Merdeka Day: A Dream or a Nightmare?

Kuala Lumpur
August 31, 2008

Happy Merdeka or should it be Unhappy Merdeka? No Malaysian Jalur Gemilang is on display, reflecting the mood of Malaysians on the occasion of our 51st anniversary of Independence. Even the Prime MInister’s speech to the nation sounded bland. It was totally uninspiring; in fact, his appeal for national unity was at best hypocritical, given the display of extreme Malay nationalism of his party, UMNO, which we witnessed during the March 8 General Election and the August 26 by-election in Permatang Pauh.

There is growing disenchantment with the leadership of Badawi and Malaysians are completely fed up with the performance of the UMNO-led and dominated Barisan Nasional government in recent years. Are we in a period of national mourning? I wonder.

Almost everyone left town since last Friday (August 29) to enjoy the long weekend with their families and friends in their home towns, Kuala Lumpur is empty and it is pleasure to drive around since there is no the usual traffic jam except for Saturday (August 30) when the Police and the FRU cordoned off the area in the vicinity of Kelab Sultan Sulaiman, Kampong Baru, where the PKR Wanita held a family day partly to celebrate Anwar Ibrahim’s crushing defeat of his UMNO opponent, Arif Shah in the Permatang Pauh by-election on August 26 but mainly to bring families,relaties and friends of PKR members together on the eve of Merdeka Day. The function ended peacefully, and the presence of the FRU and Police was unnecessary and costly.

I do not know what you will be doing on Merdeka Day. I have decided to switch off the TV and read a good book. Here is an interesting piece from Sim Kwang Yang for your reading pleasure.

I share Sim’s laments and concerns as he is of my generation. When we were growing up, we mixed freely and visited one another without fear that we are less Malay, less Chinese or less Indian. After 51 years, we are divided on the basis of class, race and religion. Our government was less corrupt during those early years, compared with the last 27 years (since 1981). What happened is entirely our fault because we were indifferent and allowed our leaders, the so-called Tuans, to act with impunity. It is time we change that and tell the present leadership that enough is enough. >

May our 52nd anniversary of independence be a less depressing one.—Din Merican

Sim Kwang Yang | August 30, 08

Merdeka celebration seems muted this year.

The severe cut in budget allocation probably has something to do with the reduced scale with which our nation’s independence is being commemorated.

Last year, the half-century independence celebration cost the nation some RM100 million.It seems like an obscene amount of money just to parade the pomp and ceremony of patriotism.

Now that the country is engulfed in a global crisis in oil and food prices with inflation rate hitting the highest peak in 27 years, such lavish spending on Merdeka celebration would not go down so well with a rakyat that has just given the BN the worst thumping in 50 years!

`malaysia merdeka 50th anniversary 280807 ethnicWhat it shows is that the grand celebration last year, and many years before that, were all popped up by huge allocation of public funds. When the degree of national joy on Independence Day is measured by how much money is available to make things happen, something is seriously wrong with our country.

Sarawakians and Sabahans will grumble about the injustice of the Malay nationalist grand narrative to no end. Once again, they will remind the world about the historical fact that Malaysia came into being on 16 September 1963, and not 31 August 1957. But these are the marginal voices out there, on the other side of a vast expanse of sea water, seldom heard in Kuala Lumpur, and so hardly deserve serious attention. The official history book cannot be wrong, or at least that is what many Malaysians think.

This year though, the voices of discontent from the East may have to be taken seriously. Sabah MPs from the ruling coalition have been making rebellious noises in Parliament. Some are eloquent in ways only Sabahan and Sarawakian MPs are capable of.

What is the use of living in a big house, they asked, if you are denigrated to a small corner near the stinking toilet? Would it not be better if you move into the master bedroom in a smaller house? Needless to say, I share their sentiment entirely.

