Aug 31 fuels resentment about ‘vassal states’ say activists

Among East Malaysians, questions about the proper date for National Day keep recurring.

PETALING JAYA: For many Malaysians, Aug 31 is a sacred date as it commemorates the country’s independence – but an alternative narrative about Merdeka Day being an insult to East Malaysians keeps circulating every year.

To political scientist and social activist Chandra Muzaffar, the issue lies much deeper than mere disagreement over the date.

“Stop debating about the date and face the real issues here,” he said.

Chandra said the resentment in East Malaysia stems from the unfair treatment meted out to Sabahans and Sarawakians since Malaysia came into being.

“They have become vassal states within Malaysia instead of equal partners,” he said.

Chandra Muzaffar

East Malaysians argue that it is illogical to celebrate National Day on Aug 31 – the day Malaya achieved independence in 1957 – because Malaysia, consisting of Malaya, North Borneo, Sarawak and Singapore, only formally came into being on Sept 16, 1963.

“When they first joined with Malaya, the expectation was that they would acquire the autonomy to govern their states as provided in the 1963 Malaysia Agreement. However, since that time, their rights have been eroded,” Chandra said.

Despite the states being a family, there is not enough communication between East and West Malaysia, he said.

“There is a need for greater interaction at all levels, from sports and cultural activities, to managing government departments and central agencies.”

Sabahans and Sarawakians must be given more opportunities to serve government bodies and agencies in West Malaysia.

“This is one thing that we must not disregard because it may affect the interests of the whole nation in the future,” he said.

Malaysians also have minimal knowledge of each other. This must change, he said.

Declassify Cabinet findings on MA63, says film-maker

A lot more cooperation was needed across the South China Sea, particularly to achieve the equitable distribution of profits from East Malaysia’s vast natural resources.

Sabahan film-maker Nadira Ilana is another who also feels “we’re always going to be fighting, not just over facts but semantics” because of the way history is taught in Malaysia.

Nadira Ilana

“For instance, July 22, 1963, is Sarawak’s self-determination day. But Aug 31, 1963 was also celebrated in Sarawak as their Independence Day.

The question today is: Are we celebrating the anniversary of Merdeka, or Malaysia Day, or are we using the occasion to examine our freedoms?” she said.

“History is all about perspectives,” she said. “The problem with Malaysia is that our media, history and education system are narrated almost exclusively through the peninsula lens.

“The best way to celebrate National Day and Malaysia Day would be to pressure the government to declassify the Cabinet Special Committee’s findings of the Malaysia Agreement 1963, which are still classified as official secrets!”