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Seeking M’sia Day in Merdeka
Published on: Sunday, August 20, 2017

By Datuk Dr Johan Arriffin
While I enjoyed Namewee’s 60th Merdeka music video of Malayan stereotype depicting Malay, Chinese and Indian with the names Ali, Ahkao and Muthu, they have spoiled the fun video by the ending with actors “wishing Malaysia 60th Independence Day….60 years today we have been living together”.

What a major blunder!

It’s like the “Ola Bola” film all over again where the filmmakers try to rewrite history by changing the narrative.

It’s not a Malay who scored the winning goal and qualified Malaysia for the Moscow Olympics, but a Chinese named James Wong from Sabah.

Namewee’s video has since garnered more than 1.5 million views, a huge audience by any count and hence the more reason to get history right.

One historian observed that even our leaders are muddled about the history of Malaysia.

He said until today our KL leaders conveniently ignore the fact that our nation came into being after the Federated Malay States, Singapore, Sabah and Sarawak joined together and gave birth to a new nation called Malaysia.

From the statements by our leaders on the 60th Merdeka celebrations, it seems that “Merdeka” is equated with “Malaysia” as the same period in history and the word and meaning is interchanged frequently as being one of the same.

Merdeka is a Malayan celebration and nothing to do with us as Malaysia. This is very distressing and confusing from the perspective of history, he said.

Dr Jeffrey Kitingan, the Bingkor State Assemblyman is even more blunt about Malaysia Day celebrations.

In his September 2015 news portal statement, he said one cannot help but notice the oddity that the PM and the federal government are only celebrating Malaysia Day with events in Sabah and Sarawak with no significant events happening in Malaya, not even in Putrajaya or Kuala Lumpur. The events and ceremonies in Sabah and Sarawak by the federal leaders look more like a public relations exercises and a show to appease Sabahans and Sarawakians who are more nationalistic towards Malaysia than Malayans.

Dr Jeffrey pointed out that most Malayans have been indoctrinated with false and manipulated history of Malaysia as though Malaya is Malaysia that achieved independence on 31 August 1957, and that Umno leaders were at the forefront in the struggle for the independence.

The statement by Dr Jefferey is not without basis. In 2015, the Communications and Multimedia Ministry issued a directive that the 58th Merdeka celebration is to be known as “National Day 2015”.

“Merdeka” will be dropped to foster a closer relationship between East and West.

“This matter is to strengthen ties among the people, regardless if they were from the peninsula, Sabah or Sarawak because August 31, 1957 focuses on the independence of Malaya whereas September 16, 1963 is felt more in Sabah and Sarawak”, says a Ministry spokesman. It seems that in 2015, KL is gravitating towards making August 31st as the one and only National day and assimilate Malaysia day into the August 31st date by just dropping the word “Merdeka”. In 2017, we are back to 60th Merdeka.

The idea of twin national day perhaps can be explained by PM Najib’s speech in Dewan Rakyat in 2009.

PM Najib said the formation of Malaysia as an independent and sovereign country was an important chapter in the nation’s history.” As such, Malaysians will celebrate a twin national holiday.

Merdeka Day on Aug 31 which reminds us of the fight for independence from the colonialists will be celebrated with processions and so forth. Malaysia Day will be celebrated with activities to strengthen unity, racial understanding, and the people’s achievement in sports, socio-culture, culture and others to light up the spirit of 1Malaysia,” he said. By the PM’s speech, it seems that Malaysia day will be celebrated with a subdued tone, forgetting people like Mat Salleh who fought against the British (1897-1900) and the struggle of other East Malaysian leaders to free ourselves from our colonial masters and the Japanese Empire.

Forming Malaysia was not exactly a walk in the park. There were threats from neighbouring countries Indonesia and Philippines, opposition and apprehension from Sabah and Sarawak leaders and many backroom negotiations to get to where we are. It’s not like we took a sampan across the South China Sea and said we want to join Malaya and become one country.