Anwar Ibrahim factor

Suddenly, their words resonate ominously following the by-election at Permatang Pauh on the eve of Independence Day this year. The head honcho of PKR and Pakatan Rakyat, Anwar Ibrahim, has just won a significant victory in a three-corner fight, defeating the BN candidate by a two-to-one majority. Apparently, the multiracial electorate of that constituency in Penang felt revolted by the sodomy charges brought against him.

anwar pc permatang pauh 02 260808Anwar has on many occasions reiterated his plan to persuade sufficient MPs from the BN in East and West Malaysia to defect to the opposition by Sept 16 to form a majority in Parliament, and thereby bring about a regime change. If and when that happens, the PM will probably recommend to the Agong to dissolve Parliament to pave way for another general election. If the Agong should refuse his request, and exercise his discretion in appointing Anwar as the new PM, as is provided for under the Federal Constitution, then what will happen?

Already, there are the odd over-imaginative commentators who wonder aloud whether the ensuing confusion would entice the armed forces to take over the government in a coup-de-tat. I suppose they have been mistakenly inspired by events in Thailand. But I doubt very much if that will happen. Our military has never enjoyed the kind of influence in national politics as the Thai soldiers. They have had a half-century tradition of obedience and loyalty to their political masters in the civilian government.

So I am waiting to celebrate my National Day on Sept 16. Events in the next two and a half weeks ought to be messy. Everybody would be holding his breath to see whether or how Anwar Ibrahim is going to pull another giant rabbit out of his huge political hat! At least, you cannot blame Malaysian politics for being dull these days!

Nevertheless, we are so embroiled in the daily political drama unfolding before our eyes that perhaps there has not been sufficient reflection on the true meaning of independence.

Certainly, for young Malaysians, it means just another public holiday, for shopping and lazing around. On the eve, it offers another occasion for them to descend upon Bukit Bintang in large numbers for another orgy of noisy and boisterous fun and the countdown to midnight.

Fearful negative connotations

What independence means is nothing less than national liberty, freedom from the yoke of colonialism, the right to determine our own destiny, and the power of self-determination so that our citizens will enjoy the fruit of their labour. We are supposed to be the master of our own destiny. Those were our dreams, and the dreams of our founding fathers.

Independence also means freedom from the bondage to a foreign power, from being taxed without our consent, and the lack of the responsibility for the defence of our homeland.

These ringing words that were so powerful and loud in the 50s and 60s are now seldom heard, as if they have been forgotten. In fact, we discover that those laws and regulations that were enacted and used to fetter the freedom of Malaysians by our former colonial masters are now used to oppress dissidents and critics of the government.

merdeka 51st celebration 290808In fact, freedom is now painted as a word with fearful negative connotations. Day in and day out, we are reminded by our elected leaders that freedom is equal to license, the nihilistic idea of doing what one wants without responsibility and restraint.

Freedom has been equated with seditious tendency, with people going wild and violent because they have ultra-sensitive religious and racial nerves, and with riots and rampant killing on the streets that will destroy stability and economic development.

For 50 years, we may have said farewell to our former British colonial masters, but their colonial instruments for the oppression of the people and the suppression of their fundamental liberties have been preserved, reinforced, and abused by the same group of ruling elite to ensure their hold on political power.

Like their former colonial tuans, the new ruling class in the new nation-state has monopolised all rights towards the articulation of national interest. In the name of that national interest, which only they can narrate, they – like their colonial masters before them – severely limit citizens’ rights to free speech, free expression of ideas, freedom of the press, and freedom of association. Until today, an assembly of more than five persons is still considered by the police as an illegal assembly. What has our half century of independence achieved?

In the half century until today, I have grown from a young boy of nine to an old man of 60. I have watched how political discourse in our public sphere has been dominated by the language of fear, especially the language of xenophobic fear of one race for another. Like their former colonial masters, the post-independence ruling elite have entrenched this pathos of nameless fear to divide and rule a nation of many races, and a small multiracial handful of politicians and their cronies grow fabulously rich overnight.

