AT the Umno General Assembly last week, a delegate from Kedah said that looking at recent incidents in this country, it would be good to revive the spirit of Rukun Negara. Many others have made the same suggestion but to no avail.
Instead, the country has been introduced to one slogan after another with each change of leadership, forgetting the great efforts that were made in the aftermath of the May 1969 riots to create a national ideology that would rally all the races together to work towards achieving the common objective of a united nation.
The Rukun Negara was proclaimed on Aug 31, 1970 and was adopted as the document guiding the implementation of the new strategy in national development planning – the New Economic Policy (NEP).
As stated in paragraph 7, Chapter 1 of the Second Malaysia Plan (1971-1975), the first five-year plan to implement the NEP, “The Rukun Negara, which declares the national objectives and values and the fundamental principles to guide the citizens and the nation, has evolved from close consultation and deliberation in the National Consultative Council and represents a national consensus and commitment to the task of creating a united, socially just, economically equitable and progressive Malaysian nation.”
The Plan in paragraph 10 of the same chapter quoted the Rukun Negara: “From these diverse elements of our population, we are dedicated to the achievement of a united nation in which loyalty and dedication to the nation shall override all other loyalties.”
The Rukun Negara has been described as the national ideology which emphasises belief in God, loyalty to king and country and respect for the cultures and traditions of the multiracial society.
The architects of the national ideology realised that these values could best be achieved within the context of a rapidly expanding economy. They therefore placed the highest emphasis on the country’s development programme towards achieving a high rate of economic growth to create opportunities for all races to benefit from the country’s progress.
Although Malaysia has done well under the NEP to create a stronger economy with commendable results in abolishing extreme poverty, reducing unemployment and restructuring society to redress racial economic imbalances, the objective of achieving national unity remains a major challenge.
In recent years, there have been several incidents of racial and religious tensions which are a threat to national unity.
While these incidents tend to be isolated in nature and are related more to political posturing than to any deep-seated social discontent among the people, there are concerns that without a reference point to remind Malaysians of the good values that we should all live up to, the ugly incidents may recur from time to time to create fear and instability in the country. The incidents themselves are not frightening but the perception that they are politically motivated and tolerated by the law enforcement authorities is most damaging to the country’s reputation for social and political stability. It’s a black mark which can be a drag on the country’s economy.
I do believe that the Rukun Negara can be a powerful instrument for instilling into Malaysians that loyalty to king and country means upholding the constitution and rule of law and that those who ignore the law must be made accountable for their words and actions.
Young Malaysians in particular must be brought up to honour the principles of the Rukun Negara in schools and work places so they can understand that loyalty to the country is the most noble of values.
Guided by these core values, they will know how to differentiate between healthy criticism and malicious statements and to appreciate that in a democratic society, every citizen is entitled to voice his or her opinion on government performance, race, religion or on the royalty provided the opinion is sincere and made without bad intentions. Our democracy will become stronger when there is tolerance for dissent.
For this reason, the law should protect the rights of citizens to freedom of expression, while those who abuse this freedom must be made to face the consequences under the law.
The whole spirit of the Rukun Negara is about respect for each other so that we can settle our differences through dialogue, not confrontation and hostility.
It should be officially proclaimed as the national ideology and used as a daily diet in strengthening unity among the races.
TAN SRI MOHD SHERIFF MOHD KASSIM