Making the Rukunegara part of this year’s Merdeka celebrations would be endorsed by most Malaysians. Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin’s pledge to project the Rukunegara as the core agenda of the government will further define the future direction of the Malaysian nation.
However, it is regrettable that at the launch yesterday ( 9th July 2020) it was only the 5 principles of the Rukunegara — and not its five aspirations — that were mentioned. A number of us have pointed out on various occasions that the principles and aspirations are intimately linked and cannot be separated from one another. The Rukunegara should be propagated as a single integrated national ideology.
I had written about this in September 2017. The article is re-produced below. One hopes that as we observe the Rukunegara this Merdeka, the government and the people will adopt a holistic approach — which is the only way to do justice to this crucial document of destiny.
THE RUKUNEGARA — WHY ONLY HALF ?
While it is commendable that the 5 principles of the Rukunegara were recited at the grand parade held at the Dataran Merdeka on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of our Merdeka on the 31st of August 2017, it is a pity that once again it was only one half of our national ideology that was given emphasis.
For the five principles — Belief in God; Loyalty to King and Country; Supremacy of the Constitution; the Rule of Law; and Good Behaviour and Morality — are guidelines for achieving the five aspirations or goals of the nation. The Rukunegara states this explicitly. It says that “We, the people of Malaysia, pledge our united effort to attain the ends (goals) guided by these principles.”
What are these goals? Greater unity in society; a democratic way of life; a just society in which the prosperity of the nation is shared in a just and equitable manner; ensuring a liberal approach to the rich and varied cultural traditions of the land; and creating a progressive society that harnesses modern science and technology.
Why is it that these goals of the nation are seldom mentioned? Why are these national aspirations always set aside? Isn’t it absurd that one should proclaim loudly the 5 principles and yet the 5 goals that these principles are supposed to serve are hidden from the public? This has happened systematically and consistently for more than 30 years. Whether it is in school exercise books or over the media or at public functions, the focus is invariably upon the Rukunegara’s principles while its aspirations are ignored completely.
What explains this wilful, deliberate attempt to conceal the nation’s goals as embodied in the Rukunegara ? After all when the Rukunegara was first announced to the nation by the 4th Yang di Pertuan Agong on the 31st of August 1970, the aspirations and the principles were articulated in that order. And in the seventies, the goals figured prominently in public discourse.
There are perhaps three possible explanations for the neglect of the Rukunegara’s aspirations. If people are acutely aware of a nation’s goals through constant reminders by those who wield authority and influence it is quite conceivable that they will become more evaluative of government leaders and policies. They will ask if we are really evolving a democratic culture or if the nation’s wealth is more equitably shared today than in the past, or are we becoming more progressive as we embrace the new technologies? A conscious citizenry with a critical outlook is something that governments are not always comfortable with. To put it simply, a thinking electorate is the bane of both those who want to cling on to power and those who seek to capture power through whatever means.
If fear of critical evaluation by the people is the reason for concealing the nation’s goals, our elites are being unnecessarily apprehensive. In most societies the ideals enshrined in a nation’s ideology or charter are not matched by realities on the ground. There is always a gap between lofty aspirations and actual performance. In fact, if we examined what has been accomplished over the last 47 years in relation to the five goals of the Rukunegara, the pluses and minuses would produce a balance-sheet that is better than what many other societies have achieved. This is why one should encourage our citizenry to reflect upon our national aspirations to see how far we have travelled in our Rukunegara journey.
There is perhaps another reason why there is some reluctance to forefront the goals of the Rukunegara. In the last 10 years or so, some elements in power have developed an aversion to the term ‘liberal’ which is integral to the national ideology’s fourth goal. ‘Liberal’ or ‘liberalism’ for these elements connotes absolute, unrestrained freedom. They may not be aware that some of the greatest proponents of Liberal Thought recognised the limits of freedom. Restraints upon the exercise of liberty they realised were vital for freedom to flourish in society. There are also some Malaysians who equate ‘liberal’ with the advocacy of LGBT. This again is a misconception. There are many liberals whose ideas on gender roles, sexual relations and marriage would dissuade them from embracing the LGBT cause.
In any case, in the Rukunegara, the words “liberal approach” are used exclusively to describe a certain outlook on the nation’s diverse cultural traditions. “Open”, “inclusive” or “accommodative” would be some of the terms that are synonymous with what the Rukunegara espouses. It is this liberal approach towards the nation’s cultural diversity expressed in the attitudes of the masses and the elites that is one of our greatest strengths. It explains why we have held together as a nation for so many decades.
There may be another reason why some are opposed to emphasising the nation’s goals through the Rukunegara. For these groups and individuals, the Rukunegara’s aspirations subvert their own agenda of moving the nation in another direction. They view goals such as a democratic way of life or a progressive society as “secular” and therefore antithetical to their agenda of establishing an Islamic state guided by syariah as interpreted by a segment of the ulama. A number of court decisions and other episodes in recent years reveal this push for a state and society which in essence is different from what the Rukunegara and the Malaysian Constitution envisage. Ironically, some of the advocates of this new State hope to achieve their mission through Article 3 of the Constitution which acknowledges Islam as the religion of the Federation. It would be a vivid instance of using the Constitution to undermine the Constitution itself. This is why projecting the goals of the Rukunegara which in a sense embody the spirit of the Constitution is imperative at this stage for it keeps the nation on the path it set out in 1957 — a path that it re-dedicated itself to in 1970.
This is the most compelling reason for bringing back the Rukunegara in its entirety, both aspirations and principles. If we do not succeed to empower the Rukunegara, its aspirations and its principles, we would be disappointing the man who pioneered the Rukunegara, who saw it as a platform for re-building the nation, after a tragic riot. Indeed, it is only by preserving the Rukunegara intact — by striving to achieve its aspirations while upholding its principles — that we would be honouring one of Tun Razak’s great legacies.