‘I have a dream’

In the past week, numerous orators in the American Democratic Convention have made reference to the fact that this year marks the 45th anniversary of the “I have a dream” speech made by Martin Luther King. Meanwhile, they proceeded to nominate an African-American to be a presidential candidate for the first time in their history.

bill hilarry clinton campaign 061007 obamaIt must be noted that King’s dream is not a dream only for Afro-American dream; it was meant to be the reformulation of the American dream. Barack Obama’s campaign is run entirely on an appeal towards reviving and reinventing this American dream, rather than succumbing again to Bush’s past campaign of xenophobic fear.

Back in Malaysia, we have Malay dreams, Indian dreams, Chinese dreams, Sarawakian and Sabahan dreams. We have as many dreams as there are ethnic communities, thanks to the 50 years of race based politics. So where is the one Malaysian dream to unite and define our polyglot citizens into one proud people.

2008 has been a watershed in our history. To describe any historical event as a watershed is to indulge in cliché I know. In this case, the cliché may be warranted.

From here on, the political waters in our country may be flowing in a different direction. The idea of justice for all may be just the kind of concept that is needed to transcend the narrow constricting strait jacket of racial politics. The old idea of “justice” needs to be beefed up, but the ten-thousand mile long march must begin with the first step.

Merdeka: Dream or nightmare?

30 thoughts on “Merdeka Day: A Dream or a Nightmare?

  1. Permatang Pauhans set the mood for CHANGE – tens of thousands of flags fluttering in the air in the recent by-election sent the message of HOPE that Malaysians want a freer Malaysia!

    Shame on you UMNO/BN you have failed, after 51 years your ship has grounded!

  2. It is a dream alright, the only question is what type of dream are talking about. when I was small, every Merdeka celebration, as a family we will be up early, mum will cook Nasi Lemak, and all of us will be infront of the TV watching the Merdeka March.

    Today, my children prefer to watch cartoon, and need real coaxing just to be proud of the country. So it is actually very sad. Manage to get one, but the others. Probably my fault, but than again the situation is as such.

    Why this situation, I think it is more of being upset with how the country is being manage than Malaysia as a nation.

    Hopefully, it will change and who knows “GOD WILLING” next Merdeka Celebration might give us the joy we seek.

    Good Luck Malaysia, Selamat Hari Kebangsaan.

  3. There goes Mr Duplicity once again!

    Without lifting his gaze to the direction of the man sitting directly opposite him in Parliament, he ‘warned’, he would not sit back and watch the sinking of Titanic BN. How does this HP6 PM hope to do that, is anybody’s guess. 😀

    This was what Malaysia’s Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi said in Parliament on fri 29 Aug 2008:

    “Budget 2009 – 123:

    I wish to reiterate that the Barisan Nasional Government, which has been given the mandate by the people in March this year, will continue to safeguard political stability and enhance economic prosperity of the nation. Efforts by certain parties to destabilise the country by attempting to seize power through illegitimate means, and without the mandate of the people, must be rejected. We cannot allow uncertainties to continue, as this will adversely affect foreign investment, economic sentiment and the capital markets. I will not allow these disturbances to continue. I will not permit the mandate given by the people to be seized from Barisan Nasional, which had won the last election with a majority of the seats, based on democratic principles. I am confident the people will continue to support the Barisan Nasional Government to govern the nation. We need to get on with the business of governing and not waste any more time with opportunistic threats to seize the people’s mandate through undemocratic means. ”

    Whoa, suddenly this PM is giving attention to Pakatan Rakyat’s Anwar Ibrahim? Didn’t his grave-digger son-in-law say he would bury Anwar in Permatang Pauh?

    Why the necessity to give Anwar the publicity at nation’s Budget 2009 presentation in Parliament? He is afterall not to be trusted and taken seriously, didn’t his bunch of baboons say so just a week ago? Why the sudden fragile ego? 😀

  4. Today marks our 51st Independence Day. The big question is, are we truly Independent? Insyaalah, come September 16, 2008, Malaysia will truly become Merdeka (Independent) when the BN/Umno regime is replaced by YB Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim’s Pakatan Rakyat.

