholars that the Articles of the Constitution already incorporate most of the objectives and principles of the Rukunegara. Also, Malaysia as a nation has performed commendably over the last 59 years and the initiative is quite unnecessary.
In reply to this it can be pointed out that constitutionalism is a journey and not a destination. While we have done well relatively speaking, there are dark clouds over the horizon.
The Constitution is under attack. Extremism is on the rise. Communal relations are frayed and a reinforcement of the ideals of the Constitution and the Rukunegara is timely.
Islam: The proponents of the Islamic state are arguing that the adoption of the Rukunegara would undermine Islam and the move towards an Islamic state built on syariah law.
In reply it can be pointed out that there is nothing in the Rukunegara that undermines Article 3(1) on Islam as the religion of the Federation.
In fact, the belief in the supremacy of the Constitution entails fidelity to Article 3(1) on Islam; the position of the King and the Rulers as head of Islam; and power of the State Assemblies to legislate on specified matters of the syariah that are enumerated in Schedule 9, List II para 1.
Though it is true that the Rukunegara refers to belief in “Tuhan” and “God” instead of “Allah”, this was absolutely necessary to take note of our multi-religious population, especially in Sabah and Sarawak. In any case, some Peninsular Malaysian Muslims are sensitive about use of the word “Allah” by non-Muslims.
Malay special position: It is wrongly alleged that the Rukunegara would weaken Malay special position, especially the idea of ketuanan Melayu.
In fact, the emphasis on a just society in which the wealth of the nation is equitably shared gels well with Article 153 on the special position of the Malays and the natives of Sabah and Sarawak and the legitimate interests of other communities.
Liberalism: The allegation that the Rukunegara’s support for “a liberal approach” is contrary to Malaysian values is ill-conceived and malicious. “A liberal approach” in the Rukunegara alludes to tolerance and acceptance of our rich and diverse cultural traditions – one of our nation’s strong points till lately.
Atheists: Some say that “belief in God” would violate the rights of atheists, agnostics, spiritualists, Sikhs, Theravada Buddhists, animists and many others whose innermost beliefs are not centred around God.
Here again, one must point out that the Constitution protects freedom of religion in Article 11 and, if creatively interpreted, Article 11 refers to all systems of beliefs, including animism.
In fact, there is a clear provision that no person shall be required to receive instruction in or take part in any ceremony or act of worship other than his own. No person can be required to support a religion other than his own.
Moral policing: It is feared by some that the Rukunegara’s support for “good behaviour and morality” will strengthen the imposition of puritanical values and moral policing.
Admittedly good behaviour and morality are subjective. But one must note that the concept of morality is not confined to sex morality.
Some core values there must be in each society. Belief in nothing often leads to a belief in anything. It must also be noted that “morality” is already a permitted ground for legislative regulation of free speech in Article 10(2) and freedom of religion in Article 11(5).
Science and technology: It is alleged that the emphasis on science and technology has led to a neglect of arts, humanities and the social sciences. This is indeed true. But this is a matter of educational policy and can be corrected easily.
In sum, the RMP movement strengthens, not weakens our Constitution’s basic ideals and aspirations. Further discussion from both sides of the fence on this issue is a welcome part of the Constitution’s right of free speech and the right of humble citizens to propose legislative initiatives to their government.
Emeritus Professor Dr Shad Saleem Faruqi is Tunku Abdul Rahman Professor of Law at Universiti Malaya. The views expressed here are entirely the writer’s own.
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