03/05/2024 09:32 AM
From Muhammad Basir Roslan

Building unity in a country of diverse races, cultures and religions has its challenges especially social interactions, which are essential aspects of social relationships.

 However, guided and governed by the five tenets of the Rukun Negara (National Principles), Malaysians are able to overcome the emerging challenges including racial and cultural misunderstandings.

Towards this end, stakeholders especially the Ministry of Unity are focused on efforts to strengthen unity based on the five principles enshrined in the Rukun Negara - Belief in God, Loyalty to the King and Country, Supremacy of the Constitution, The Rule of Law, and Good Behaviour and Morality.

As part of these efforts, the ministry is organising a Debate Competition 2024 from May 4 to May 16, drawing the participation of universities nationwide, which will be held via online and face-to-face platforms (semi-finals and finals).

 Themed “Appreciation of Rukun Negara”, the competition is a continuation of the 2023 edition which attracted 128 participants from 38 teams who debated online in September during that year.

 The Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia team emerged as the champion, defeating Universiti Teknologi Mara (UiTM) Shah Alam in the finals on Sept 26.



 Describing the competition initiated by the government as laudable, Prof Datuk Dr Baharudin Puteh from the Faculty of Education, Universiti Islam Melaka, said a healthy discourse on the values and benefits of Rukun Negara would indirectly allow community members to have a better understanding of the diverse cultures of the various races in the country.

This, he said is because many young Malaysians are only memorising and remembering the Rukun Negara by heart but seldom translate the values into their social lives, hence, causing the racial gap to widen.

"As such, through the debate which is focused on the importance of embracing these principles, participants will be able to highlight the benefits of bringing about a society that lives in harmony. Of significance, one of the principles of Rukun Negara, courtesy and morality in essence underlines the importance of being courteous to each other irrespective of race of ethnic origin, besides respecting the diversity in cultures and customs of the various races.

"Among others, the competition requires each team to have at least two different races to foster teamwork so that they can manage the differences in understanding and mindset among participants until they can present their arguments effectively and assertively,” he said when contacted recently.

Datuk Prof Dr Baharudin Puteh

He also said that the implementation objective of the competition is also commendable as it emphasises on the holistic mindset, whereby participants are aware of the importance of maintaining respect and accepting the racial, religious and cultural diversity in Malaysia.

 “Unfortunately, the reality at every university is that, most students tend to interact more with their own race and are reluctant to expand their circle of friendship with other races. It is hoped that with this debate, they can have a better understanding of their colleagues from other races and hence help break barriers and foster racial integration at their respective varsities,” he said.

Baharudin who has been organising the Yang Di-pertua Negeri Melaka Rukun Negara Challenge Trophy Debate Competition since 2022, is heartened by the encouraging response from the public, with increased participation seen each year.

The competition has also received good response from participants who are fluent in spoken Malay to the special category for non-Malays, signalling that there are still many Malaysians who love the language and are ready to further improve their fluency and skills.

 “We found that Malaysians actually are keen on programmes that are based on the debate concept, especially when discussing the importance of Rukun Negara principles. As such, I hope all ministries can join efforts by organising the Prime Minister’s Challenge Trophy Debate Competition involving a larger number of participants in the future,” he said.



Besides that, Baharudin opined that the debate competition which emphasised the use of Bahasa Melayu as a language of unity is a proactive effort by the government in instilling love for the mother tongue of the Malays among participants and members of the public.

According to him, as Malaysia strives to create a progressive and united Bangsa Malaysia or Malaysian nation, one of the principles that should take precedence is instilling love for the Malay language, noting that it should be the lingua franca in this country based on the proverb, ‘bahasa adalah jiwa sesebuah bangsa’ (language is the soul of the nation).

 “In other developed nations such as Russia, South Korea or Japan, mother tongue plays a crucial role in their lives as it shapes their identity and culture. There, the people are united in their use of their mother tongue for official or unofficial matters.

The objective of this kind of competition is to emphasise holistic thinking and strengthening racial integration.

“To achieve its aim of becoming a developed nation, it is crucial for all Malaysians to stand united by empowering Bahasa Melayu as the official language based on Article 152 of the Federal Constitution. Hence, the debate would definitely be a vital platform to nurture love for the Malay language and boost the language proficiency among the people,” he added.

There have been concerns over the frequent misuse (and grammatical errors) of the Malay language or morphology among students in schools and universities, which could be attributed to their lack of reading habit. Hence, Bahasa Rojak, a mix of Malay and English, has become the norm in the social media, with the situation turning into an unhealthy social trend among the younger generation.

Baharudin said Malay language proficiency among the Gen Z and the general public should be gradually enhanced as prerequisites for realising the aspirations toward a united Malaysian nation.

As such, he urged participants of the debate to cultivate the habit of reading more Malay academic journals which use proper and correct language, and that they should continue to hone their debating skills with proper and accurate use of the language from grammatical and sentence structure aspects.

 “I hope participants can go beyond debating in accurate, proper Malay language and courteously by making it a practice in their daily lives. We don’t want to see people who are only seeking certificates of participation and cash prizes from a particular competition, but eventually are not capable of practising all the principles of Rukun Negara on other occasions,” he said, adding that efforts toward racial integration should be implemented at school to ensure to social deficit does not worsen in the future.



Meanwhile, Deputy Vice Chancellor (Academic and International) Universiti Putra Malaysia, Prof Dr Ismi Arif Ismail also agreed that the debate is the best platform to discuss and share information in a courteous manner and that participants can present their arguments by nurturing a culture of respectful discourse.

In this regard, he said, efforts by all parties are needed to break down the barriers to social mobility through harmonious and ethical discussions as exemplified by past leaders who were united in fighting for the nation’s independence and for maintaining peace among various communities by encountering the May 13 incident in 1969.

Unity Debate participants will be able to discuss more about the importance of practicing Rukun Negara principles in community life.

 “Formulated after the May 13 racial riots, the Rukun Negara was drawn up on Aug 31, 1970 aimed at forging racial unity and harmony among the nation’s multiracial communities. Therefore, it is incumbent upon us to embrace all the principles of Rukun Negara in a holistic manner and as part of our daily lives.

 “Once each principle is understood, appreciated and embedded in our daily lives, then only the aspirations of Bangsa Malaysia can be realised,” he said.

He also said that there was no doubt that unity is fraught with challenges, but the practice of respecting and understanding each other will continue to be a ‘magical’ instrument that is resilient to any racial threats and conflict.

As such, he said efforts to enhance unity education at every level of the community should be undertaken, noting that Malaysians should learn lessons from the dark days of May 13, hence the need for mutual respect and sensitivity among Malaysians.

 “Unity education is important either on a formal or non-formal basis given that education can bring about a more permanent and sustainable change. As such, the debate programme should be promoted in a positive manner, while the government can provide initiatives to anyone making unity as a practice. A more proactive approach should be adopted in enforcement especially towards individuals who create disunity, instead of using punishment to problem solve.

 “Promotional efforts and unity education should be undertaken at all levels, namely from top to bottom, laterally and from bottom to top, so that all parties can take responsibility to embrace the culture of unity in their daily lives,” he added.



Translated by Salbiah Said


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