Can Rukun Negara be the proper basis for the “national service” training programme involving some seven million Malaysians in the age group between 17 and 35 years when its principles have  been observed more in the breach in the past 33 years since its proclamation in 1970?

Media Statement
by Lim Kit Siang

(PenangThursday):  Before Parliament debates the National Service Training Bill 2003 which has expanded the net of Malaysians liable for “national service” training from  the original 480,000 18-year-old SPM school-leavers to some seven million Malaysians in the age group between 17 to 35 years, it should first revisit and conduct a comprehensive and in-depth debate as to whether the Rukun Negara could be a proper basis for the “national service” training programme. 

This is because the Rukunegara has either been largely forgotten or been observed more in the breach since its proclamation 33 years ago in 1970, raising the question whether the national service training programme will be guided by the original philosophy of Rukun Negara or by its breaches and violations as Malaysian nation-building policy had actually evolved in the past three decades.

The  five principles of  Rukun Negara, viz:  (i) Belief in God,  (ii) Loyalty to King and Country,   (iii) Upholding the Constitution, (iv) Rule of Law and (v) Good Behaviour and Morality serve the overarching objectives  “to achieving a greater unity of all her peoples” and “to maintaining a democratic way of life”.

It is precisely because of  the failure of the Rukun Negara to achieve its primary objective to achieve greater national unity that the National Service Training Bill has been conceived, with its genesis at the National Patriotism Congress last  October  with the aim, not to defend the country but to instil national unity, patriotism and discipline which the  national education system had failed to inculcate in the new generation of Malaysians  after 11 years of primary and secondary schooling.

What is shocking and outrageous is that a bill committed to the Rukun Negara philosophy “to maintain a democratic way of life” should be so untransparent and undemocratic, not only in the entire process of its conception and formulation completely immersed  in the  undemocratic culture of secrecy but  its provisions are  studded with criminal sanctions and custodial offences to criminalize democratic conduct  including the undemocratic ban on any criticism or opposition of the national service training programme after it has become law on pain of a draconian criminal  offence entailing RM10,000 fine or two years’ jail or both. (Clause 29 of the Bill).

Clause 29 of the National Service Training Bill is in fact a most undemocratic, objectionable  and dishonest expansion of the Sedition Act when in other democratic countries, sedition laws are being repealed in recognition of its incompatibility with a more open and democratic way of life, particularly in the age of information technology.

If the Rukun Negara objectives  of national unity, democracy and the “building of a progressive society oriented to modern science and technology” and its five principles had been observed diligently and faithfully  as the guiding philosophy of Malaysian nation-building in the past three decades, then Malaysia would not have been plunged into crisis after crisis and plagued by so many national problems particularly in the past 22 years, as marked by the following:

  • The crisis of confidence in the rule of law and system of justice to the extent that Malaysia was the subject of indictment of the international legal and judicial community in the report “Justice in Jeopardy: Malaysia 2000”, a crisis from which Malaysia had not fully recovered.
  • “First World Infrastructure, Third World Mentality” Malaysian malaise.
  • Ever worsening corruption and lack of integrity, accountability and transparency in public life.
  • Ever-diminishing importance of Parliament, which has been completely marginalized by the current  UMNO General Assembly and other UMNO meetings.
  • The “929 Declaration” by the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad that Malaysia is an Islamic state, which runs counter to the first Rukun Negara principle of “Belief in God” in a multi-religious society.
  • The National Service Training Bill because of  the failure of the national education system in its first task  to foster national unity in plural Malaysia.

The National Service Training Bill should be deferred from a vote in Parliament to allow for at least six months for a nation-wide debate not only on the concept and mechanics of the “national service” training programme, but also for a national inquest to be held on the 33-year history of the Rukun Negara, as to whether it is still possible to recover its original meaning and philosophy despite the ravages of three decades to be a sound foundation and solid philosophy for nation-building in Malaysia in the 21st century.


* Lim Kit Siang, DAP National Chairman