Activists want Rukunegara included in Federal Constitution

Chandra Muzaffar. — Picture by Saw Siaw Feng
Chandra Muzaffar. — Picture by Saw Siaw Feng

PETALING JAYA, Jan 21 — A group of seven national activists are pushing for the Rukunegara or National Principles to preface the Federal Constitution on the premise that the move would lead to unity and prosperity that will somehow strengthen the country.

The movement is headed by 1Malaysia Foundation chairman Chandra Muzaffar. The others are: Datin Paduka Marina Mahathir, human rights lawyer Firdaus Husni, Professor Madya Dr Madeline Berma who is director of Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia’s Tun Fatimah Hashim Women’s Leadership Centre, law professor Datuk Dr Shad Saleem Faruqi, Musawah global movement director Zainah Anwar and Professor CT Tan.

“Today, we have all become more divisive and there are greater tendency to take on the antagonist position on various matters in the country.

“Thus, by having the Rukunegara preambled to the Constitution, it would give the law a meaning or rather an ‘added value’ because these principles transcend gender, ethnicity, religion and region,” Chandra told Malay Mail Online in a recent interview.

When pressed on what challenges or matters required the inclusion of the national principles in the Federal Constitution, Chandra briefly cited the issue of the word “Allah”, Arabic for God, in Bibles.

He did not elaborate on how having the principles preface the Federal Constitution would have prevented or resolved the matter any better than existing laws, nor did he explain if it would permit or prohibit the use of the Arabic word in the Christian holy text.

“Having the Rukunegara endowed with the force of law will allow the courts to be able to bestow it with meaning and substance,” he went on.

While Chandra said some judges have used the Rukunegara in their decisions despite these principles having no formal role in the judicial process, he again did not explain what would entail from bestowing “force of law” to a set of ideals.

The Rukunegara are five principles introduced by the government following the race riots of 1969. They are: belief in God, loyalty to king and country, the supremacy of the constitution, the rule of law, and civility and decency.

As the name “National Principles” suggest, they are philosophies rather than rules, and contain ideals that the government hoped would encourage national unity in the wake of deadly racial unrest.

The Rukunegara is taught to all students in local schools, and regularly recited during school assemblies to reinforce their recall.

According to Chandra, however, the principles have waned in influence since the 1980s.

“Now some of us are again trying to raise the status and role of the Rukunegara.

“By doing what we want to do will also allow the people to insist those in power to prove that they are genuinely committed to the objectives and principles of the Rukunegara,” he said.

To date, the group has received more than a hundred signatures from different ethnic groups and communities to support its move.

The activists will formally launch their initiative at the Malaysian Institute of Integrity on January 23, when the seven members will be available for discussions.

When asked if his group has engaged with the government before deciding to embark on this movement, Chandra said they have “many times communicated with the government about this through our opinion pieces in the newspaper.”

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