The decision of the Indonesian government to make Pancasila Day which falls on the 1st of June a national holiday is part of a renewed endeavour to protect and enhance the national ideology in the face of current challenges. President Joko Widodo ( Jokowi)  has reaffirmed his total commitment to the Pancasila by calling upon all Indonesians to embrace its values which, in his words, “ is in every drop of our blood and every beat of our heart. (It is) the cement of our national unity. I am Jokowi. I am Pancasila.”

The Pancasila is part of the preamble to the Indonesian Constitution of 1945.

As a manifestation of renewed commitment, Jokowi has issued Presidential Regulation no. 54 /2017 to establish workshops all over the country to teach the public values embodied in the Pancasila. The significance of these values will be brought to the fore by linking them to the eradication of poverty, the closing of the gap between the rich and poor and the implementation of social welfare programmes.  In general, the five principles of the Pancasila — the belief in one God; humanity; unity; consensus; and social justice — will be translated into concrete policies and programmes which impact upon the lives of the people.

A number of groups have come out in support of Jokowi’s effort.  These include Islamic mass movements, professional bodies and political parties. The Muhammadiyah, Peradi ( Indonesian Advocates Association ) and  the Democratic Party of Struggle are among them. In fact, the largest Islamic grassroots movement in the world, the Nahdlatul Ulama with 93 million members had even asked for the banning of the Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia, regarded by many as an extremist group misusing Islam, because its “divisive politics is against the Pancasila”.

It is remarkable that there is such a strong commitment to the Pancasila among the people in the nation with the world’s largest Muslim population. It should be remembered that even in 1945 when Indonesia proclaimed its Independence there were religious leaders who argued for an “Islamic State.” But there were also other prominent freedom-fighters with impeccable Islamic credentials who supported Pancasila as an inclusive, progressive idea that would best serve the interests of the new nation. The Pancasila, they insisted, was in harmony with the substance of Islam. One of them was Wahid Hasyim, the father of Abdul Rahman Wahid ( Gus Dur) who became the fourth president of the Indonesian Republic in 1999.  Gus Dur himself, a religious scholar of repute, was one of the most eloquent defenders of the Pancasila against its so-called “Islamic” critics

If we compared the situation surrounding the Pancasila with the challenges confronting the Rukunegara we would be struck by at least three differences. One, the ulama in Malaysia are less than lukewarm towards our national ideology or philosophy. With the exception of a couple of scholars, the vast majority of religious personalities , including those in academia have not endorsed the initiative by the group of activists that is seeking to make the Rukunegara the preamble to the Malaysian Constitution. And yet, the five objectives of the Rukunegara, like its five principles, resonate with the substance of Islam.

Two, unlike Indonesia, hardly any professional group has expressed its support for our preamble initiative. This includes the legal fraternity and academic associations. Our initiative has not even reached grassroots communities in Malaysia.

Three — and perhaps the most important difference — our national political leadership has been nonchalant towards the move to make the Rukunegara the preamble to the Constitution. Of course, it does pay lip-service to the Rukunegara now and then but the truth is that our national philosophy has had no role in the formulation of public policies or laws since the early eighties. There has been no mass public awareness programme on what the Rukunegara’s objectives and principles mean to the people and their lives.  Even opposition political parties have not bothered to respond to our invitation to dialogue on our initiative.

If these groups have reservations about our initiative, we would be happy to clarify them. In fact, we have elucidated a number of issues raised by certain individuals and groups. To reiterate: making the Rukunegara the preamble to the Constitution will not undermine any of the provisions of the Constitution especially those pertaining to the Special Position of the Malays and the indigenous communities of Sabah and Sarawak or the status of Islam as the religion of the Federation. To assuage these fears, we have even proposed that at the end of the preamble a clause could be introduced which states explicitly that the preamble will in no way affect any of the present provisions of the Constitution.

More than addressing misgivings, we have since the launch of our initiative on the 23rd of January 2017, sought to convince Malaysians why making the Rukunegara the preamble to the Malaysian Constitution is crucial. As a nation, we need goals and guiding principles that help bind us together, that we can all identify with whatever our differences.  This is particularly critical at a time like this when ethnic, religious, class and even territorial divisions are becoming more pronounced.  The Rukunegara is the only document we have with lucidly articulated goals and principles that can serve as a unifying platform. However, to play this role, it has to be anchored in the Constitution.

We should realise that compared to Indonesia the divisions in our society are in a sense potentially more perilous. The Indonesians have responded to their challenge by re-dedicating themselves to the Pancasila. Can we afford to procrastinate?

This is why we, the few hundred Malaysians who have endorsed the move to anchor the Rukunegara in the Constitution, hope that the Conference of Rulers would support this initiative and request the Federal Cabinet to take all the necessary steps to make this a reality. Once the legislative process is completed, the Yang diPertuan Agong should announce to the people that the Rukunegara is now the preamble to the Constitution. After all, it was the fourth Yang diPertuan Agong who on the 31st of August 1970 presented the Rukunegara to the nation as its guiding philosophy.

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