Through a Question and Answer format, we seek to provide explanations and clarifications related to this initiative to make the Rukunegara the Preamble to the Malaysian Constitution.

1. Why was the Rukunegara not made the Preamble to the Constitution when it was proclaimed to the nation by the Yang di-PertuanAgong on the 31st of August 1970?

Such a move would have required an amendment to the Constitution under Article 159(3) adopted by two-thirds of the total membership of both Houses of Parliament, the Dewan Rakyat and Dewan Negara. It could not be done as Parliament was not functioning at that time. Parliamentary rule was suspended for 21 months following the riot of 13th of May 1969 and the subsequent declaration of a state of emergency under Article 150 of the Constitution.

2. Why is it that after Parliamentary rule was restored in February 1971, the Rukunegara was not incorporated into the Constitution as the Preamble?

There were some who argued that it should have been. There were others who felt that since the Rukunegara had the stamp of the King who is at the apex of the entire system of governance, there was no need to present it to Parliament. It already carried the moral weight of the highest office in the land.

3. If that is so, why is it necessary to bring the Rukunegara to Parliament now and make it the Preamble to the Constitution?

There are at least three compelling reasons for our initiative.
• One, though the Rukunegara was presented to the people as the nation’s ideology it has not been playing that role for almost four decades now. The objectives and principles of the Rukunegara are not consciously employed in the formulation and implementation of public policies. Neither is the national ideology the force that shapes law in Malaysia. We believe the Rukunegara should serve as a guideline, a compass, in our nation’s journey — a compass that sets our direction.
• Two, at this time of so much divisiveness and acrimony in society, we believe the time is right for such an initiative. When exclusive attitudes are becoming more pervasive, a turn to an inclusive set of principles and objectives that will bind us together is needed. And since the Rukunegara is already with us, should harness its strength.
• Three, by anchoring the Rukunegara in the Constitution, we are not only reminding ourselves constantly of what we regard as the nation’s goals and principles but we are also underlining Malaysia’s character and identity. This will ensure that we do not traverse in a direction that is detrimental to our own interests.

4. While the Rukunegara in reality does not command centre stage and is not the Preamble to our Constitution, Malaysia has nonetheless done relatively well compared to so many other countries. Why then do we need to project the Rukunegara as a Preamble?

We are all proud of the achievements of our nation over the last 59 years of nationhood. This does not mean however that we should ignore the countless challenges that confront us as a people. As we noted above, the spread of exclusive attitudes would be one of them. They impact adversely upon inter-ethnic and inter-religious ties in what is after all one of the most complex multi-ethnic and multi-religious societies in the world. In this regard, issues pertaining to relations between Sabah and Sarawak, on the one hand, and Putrajaya, on the other, within the context of the Malaysian Federation which have come to the fore in recent times also require a just resolution. Economic disparities within communities have become as stark as disparities between communities and regions. There is still tremendous scope for enhancing accountability and strengthening democratic governance. This will only happen when integrity and honesty in public life become practised norms that define our nation’s culture. The values that underscore each and every one of these challenges — unity; justice; democracy; morality — are emphasised in the Rukunegara. This is why privileging the Rukunegara through the nation’s Constitution is so important at this juncture of our history.

5. Is the Rukunegara still relevant — after 46 years?

For reasons already elaborated, it is even more relevant today than it was when it was first introduced. Besides, its objectives such as justice and unity are truly universal. They transcend time and place. Principles such as the belief in God and the rule of law are eternal and are relevant to each and every generation.

6. Is it true that the Rukunegara does not address some important issues?

No document, no charter, no ideology can address all the challenges facing a society. It is true that the Rukunegara does not explicitly take cognisance of the scourge of corruption. Neither does it allude to the environmental crisis. But some of its principles and goals can be applied to these and other emerging issues.

7. By proposing that the Rukunegara be made the Preamble to the Constitution, aren’t we guilty of attaching too much significance to what are after all mere values and ideals?

It is imperative that a national constitution embodies certain ideals and values. These values and ideals become the standards that the leaders and the people can aspire to attain. For instance, if we seek to build a just society where the wealth of the nation is equitably shared, we would become more conscious of existing inequities and disparities and would strive to overcome these obstacles. Likewise, if a progressive society oriented to modern science and technology is our goal we would go all out to nurture a rational, scientific attitude among the people through the education system. If the rule of law is a guiding principle, the citizens would be alert to any abuse of the law as a result of selective prosecution or acts of corruption. This is the virtue in integrating the objectives and principles of the Rukunegara into the Constitution.

8. Would the first principle of the Rukunegara “Belief in God” encourage some people to argue that all religions should be treated equally and therefore, undermine Article 3 of the Constitution pertaining to the position of Islam as the religion of the Federation?

Along with Article 3 on Islam is Article 11 on freedom of religion. So, the Constitution from day one recognised religious diversity but gave pre-eminence to Islam for official purposes. The Rukunegara maintains the Constitution’s tolerance for all religions.

In any case “belief in God” does not violate but affirms the Islamic belief in Tawhid which is the very foundation of the religion.

9. However wouldn’t a principle like belief in God create uneasiness among atheists and agnostics?

Belief in God is the belief of the vast majority of Malaysians. In a democratic society we cannot ignore a belief that is so central to the lives of the majority. Nonetheless, it is a belief that cannot and should not be imposed upon those who do not subscribe to it. There is no coercion in matters of faith. This is a cardinal axiom in Islam, the religion of the Federation.

