On Aug 4, I was on a Malindo Air flight from Kota Kinabalu to Kuala Lumpur to attend a meeting. Reading the flight magazine, I could feel my heartbeat speeding up and my stress level rising at the headline “Malaysia Independence Day Parade, Aug 31, 2019”.
The accompanying description read: “Also known as Hari Merdeka Parade, the main parade is held at Merdeka Square in commemoration of being the original site of the first Independence Day parade.”
Hello! Original site of the Malaysia independence parade? What are you talking about? First of all, Malaysia was formed on Sept 16, 1963, and Sabah and Sarawak had their own Padang Merdeka for the Malaysia declaration ceremony.
The next page got more interesting. The first paragraph read: “Merdeka Merdeka Merdeka! It was just like yesterday, when Malaysia’s first prime minister Tunku Abdul Rahman chanted ‘Merdeka’ (which means independence) 62 years ago in Merdeka Stadium, Kuala Lumpur. Malaysians always associate August with independence and patriotism, simply because the country gained independence on Aug 31, 1957 from the British empire. The federation was officially formed as Malaya, which consists of the states in peninsula and Singapore. The federation then changed its name to Malaysia with the inclusion of Sabah and Sarawak in 1963 and Singapore seceded to become an independent republic in 1965.”
Wow, talk about rewriting history in an in-flight magazine. Interestingly, there were pictures of the peninsular states but none of Sabah and Sarawak.
I am not in the habit of correcting or criticising other writers, but I feel the need to correct the version of a period of history that has been conveniently ignored or distorted. Perhaps the writer was a product of our Malaysian education system which teaches history to suit a particular political agenda instead of telling a factual account. I can’t think of any other reason.
East Malaysians don’t associate August with independence and patriotism – far from it. A history lesson for the ignoramus: Malaysia was formed through the Malaysia Agreement 1963 (MA63), signed by the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, the Federation of Malaya, North Borneo, Sarawak and Singapore. Singapore seceded from Malaysia, becoming an independent state on Aug 9, 1965.
Singapore was not part of the federated Malay states, the federation never changed its name, and Sabah and Sarawak were never an inclusion. They were entities that formed Malaysia by way of MA63.
For the first time since 2010, Singapore was ranked the world’s most competitive economy this year, beating the US. If Sabah and Sarawak had seceded at the same time as Singapore, we could have become a greater nation instead of merely a vassal state of Putrajaya, as we are today.
I can only dream of an efficient underground system, buses that run like clockwork, clean toilets at the airports and malls, no littering, low rates of crime and corruption, less about religion and race, no fugitives like Dr Zakir Naik, no sleazy senators who think men should be protected from rape by women, being the best at math and science and, most of all, a strong and vibrant economy.
I have to accept that we can’t turn back the clock, but I can dream of what Sabah and Sarawak could have been with their huge oil and gas resources. What we are getting now is a miserable 5% oil royalty despite Sabah producing almost 60% of the national oil production. We have to beg for annual allocations for infrastructure, education and health services, while Singapore, with no natural resources, advances even further on the world stage.
If the writer of the magazine was plugged in on Malaysian politics, she would have known that Sabah and Sarawak have been in the news of late. In his parliamentary speech on April 9, Dr Mahathir Mohamad promised to amend Article 1(2) of the Federal Constitution on the definition of the states in the federation comprising Malaya, Sabah and Sarawak. Under MA63, Sabah and Sarawak are equal partners, but over time they became only two of the states of Malaysia.
“Malaysia Baru and the Pakatan Harapan government take cognisance of this and will return the associate status to Sabah and Sarawak,” Mahathir said.
However, Sabah and Sarawak lost a golden opportunity to regain their position as equal partners in Malaysia when the constitutional amendment failed to be passed in Parliament. So it’s back to the drawing board for us.
Aiseh! Why are Malayans still ignorant about our history? Sadly, our education system is slanted towards race and religion, and now the mastering of Jawi calligraphy as if it’s the most important written language in the world. How would we trade with the rest of the world, writing everything in Jawi? Wouldn’t we be better off mastering the English language and learning Malaysian history? What are our priorities here? What next? Drop English and have all students learn to speak Arabic?
Incidentally, Malaysia Day was only declared a public holiday in October 2009, 46 years after Malaysia was formed. How sad is that? Malaysia Day is celebrated in a big way only in East Malaysia and not in the heart of our capital. Merdeka Day still continues to overshadow Malaysia Day.
There is a big disconnect between East and West Malaysia. West Malaysia is more concerned about water cuts in the Klang Valley; East Malaysia is concerned about when we are going to get piped clean water, roads and bridges. West Malaysia is preoccupied with the gay sex tapes while Sabah is concerned over whether there will be a repeat of the Kampung Tanduo territorial invasion by the armies of neighbouring countries, and the Philippines’ claim over the state.
While West Malaysia enjoys good infrastructure and security, Sabahans are still uneasy over the large numbers of illegal immigrants and those who were reportedly given citizenship under Project IC.
Next year is Visit Malaysia Year 2020. The current minister of tourism, arts and culture is Mohammadin Ketapi, and the chairman of Tourism Malaysia is Ahmad Shah Hussein Tambakau. Both of them are from Sabah. It would be a shame if neither of them could correct the erroneous version of history in that flight magazine which gives tourists a false impression of how Malaysia came about. Keep in mind that the pictures in the magazine were supplied by Tourism Malaysia.
Happy Merdeka Day to my fellow Malaysians in Peninisular Malaysia; don’t forget to wish me the same come Sept 16. Remember, without Sabah and Sarawak there would be no Malaysia. You would still be Malaya.
The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.