Malaysiakini Letter

Why Malaysia is 50 years old and not 44

Uncle Yap  |  Published:  |  Modified:

I refer to the malaysiakini article The Chinese dilemma Pt 3: Politics a service industry? by Sim Kwang Yang, a very knowledgeable man. He wrote:

'No matter what the national narrative may say till kingdom come, my lived experience tells me that independence for my home state of Sarawak happened on Sept 16, 1963, and Malaysia is merely two weeks short of 44 years old. That it has been thrust down my throat that National Day falls on Aug 31, and that my country has been independent for 50 years, is but another exercise of muscle-flexing from post-colonial colonialism. Bearing testimony to history, I still insist there was no Malaysia before 1963.'

Every year around this time, without fail, there will be the strident chorus from East Malaysia saying that the independence date is not Aug 31 but Sept 16 and that the anniversary of Malaysia is calculated six years short. I might be persuaded to ignore such annual ramblings if they were from lesser mortals but when the writer is obviously a man of learning (being a former member of parliament and an otherwise well-informed journalist) then it is time I take issue.

Malaysia is a federation, a political entity made up of many components called states (or provinces) which are semi-autonomous in many ways but eventually integral parts of a whole called the nation. A good example is the United States.

The US was born on July 4,1776 when 13 former colonies of the mighty British Empire declared independence. After a bitter war, the nucleus of a nation was formed and to this many contiguous states joined at various times (e.g. Oregon being admitted on Feb 14, 1859). The last two non- contiguous states were Alaska and Hawaii, the latter on Aug 21,1959.

In 1976, the US celebrated its bicentenary and all the states celebrated with gusto. Hawaii did not protest that its independence date was Aug 21, 1959 and that it had only enjoyed independence for 17 and a half years. Oregon was not on record to say its actual independence date was Valentine's Day, 1859 and it had only enjoyed independence for a little over 117 years.

Similarly, the Federation of Malaya was formed on Aug 31, 1957 and three new states joined in 1963. To reflect the enlarged entity, there was a slight name change to Malaysia; but in essence (form and substance) it was three new states joining 11 other states which had earlier formed a federation. The number of members of parliament was increased to accommodate the new states. Three new points were added to the 11-point star and three new stripes added to the flag. The constitution was amended here and there but remained essentially the same.

Even the Singapore referendum equated Singapore as equivalent to another state like Penang or Johor. But a blind spot of many East Malaysians is that they figure Sarawak, for example, had the same status as the Federation of Malaya and for evidence they pointed to the special clauses (which were, in reality, meant only to be transitional provisions such as the delay in the implementation of the national language and control over immigration to prevent any mass migration from Singapore and the Peninsular states.)

Tunku was more or less arm-twisted into admitting the new states into the federation and was quite generous and liberal in allowing so many concessions; but this should not be construed as Sabah and Sarawak (whose sovereignty then was held by Queen Elizabeth II) being equals of the Federation of Malaya which was by then an independent sovereign nation formed as a constitutional monarchy in 1957.

Shall we imagine a change of scenario in Southeast Asia? Let's say Brunei opts to join Malaysia on Jan 1, 2008. On Aug 31, 2008, will we be celebrating our 51st anniversary or our less-than-one anniversary?

Here in Malaysia, we have East Malaysians who not only do not share the pride of association of being in Malaysia but are positively ashamed of it, judging by the annual strident voices of dissociation. Therein lies what I think is the nub.

Perhaps the national and state leaders have not done enough to make East Malaysians feel part of the family. I cringe whenever I see that East Malaysians have to pay more for things like newspaper, Milo, etc, etc. I am quite ashamed whenever I see the abuse of immigration controls when a politician (usually the opposition) is prohibited from entering Sabah or Sarawak.

Sarawak and Sabah are parts of Malaysia and we, East and West Malaysians, are members of the same family for better or for worse. I hope the separatist sentiments as expressed by Sim may one day be a thing of the past.

Merdeka! Merdeka! Merdeka! Merdeka! Merdeka! Merdeka! Merdeka!

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