If those who believe in God really understand what it means and live by its meaning, society as a whole will become more inclusive and accommodative, and embrace everyone, including those who do not believe in God.

10. Wouldn’t the objectives of the Rukunegara affect certain public policies? For instance, the objective of ‘ greater unity among the people” may be used to repudiate policies such as the recruitment of only Bumiputras into UiTM.

There is nothing wrong in seeking greater unity. Greater unity is a primary national aim – here and everywhere. Greater unity amongst the diverse communities of the nation and between Peninsular Malaysia and Sabah and Sarawak have been overriding goals of the government and the people since the early years of our Independence.

The policies under Article 153, if properly implemented and enforced, can promote greater unity and stability. If Article 153 is enforced in the spirit in which it was drafted, it will obliterate identification of ethnicity with economic function and will bring Bumiputeras of the Peninsula and Sabah and Sarawak into the mainstream of economic life while at the same time permitting the other communities to pursue their vision of the good life within the limits of the law.

This will in the long range promote greater stability and unity.

11. Wouldn’t other policies that prioritize Bumiputras also be affected?

To paint the Rukunegara as against Bumiputera prioritization is unjustified and unfair. The special position of the Malays and the natives of Sabah and Sarawak is entrenched in the Constitution and the Rukunegara’s emphasis on ‘supremacy of the Constitution’ implies acceptance of the Constitution as a whole including the Constitution’s provisions on ethnic rights.

12. If the Rukunegara as Preamble has the force of law, would it create rights which are not in the Constitution thus usurping the role of the legislature? Wouldn’t this violate the separation of powers?

First, one of the fundamental characteristics of a “law” is that a law must be precise in content. Otherwise it is unenforceable. Everywhere in the world, preambles, whether in a Constitution or a statute, contain glittering generalities. They are broad and sweeping statements of aims and purposes, dreams and demands, values and ideals. In most countries of the world (India being one of the exceptions) a constitutional Preamble is like a guiding light, a chart and compass, a polestar for action, a guide to constitutional interpretation, but not an enforceable law. Unlike the specific Articles of the Constitution which contain specific rights or duties, a Preamble is a general opening statement which has no enforceability.

Second, not only Constitutions but all statutes have opening Preambles. Nobody has ever won or lost a case purely on the strength of a Preamble without linking the Preamble to a specific provision of the statute which creates rights or duties. By itself a Preamble creates no enforceable rights or duties.

Third, the implicit suggestion or underlying fear that the Rukunegara has rights which are inconsistent with the Constitution or violative of our constitutional provisions is unfounded. The Rukunegara was drafted by men and women who were patriots, persons of great integrity and erudition and who understood the fundamentals of the Constitution. Their formulation of the Principles and Objectives of the Rukunegara does not violate but captures the true spirit of our Constitution.

Fourth, the objection that the Preamble will usurp the role of the legislature and will violate the doctrine of separation of powers is totally baseless because our intention is that Parliament will one day by legislation adopt the Rukunegara as our Constitution’s Preamble.

13. If judges apply the Rukunegara in interpreting the Constitution wouldn’t inconsistencies arise in conflict with the original intention of the Constitution?

The Rukunegara and the Constitution complement each other. A greater understanding of the Rukunegara will restore, not weaken, the Constitution. The Rukunegara is fully in line with the “original intention” of the Constitution. Instead, it is post-1980 constitutional practice that diverges from the original intention of our forefathers and from the ideals of our Rukunegara.

However, if something in a Preamble conflicts with a specific provision in a statute, the specific provision will prevail. “Special overrides general” is a well-known legal maxim. All laws have currents and cross-currents, general provisions and specific provisions, general rules and specific exceptions. Law is not a motorway but a maze. Judges are more than capable of resolving any conflicts. There is a wealth of precedents and rules of interpretation to allow judges to interpret the Constitution harmoniously.

14. Because incorporating the Rukunegara as the Preamble is being introduced at a later stage would it override existing provisions in the Constitution?

As has been said earlier, the Rukunegara consists of glittering generalities. The dreams and supplications of the Rukunegara cannot override the explicit provisions of the Constitution.

15. Would making the Rukunegara the Preamble to the Constitution open the floodgates to vexatious litigation?

About 160 Constitutions of the world have Preambles. There is no evidence of vexatious litigation in these countries arising from the Preamble to a Constitution.

16. What democratic right or legitimacy does this “Rukunegara group” have to propose an amendment to our Constitution?

In many countries groups of citizens are allowed to participate in the legislative process.
• In Australia constitutional amendments require the people’s mandate at a referendum. In the UK the Referendum Act permits the government to seek the people’s consent to legislative initiatives.
• Many states of the USA permit a proportion of voters to ask for initiation or recall of a legislation.
• In Malaysia consultation with affected stakeholders or appointment of citizens’ committees prior to the enactment of legislation is a common practice.
• The Standing Orders of the Dewan Rakyat permit a Special Legislation Committee to consult with citizens’ groups.
• The Private Bill procedure enables groups outside of Parliament to draft legislative proposals for Parliament.
• In Islam Shura or consultation between the governors and the governed is encouraged.

Though there is no explicit provision in Malaysia to require any of the above forms of democratic participation, a citizens’ initiative to amend the Constitution is not against any law and is an affirmation of democracy.


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