    It appears Malaysians are not alone in their struggle against the oppressive BN/Umno regime. Their brethren across the Causeway in Singapore are also joining forces with their Malaysian brethren to bring about regime change in Malaysia. Go to

  5. The realization of the sudden need to change has always been there. Everyone once in awhile gets tired of the same old rhetoric where only BN and UMNO can take care of us when we should realise that it is we who have been taking care of ourselves.

    We have been providing for the nation as much as anyone else and therefore, the change has always been within reach. We just needed that little push – and that’s when Anwar Ibrahim comes in.

  6. Din,

    Foremost syabas and thank you for your fervent work throughout the campaining period in PP. It is individuals like you who can teach our young and old the true meaning of love for nationhood without self-interest.

    This article you have posted cuts a deep slash in the heart. It reveals the hopes, fears and pains of this nation as it suffers under the powers of politicians and citizenry whose care is only their personal well being.

    Truly, the man in the street – in the cities and the kampongs / villages, is breaking under the yoke of a failing economy and social disaray.

    The Moment-of-Truth meanwhile is inching its way as September 16 holds out one last hope in the horizon.

    We pray for Malaysia and may dawn break with an amazing grace of hopes for all Anak Malaysia.

  7. National Day is what I’d like to remember, perhaps. Rather than Merdeka Day! This 08 National Day is not ordinary. It has been said to be uproarious, tumultous year.

    I don’t believe in eternal peace; that’s for the zombies, the dead. I do believe in natural disasters like huge floods that sweep and devastate crickety plants and poisonous ivies. It really doesn’t matter that I believe in it, it will happen when it nees to. In the aftermath, life will not be defeated and will bloom again!

    The only reason why some people think Merdeka is good is because it gives a lot of bizness to RTM and of course their favourite celebrities and contractors, their cosmetic people, their props people, the jingle composers …. We could do that more realistically and for free—you know as free as foam from Shabery’s mouth!

  8. “If and when that happens, the PM will probably recommend to the Agong to dissolve Parliament to pave way for another general election. If the Agong should refuse his request, and exercise his discretion in appointing Anwar as the new PM, as is provided for under the Federal Constitution, then what will happen?”

    What will happen is that the Agong is unlikely to agree to another general election!

    It will not be seen as a partisan decision or an interference in the political process by the country’s monarch. Nationwide elections cost money which would not only strain the nation’s budget but would place undue burden on the tax paying rakyat; and under conditions when strict financial discipline is called for, a decision by the Agong to go along with that request is unlikely.

    The country’s Federal Constitution 1957 mandates that the Agong act according with advice: Article 40 (1) – “ in the exercise of his functions the Agong shall act in accordance with the advice of the Cabinet, or a Minister acting under the general authority of the Cabinet, except as otherwise provided” : Article 40(1).

    It is otherwise provided that the Agong may act in his discretion when withholding consent to a request for the dissolution of parliament”: Article 40 (2) (b).

    The Agong cannot on his own motion order that Parliament be dissolved but he can withhold consent to a request that Parliament be dissolved.

    The Agong would not be appointing Anwar Ibrahim as PM by so withholding his consent. The Agong would be appointing as Prime Minister a member of the House of Representatives who “in his judgment” is likely to command the confidence of the majority of members of that House”: Article 43(2)(a).

    I do not see a constitutional crisis looming over the horizon! It is all provided for under our Constitution.

  9. I recall some years back, in fact many years back, I used to get up early on 31st August to watch national TV the national day celebrations.

    It’s sad for me to say that I don’t do that these days. I just cannot bring myself to face the country’s leaders standing by the side waving their hands as the parade march by. I ask myself this question, “What is there to celebrate?”

    No, there’s nothing for me to celebrate. After all these years we are still being called pendatangs and squarters. The inaction and stand taken by the leaders only confirm that such comments hold true to their belief. We have been truly conned all this while into supporting the BN, more specifically the component parties like MCA, Gerakan and MIC.

    To the PM I have this to say and sadly I have to say it on this 31st day of August. You have failed and failed miserably. If you think otherwise it can only mean that you have never ever wanted to be a PM for all Malaysians in the first place. If you have not said this, then maybe just maybe we will be able to pardon your behaviour.

