Despite recent tensions, these are isolated incidents and are related more to political posturing than deep-seated social discontent.

AT the Umno General Assembly, which ended last Saturday, a delegate from Kedah said that looking at recent incidents in the country, it would be good to revive the spirit of the Rukun Negara.

Many have made the same suggestion, but to no avail. Instead, the country was introduced to one slogan after another with each change of leadership, forgetting the efforts that were made in the aftermath of the May 1969 riots to create a national ideology that would rally all the races to work towards achieving a united nation.

The Rukun Negara was proclaimed on Aug 31, 1970, and was adopted as the document guiding the implementation of the new strategy in national development planning — the New Economic Policy (NEP). As stated in Paragraph 7, Chapter 1, of the Second Malaysia Plan (1971- 1975), the first five-year plan to implement the NEP, the Rukun Negara, which declares the national objectives and values and the fundamental principles to guide the citizens and the nation, has evolved from close consultation and deliberation in the National Consultative Council and represents a national consensus and commitment to the task of creating a united, socially just, economically equitable and progressive Malaysian nation.”

Paragraph 10 of the same chapter quotes the Rukun Negara to say, “from these diverse elements of our population, we are dedicated to the achievement of a united nation in which loyalty and dedication to the nation shall over-ride all other loyalties”.

The Rukunegara has been described as the national ideology which emphasises belief in God, loyalty to king and country, and respect for the cultures and traditions of the multiracial society.

The architects of the national ideology realised that these values could best be realised within the context of a rapidly expanding economy. They, therefore, placed emphasis on the country’s development programmes towards achieving high rates of economic growth to create the opportunities for all races to benefit from the country’s progress.

Although Malaysia has done well under the NEP to create a stronger economy with commendable results in abolishing extreme poverty, reducing unemployment and restructuring the society to redress racial economic imbalances, achieving national unity remains a major challenge.

In recent years, there were several incidents of racial and religious tensions that were a threat to national unity. However, these incidents tend to be isolated in nature and are related more to political posturing than to any deep-seated social discontent among the people.

There are concerns that without a reference point to remind Malaysians of the good values that we should all live up to, the ugly incidents may recur from time to time to create fear and instability in the country.

The incidents themselves are not frightening, but the perception that they are politically-motivated and tolerated by the law enforcement authorities is most damaging to the country’s reputation for social and political stability. It is a black mark which can be a drag on the country’s economy.

The Rukun Negara can be a powerful instrument for instilling in Malaysians that loyalty to king and country means upholding the constitution and rule of law and that those who ignore the law must be held accountable.

Young Malaysians, in particular, must be brought up to honour the principles of the Rukun Negara in schools and workplaces, so that they can understand that loyalty to the country is the most noble of values.

Guided by these core values, they will know how to differentiate between healthy criticism and malicious statements, and to appreciate that in a democratic society, every citizen is entitled to voice his or her opinion on government performance, race, religion, or on the royalty, provided the opinion is sincere and is made without bad intentions.

Our democracy will become stronger when there is tolerance for dissent.

For this reason, the law should protect the rights of citizens to freedom of expression, while those who abuse this freedom must be made to face the consequences.

The whole spirit of the Rukun Negara is about respect for each other so that we can settle
our differences through dialogue, not confrontation and hostility.

The Rukun Negara should be officially proclaimed as the national ideology and used as a daily diet in strengthening unity among the races.

n TAN SRI MOHD SHERIFF MOHD KASSIM, Kuala Lumpur