In a recent article titled “Back to the national principles of the Rukunegara” published by Free Malaysia Today on 24 February 2017, several arguments were made to support the effort to instill Rukunegara as the preamble to the Federal Constitution. In order to give some strength to the piece, the preamble of the American Constitution was displayed as an example as to what is a preamble. Then, the writer went on to mention that 80% of the countries in the world today have a preamble preceding a constitution.
We will not be elaborating or refuting the statistics presented. What we want to address is the suitability of a preamble for the Malaysian context. The Federal Constitution, as it is, came to effect on 31st August 1957, at that time there was no preamble present. In India for example, a preamble was added in 1949 and amended in 1976. More importantly, the preamble is there as a means to interpret the Indian Constitution.
Recently, the Indian Supreme Court banned the use of race, religion and caste in politics, citing the secular nature of the nation. No surprise that it is mentioned explicitly in their constitution that India is a secular country. This nature of secularity is found in the preamble. We really need to think it through in case someone wants to add a preamble to the Malaysian Constitution after 60 years. There have been many court cases where the verdict was issued in reference to the current Federal Constitution.
Would the addition of a preamble change the verdicts of so many judgements? Or will those judgements be ultra vires to the Constitution? Moving on, another idea is that the addition of a preamble would give a legal status to the national ideology. In the words of the writer, “The scholars were of the view that due to the current state of division in this country, advocating the inclusion of the Rukunegara as a preamble to the Federal Constitution could grant the national ideology its legal status in guiding the legislative, judicial and executive institutions of the country to make fair and just decisions on sensitive racial and religious issues.”
Actually the country already has an ideology. According to the Federal Constitution Article 3(1), “Islam is the religion of the Federation”. This constitutes a clear understanding that Islam is the religion of Malaysia. In other words, the nation’s ideology is Islam. The addition of a preamble would clearly challenge the authority of Islam as the religion of the state. This in and of itself does not sit well with the Muslim majority.
Another contentious point made was, “This is because the drawing and implementation of many of our policies and laws are seen by some as having superseded the Constitution and Rukunegara without underscoring the philosophies of righteousness and equality.” Basically this means that some people do not like what is going on in the country and there have been unconstitutional moves by the government. Firstly the notion of “some” readily suggests a minority, and that does not seem to be inline with the spirit of democracy.
And secondly, if something unconstitutional was indeed acted upon by the government, we as Malaysians shall oppose such activities. However, conventional wisdom requires proof of guilt before any action is taken. And the idea of righteousness and equality is not necessarily the same for everyone, a criminal does see the sentences imposed on him in the light of justice and fairness. Thus the philosophy of a nation should be based on her Constitution and not the whims and fancies of “some”.
A remark made by most if not all of the proponents of Rukunegara is the vague understanding of the subject. It is as though to say that, Malaysians are all well versed with the Federal Constitution and hence making Rukunegara a preamble would make it easier to understand the philosophies and ideologies of our nation. That would be true in Utopia but definitely not in Malaysia. Most Malaysians still think of Islam as the official religion, a view that is contradictory to reality, displaying an insufficient understanding of the Federal Constitution.
The reason why people do not understand the Rukunegara is because no emphasis has been given to that specific area. Inculcation of the philosophies behind Rukunegara can only be made through teaching that particular topic, something that is absent in full from the academic syllabus.
One comment that caught the eye was, “If we were to browse through Chinese language comments on the media and social media sites, discussions on constitutional matters have never been prominent in the first place. Such discussions appear to have been absent from local Chinese organisations as well. At least, I hardly see talks and seminars on such matters by local Chinese organisations.”
The fact that the issue is rarely discussed already describes a part of the problem. The lack of patriotism as a Malaysian citizen is probably a bigger concern that needs to be addressed rather than the idea to make Rukunegara as the preamble.
It all boils down to individuals and the efforts made to help build the nation, whatever nation that might be. Many do not have the conscience of a responsible citizen, and yet the very same people talk about unity, diversity and understanding without doing anything on their part.