Making Rukunegara the Constitution preamble unnecessary, pundits say

The Rukunegara are five principles introduced by the government following the race riots of 1969. — Reuters pic
The Rukunegara are five principles introduced by the government following the race riots of 1969. — Reuters pic

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KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 25 — A recent proposal to make Rukunegara the preamble to the Federal Constitution will result in redundancy and may pose legal problems, several constitutional and civil liberties pundits have told Malay Mail Online.

Constitutional law expert Dr Abdul Aziz Bari said all five principles of the Rukunegara are already addressed in the Federal Constitution, proposing instead for programmes to raise awareness of the supreme law among the public.

"If you talk about upholding the law and respecting the King as well as the country, the Constitution addresses all these, so why go through the trouble of trying to include something that is already stated in the law?

"The problem is not with the Constitution but the disregard or the ignorance [by some people] of the law," the professor told Malay Mail Online recently.

This come as a group of activists, calling themselves the “Rukunegara Muqaddimah Perlembagaan” (RMP), recently launched a move to push for the Rukunegara or National Principles to be made a preamble to the Federal Constitution.

According to RMP head and 1Malaysia Foundation chairman Dr Chandra Muzaffar, the move will create a more united and prosper Malaysia.

"Instead of trying to include the Rukunegara in the Constitution, there should be programmes to explain and educate the rakyat of what the Constitution is all about as many are unaware what the Constitution says," Abdul Aziz said.

Besides possible redundancies, two civil liberty lawyers polled by Malay Mail Online agreed that the inclusion of the Rukunegara may lead to misinterpretation of the law.

Lawyers for Liberty executive director Eric Paulsen also said the move may impede the activities of certain groups.

"There will be contested interpretation as to what these principles mean, and of course those in power now will likely interpret them in their favour, thus restricting further liberal and secular values.

"For example, freedom of speech and expression will likely be stifled further — more cases and clampdown on expression and discussion on issues pertaining to religion and royalty," he said.

Paulsen said he expects moral policing to crop up if the move goes through.

"I can imagine the country getting bogged down by authorities and other groups constantly demanding people to be polite and courteous, thus, more cases and issues of being biadap, indecent and moral policing," he said, using the Malay word for “insolent”.

Lawyer Syahredzan Johan, a member of the Malaysian Bar’s Constitutional Law Committee, said making the Rukunegara into a form of binding legal provision would take away the strength of the principles itself.

He said the Rukunegara is currently a reflection of the aspirations of the people that can easily be adapted to changing times.

"If those aspirations should change, then the Rukunegara, being a statement of guiding principles can easily be moulded to fit the changes, not so if it becomes a rigid document with force of law," he said.

Like Paulsen, Syahredzan said the Constitution may be misconstrued if the Rukunegara was included as the preface of the law.

"We are already grappling with restrictive interpretations of the provisions under the Federal Constitution.

“For example, I can see how Article 11, the right to freedom of religion, might be interpreted to mean the right to profess or practice a religion that recognises a God and to the exclusion of those who profess religions without the belief in a God or those who do not profess a religion," he said.

A preamble, he said, would have been good at the outset when the Constitution was drafted prior to 1957, to make a statement of what or how Malaysians should perceive the Constitution and the country.

"But it is not needed now as what we need now is for everyone, from the legislators in Parliament, to ministers in Cabinet, to the judiciary and the civil service, to the people on the streets, to understand and uphold the Constitution," he said.

RMP has set a deadline of April 30 to collect as many signatures as possible through its newly created website, before it is scheduled to submit an application with the Conference of Rulers in hopes that it would advise the Cabinet and Parliament to act accordingly.

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 hope would encourage national unity in the wake of deadly racial unrest.

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