KOTA KINABALU: The new Pakatan Harapan (PH) government has an opportunity to set the record straight on the significance of Malaysia Day, a celebration deemed less important than National Day by many in Peninsular Malaysia, says a political analyst.
UiTM Sabah’s Tony Paridi Bagang said although there is better acceptance of Malaysia Day across the country, certain people still see it as “an East Malaysian thing” rather than a cause for nationwide celebration.
“This should not be the case as Malaysia Day is equally important as National Day and every Malaysian should be made fully aware of its significance.
“We are embracing a ‘New Malaysia’ and I believe the present government does realise the need and urgency to change the mindset of Malaysians who still perceive Malaysia Day as insignificant,” Bagang told FMT.
He is encouraged by the early signs that the PH government could be different from its predecessor in its approach on instilling nationalism among people in Sabah and Sarawak but he is uncertain of the political will to sustain it.
The national-level celebration of the 55th anniversary of Malaysia’s formation will be centred here on Sunday.
Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad is scheduled to launch the celebration. He will be joined by other national leaders who will include Deputy Prime Minister Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, Economic Affairs Minister Azmin Ali, Defence Minister Mohamad Sabu and Communications and Multimedia Minister Gobind Singh Deo.
Bagang said one of the biggest obstacles in getting Malaysia Day on the same pedestal as National Day involves convincing people in the peninsula of its historical significance.
“While it is written in the history books, the essence of what Sept 16 brought to modern day Malaysia is somewhat lost among those in Peninsular Malaysia.
“One challenge is to change their perception towards the significant roles of Sabah and Sarawak, and to make them aware and understand clearly the history of both states.
“(Another is) to internalise the meaning of Sept 16, not only as a public holiday but as a historical moment for everybody to celebrate,” he said.
Bagang, however, admitted the new government might not be able to change the mindset overnight.
“But with commitment and political will, I believe that Malaysia Day will become a day when Malaysians will be proud to call themselves ‘Anak Malaysia’ (children of Malaysia),” he said.
Meanwhile, on Mahathir’s coming first visit to Sabah since taking over as the 7th prime minister, Bagang said he believes Sabahans will give him a rousing welcome despite his chequered past involving the state.
“Tun Mahathir is undoubtedly a living legend, an astounding political leader who has contributed significantly to Malaysia.
“I think, Sabahans will welcome him with an open heart as long as he brings something significant to Sabah (and Sarawak). Perhaps something about state autonomy and oil royalty.
“This is also high time to renew and strengthen the federal-state relations,” he said.
Both Sabah and Sarawak are pressing for greater state autonomy and higher oil royalty.
Mahathir was criticised over the widespread issuance of Malaysian identity cards to illegal immigrants under the so-called Project IC during his first stint as prime minister, for which a Royal Commission of Inquiry was established.
Besides that, he was also accused of sidelining Sabah and Sarawak in providing development.