    Your inaction during the Parliament debate on the DNA Bill was equally pathetic to say the least. It demonstates and confirms the kind of leader that you are. Sometimes I wonder if you are just a puppet on the strings, your actions being controlled by the person or people on the other ends of these strings. I’m amazed and aghast for nobody amongst the BN cabinet stood up to fight for the appointment of a select committee to evaluate the readiness to implement such an important Bill which when become law can potentially usurp the rule of law because of the obvious flaws. Even the Bar Council’s concerns were brushed aside. The present state of public confidence, perceived or factually, in our juidicay and the police gives the shivers down our spines when this Bill becomes Law.

    What about the 2009 Budget? I’m utterly speechless, again! Let’s honestly ask and answer this question, “Who really get to benefit from this Budget?” You call it a “caring budget”?

    So tell me, how can we be expected to celebrate this once historic 31st day of August? We just do not know how!

    My TV is off the channels that show the national day celebrations; and I don’t even read those newspapers of ours anymore. It’s so much better spending the holidays with my family – at home. For it has become too costly to venture out – petrol ain’t affordable anymore; road tolls are everywhere; and police road blocks are a real nuisance!!

  10. “Back in Malaysia, we have Malay dreams, Indian dreams, Chinese dreams…”

    Malays are dreamers. There is nothing wrong in that.

    The Malays have long dreamt of the day when Malay political hegemony is complete and Malay economic status unchallenged. Instead what they got is UMNO political hegemony and the unjust enrichment of the politically connected and economically privileged – the tyranny of the few over the majority.

    Malays, Chinese, Indians and Kadazans etc have played together, worked together and lived together – but separately. It is not enough for us now to dream together.

  11. Few bothered to fly the national flag anymore. There was a time when Malaysians would stick on mini flags on their cars but this year, I hardly see them. The mood is just not there anymore. The rakyat are getting sick of this BN government.

  12. That’s right! Get over it! We have been independent from the Brits beginning from 1957.

    We don’t need the likes of Mahathir to come and tell us that we are not independent from the Brits and help launch yet another political career in the wake of policies like “But British Last” policy. No, thank you!

  13. Have to bookmark your blog…..after reading your Face to Face interview in Malaysia Today…..superbly articulated….so refreshing to read such intellectual integrity in an unbiased overview of Malaysia’s political scenario….there is hope for Malaysia with people like you in DSAI camp…..reading your article make my day and make it not too depressing a 51st Merdeka.

  14. Yucks, why do you want to remind us of Shabery’s disgusting look! …Jong

    That you puked and asked is why! 😀

    But I’m wondering tomorrow what cigarettes smell like. You know they don’t smell so bad when you smoke them. 😀

    One of the things that bug me when when fasting is, not foaming, but the terrible salivating in the first few days!

    Actually the beginning of fasting was announced much earlier—when Dollah started the rotten hike in fuel prices! 😦

  15. We should celebrate MERDEKA and with gusto not because of but despite UMNO. We have a wonderful country, stable, peaceful, quite prosperous and above all blessed by God with sufficient wealth for everyone. And Malaysians are great people!

    Our trouble is that we have a bunch of crooks who have been running the country for the past three decades. Hopefully, very soon, this will all change and we shall have some sanity returning to these shores. We have all suffered in silence for so long. A little while longer will not make too much of a difference. The good people of Permatang Pauh have shown us the way… so there is no reason why we should not rejoice.

    But we must beware and keep expectations realistic.

  16. This was what Bodowhi, KJ and their cohorts from Umno were shouting on Merdeka Day:

    “Mau duit kah ?”

    “Mau duit kah ?”

    “Mau duit kah ?”

  17. When Ayah Tam raised his hand that clear, crisp morning of August 31st fifty one years ago, his shouts of Merdeka! Merdeka! Merdeka! were not meant to lay claim on behalf of UMNO to the country’s struggle for independence. Indeed there was no struggle at all. Ayah Tam (as we used to call him because he was darker than the rest like my grandmother was) raised his hand with pride not of his accomplishment but to express joy and relief that the drawn out negotiations with the Brits were finally over.

