Merdeka Day used to bring Malaysians together for one big do, but politics has changed all that
Ugly two sides of a coin
Ugly two sides of a coin
TODAY, Aug 31, is Merdeka Day. It’s usually an occasion celebrated with parades and speeches remembering heroes in the struggle for indedependence, marked by the singing of patriotic songs and much flag-waving.
The celebrations also generally include groups of participants in colourful traditional costumes to remind us of our rich cultural heritage and diversity.
It should be a time of reflection on what nationhood means for Malaysia and how we want our country to move forward, a time of celebrating together as Malaysians with no regard to race, religion or political affiliation.
Unfortunately, we live in such a politically-charged atmosphere, with the impending 13th general election looming over us, that even National Day has turned into an occasion for petty squabbling and the inevitable politicking.
The official theme of Janji Ditepati (Promises Fulfilled) has been met with derision by the Opposition, who claim it is an empty slogan as many Government promises have not been fulfilled.
For their part, Pakatan Rakyat leaders have said they will skip the official celebrations for their own state-level one, complete with their own theme of Senegara, Sebangsa, Sejiwa(One Country, One Nation, One Soul).
So, instead of uniting the people as befits Merdeka Day, the celebration has been split along partisan lines.
Public reaction seems to range from indifference to disdain. We’re grown weary from waiting for the polls to be called and it’s hardly surprising if people are skeptical of the endless campaigning.
Meanwhile, there’s the important matter of what Merdeka Day means for Sarawak and Sabah. On this day in 1957, it was the Federation of Malaya which gained independence from the British. Sarawak became independent on July 22 1963 and Sabah on Aug 31 1963, shortly before Malaysia came into being on Sept 16 1963.
Some quarters have raised the point that today’s celebration has no relevance to Sarawak and Sabah, and that Malaysia Day on Sept 16 should be the rightful National Day.
Coupled with this is the tricky question of whether Malaysia is 55 or 49 years old, depen-ding on whether the birth of the nation is deemed to be in 1957 or 1963.
We’re in the peculiar position whereby Malaya became independent on Aug 31 1957, but the country of Malaysia was formed on Sept 16 1963 through the merger of Malaya, Singapore (which left in 1965), Sarawak and Sabah.
For Sarawakians and Sabahans, Sept 16 is the more meaningful date because it commemorates the birth of Malaysia, a nation of which we are a part. Peninsular Malaysians need to understand this and realise why Sept 16 is important to us here.
On our part, we should accept that Aug 31 is likewise an important date for the peninsula. However, since Sept 16 is Malaysia Day, it should be given equal, if not greater prominence, than Aug 31 as a truly national celebration of our coming together as a country.
Nevertheless, as we celebrate National Day today, let us be reminded of the Proclamation of Independence read out by Tunku Abdul Rahman in 1957. It ends with the hope that the newly-independent nation “with God’s blessing shall be forever a sovereign democratic and independent state founded upon the principles of liberty and justice and ever seeking the welfare and happiness of its people and the maintenance of a just peace among all nations.”
In line with this, the Christian Federation of Malaysia’s Merdeka Day message is a timely call for Malaysians to forge ahead and invest in building a progressive and better country for all.
“In this celebratory occasion let us dream a new dream for all Malaysians. We pray to Almighty God that He will grant us a new vision of Malaysia for ourselves and all our children. We are a nation truly blessed with so much potential in our multi-ethnic, multi-cultural and multi-religious communities.
“Let us mutually share all our resources, our wealth and opportunities and be a model nation to the nations around us. We can begin to do this by loving God and our neighbours as ourselves. Let us be responsible citizens of our beloved Malaysia. Let us care for those in need like the orphans and widows. May we meet the needs of the marginalised and others left by the wayside. In concert, let us jointly prosper our neighbours first.
“As Malaysians we step forward together in unity and harmony for all Malaysians and not pay heed to the strident voices of some with their narrow interests,” it said.
It also called for justice and righteousness to be upheld and for friendship, unity and harmony to be strengthened in the country.
May this be our prayer and hope for Malaysia as we celebrate this Merdeka Day.