The real reason why Malaysia Day celebration is muted

I may be wrong, but I didn’t see much enthusiasm for Malaysia Day. Sept 16 came and went but most Malaysians were doing what they would normally do; it was just another day.

Even Merdeka Day didn’t seem to elicit the joy that I’d seen in earlier years.

And I don’t find too many houses and business premises flying the national flag. Do you?

Certainly the Covid-19 pandemic and the resultant economic difficulties have seriously – in some cases fatally – dampened the celebratory spirit. But is that the only reason?

My late father would, now and then, impart information and advice to me, including about the early days of the nation. I remember hearing of the spontaneous flare-up of patriotism and joy on Aug 31,1957. All over the country, people attended gatherings to welcome the birth of Malaya, and neighbours celebrated by sharing food. He said even shopkeepers handed out sweets or other edibles during that period to children who went to the shops either alone or with their parents.

When Malaysia was proclaimed in 1963 there was celebration too. He said the Chettiar community in Penang, for instance, sponsored a fireworks display at the Esplanade and that philanthropist N Rengasamy Pillay gave away money and land worth more than $100,000.

I found a report which said that Rengasamy had indeed made these contributions. For instance, he gave 5 acres of land to the Lower Perak Tamil Co-operative Housing Society, about 3 acres to the Lower Perak Malay Co-operative Housing Society and 4 acres to the Roman Catholic Mission for a vocational school. He also gave an acre each to 30 needy families to celebrate the formation of Malaysia.

I believe there were others who had similarly given gifts then.

Even in subsequent years, I had heard of someone or other giving to charity or doing some other good deed during these annual celebrations.

I didn’t hear of anyone giving any such gift this Merdeka or Malaysia Day. Did you?

I may be wrong but I got the feeling that this year, Malaysians were not as enthusiastic about celebrating Malaysia Day.

The reason, I believe, after talking to some people, is that they don’t know where the nation is headed. And they are worried.

People have lost confidence in the nation’s leaders. I would venture to say that except for die-hard party or personality supporters, Malaysians are fed-up.

The recent antics of politicians have shown that the welfare of all citizens is not their main agenda; it is but peripheral to their main agenda of enjoying power and pelf or working for their own communal interest.

Many still can’t understand how parties they had rejected in the 2018 general election are now sitting in Putrajaya making laws. The very recent memory of politicians jumping from one party to another to change the power equation still rankles. It is not surprising that the “jumpers” have been branded “traitors” or “betrayers” by some of those who voted them into Parliament.

The group in power is grabbing at every straw possible to stay in power while the group that was ousted is itching to take back power. Investors and businessmen don’t like political instability, and the present situation is not conducive for economic growth.

In Sabah, one politician was appointed chief minister but within days, another took over. Then there was a tussle between the two – and two major political alliances – until fresh elections were called, forcing the electorate to go to the polls again less than three years after they had voted in the general election.

What’s happening in the Sabah state election is a sad reflection of the national scene: the politicians are making all sorts of promises and running down each other just to get power. A total of 447 candidates from 16 parties are fighting for 73 seats – that tells us how attractive power is.

But I hasten to add that there are some politicians who are genuinely interested in serving the people and who hold on to principles. Some of them have done splendidly by helping improve the living conditions and neighbourhoods of their constituents or by speaking up boldly and articulately in Parliament. Sadly, they are still in the minority.

Then again, political parties are openly saying they are ganging up to “protect” the racial or religious rights of their own community. In doing so, they are further dividing Malaysians according to race and religion.

When second prime minister Razak Hussein expanded the Alliance and rebranded it as the Barisan Nasional, he was not thinking of the rights of any one single race; he was thinking of the future of all the races making up Malaysia and how to forge a united nation.

Razak was a Malaysian. Although he also worked to uplift the lives of the Malay community, it was not at the expense of any other community. He introduced the New Economic Policy to help the Malays rise economically while also ensuring overall unity of the people. Alas, along the way in the eighties and nineties, the implementation went awry.

And there remains a lack of confidence in some of our institutions, including enforcement agencies. I note, though, that there is an improvement in people’s perception of the judiciary.

In 1957 and 1963, we had statesmen. Today, we have politicians. There is a wide difference between the two.

I am tempted to say that until 1981, we had statesmen at the helm and the standard deteriorated after Hussein Onn retired as prime minister.


The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.