    He could have well shouted “Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!” and Martin Luther King would have been pleased six years later.

    The right to celebrate Independence Day belongs to all of us. It is not the exclusive right of any one political party or group of people. So why should we go round flying our national flag upside down as suggested by some here?

    Did Tunku look like he was in distress when he raised his hand that morning which came to be regarded many years later as his signature move, accompanied by shouts of Merdeka! echoed seven times by the tens of thousands of people who were told before hand that morning to do as he did?

    There has been much speculation about why he used an open right hand as opposed to a clenched fist. The truth is he did not have any reason for it. He suffered from arthritis of the right hand. Had he had his usual pack of his favorite whiskey that morning, he would have clenched his fist and perhaps gave a blow to the jaw of the representative to the British Crown present for having delayed the ceremony.

  18. Jong

    BN has not paid their bills for the flags and buntings. So the flag makers are not going to make flags like last year. Last year BN bought the flags and gave them away.

    Malaysians don’t take pride in Merdeka. They are more concerned about politics. Merdeka crosses political lines and should be observed by all Malaysians irregardless of their political affiliation. In the US July 4th is celebrated by all not just the Republicans or Democrats.

    Last year someone wrote a letter saying why should he celebrate Merdeka as only BN and Malays benefit from it. I wrote back that Merdeka doesn’t have to be celebrated by the ruling party but by all Malaysian. Political parties come and go but Malaysia is there to stay. Merdeka signify the birth of a nation. Malaysians must be thankful for being born in Malaysia as opposed to another country such as Myanmmar or Zimbabwe. 10-4

  19. Shrek, you said:

    “Malaysians must be thankful for being born in Malaysia as opposed to another country such as Myanmmar or Zimbabwe.”

    Thank you for placing ourselves with Myanmar and Zimbabwe as our benchmark! What about Sudan? Maybe Niger or Sierra Leone, have you forgot about them? That’s lowest of the low comparison! Are we supposed to be eternally thankful and watch without a fight while the bunch of thieves and despicable scumbags, and to borrow a term you used earlier, – “hiding behind the robes of Judges, the guns of the Police and the sarongs of the Attorney General”, screw the rakyat and country left, right and centre?!

    You’re right I forgot about their unpaid bills! That explains it. The suppliers can now forget about payment lah, dah ‘pooo-chi’ !!!

  20. Jong

    Wah so good memory about what I wrote. I wasn’t trying to compare Malaysia to either countries but if we are not careful and make changes that’s where we will end up. Yes there are other countries like you mentioned and I am sure their citizens wished they were born elsewhere.

    Being born in Malaysia has given us Malaysians peace and development growing up. The country is stable and is not involved in any war or other natural disaster such as earthquake, poverty and misery, tsunami, cyclone and typhoon. Isn’t that enough to be thankful for politics aside?

    Look at our neighbors, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, they have suffered wars and fighting leading to death of millions. Yet I see Vietnamese, Laotian and Cambodians living in the US speaking highly about their country except for the ruling communist. They are proud of their heritage and nationality. This is what I was alluding to.

    I have always supported the fight for better government, one that is fair and equitable and I oppose those that believe in Ketuanan Melayu. As I also said earlier, Melayu is nothing if not being emulated by other races. 10-4

  21. hahaha you know why Shrek? – it sound so original and so unique :

    “hiding behind the robes of Judges, the guns of the Police and the sarongs of the Attorney General”, 😀

    Where did that sarong come from? I nearly fell off the chair, how not to forget!!! 😀

  22. Jong

    People always wonder what’s under the Scottish kilt. So in Malaysia you might be suprised what’s under the sarong. It’s worn by both men and women and so is gender neutral. The sarong is also the favorite ‘gift” by UMNO/BN in fishing for votes.

    Remember sometime back a PAS member was charged with lifting his sarong at Wanita UMNO election workers. Mr Bean has always been fascinated with the Sarong Kebaya. Especially worn by Nona Nona zaman sekarang. 10-4

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