Many East Malaysians feel the same sentiment and emotions as Dr Jeffrey. It’s a fact that it took the Federal Government 46 years to give Malaysia Day its due recognition and made it a public holiday.

Why it took the Federal government so long to recognize Malaysia Day raises many questions and Dr Jeffrey may have a valid point in his reasonings.

Malaysia day should be given a special status over all other celebrations, otherwise the feeling of antipathy with KL will continue. Dr Ooi Kee Beng in his book “Merdeka for the Mind”, wrote in 2015 “All in all, the present atmosphere in Malaysia is not conducive at all to any celebration of its ethnic diversity or its substantial economic potential.

Many are blaming the quality of leadership of its government, which tends to prefer silence to pronouncements of clear principles, especially with religious and ethnic issues”.

Although written in 2015, the situation has not changed much to the present day.

I was brought up at a time when Merdeka Day had a lot of significance for me. Feeling patriotic, I flew the “Jalur Gemilang’ and the Sabah State flag at my gates in August as a far as I can remember.

Then came the realisation that Malaysia Day is more important than Merdeka Day, and without Sabah and Sarawak there would be no Malaysia.

Today, East Malaysians still feel that Malaysia Day is overshadowed by Merdeka Day as the National day.

Even the flags, buntings and hoardings put out before August 31 Merdeka Day celebrations looks faded and tattered before the September 16 Malaysia Day celebrations.

Some Sabahans have questioned the need for two big celebrations so close to one another, saying its wasting people’s time and tax payer’s money when we can have one big celebration on Malaysia day.

East Malaysians have doubts whether we are truly “Merdeka”. Local activist says we are only innocent bystanders in a grander scheme of things controlled by KL. Some envy Selangor and Penang where the state government have greater autonomy.

“Whatever we contribute by way of taxes and oil resources in East Malaysia will go to grandiose over inflated projects like the RM55 billion ECRL project, paying US$600 million to settle debts with Abu Dhabi government, forking out an extra RM475 million to appease Felda FGV settlers to cover past financial mismanagement, etc. Rent seeking mentality and leakages through corruption cases like Sabah Water Works have further deprived the rural areas of clean piped water.

The Auditor General gave the State Government “good report” without mentioning glaring weakness in the Sabah Water Works case. Cabotage exemption is mere talk and broken promises and RCI on Project IC is just window dressing.

Critiques calculated that it will take at least two or three generations for us to pay all those debts due to these extravagance and excess of the current government.

It hurts our pride as a nation and damage our international financial standing when we could not pay the first tract of debt repayment on time to the Abu Dhabi Government. We still don’t know why we owe another government money as it has never been clearly explained.

Even after 60 years of Merdeka in KL, we are more divided across racial and religious lines.

People who saw youths throw all kind of things on video at our 91 year old former Prime Minister are wondering whether we are in the state of anarchy.

We have lost the “adat Melayu” of respect and filial piety and replaced it with hooliganism and boorishness.

The older generation who sacrificed and worked hard to build Malaysia see things crumbling before their eyes.

When will this roller coaster ride end? It’s hard to say.

On Malaysia day, East Malaysians are hoping that KL will drop the divisive politics and finally recognise Sabah and Sarawak as equal partners in Malaysia. They hold out hope that there will be positive outcomes from the dialogues between the State and the Federal Government on more autonomy and the right to chart out our destiny as contained in the Malaysia Agreement 1963. We want more development with world class infrastructure and not be laggards in the national agenda.

However, this might be wishful thinking for now. If our leaders are looking for a guiding light for the nation, we don’t have to look so far. It’s contained in the “Rukun Negara” or national principles.

There is no need to reinvent the wheel. The preamble to “Rukun Negara, “Creating a just society where the prosperity of the country can be enjoyed together in a fair and equitable manner and guaranteeing a liberal approach towards her rich and varied cultural traditions” is something that needs to be emphasised and hold fast in our nation building.

To all Malaysians, happy 60th Malaysia Day, 54 years we have been together. Forgive me for the pun.

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