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Malaysia Day

(Pic by Stephen Finn / Dreamstime)

POP quiz: Is Malaysia 46 or 52?

Historical facts show that the Federated Malay states gained independence on 31 Aug 1957. Thus, Malaya was freed from colonial rule 52 years ago. But the birth of Malaysia itself, when Sabah, Sarawak and Singapore joined the independent Malay states, took place on 16 Sept 1963. That makes the country 46 years old. Singapore left in 1965.

Quibbling over numbers is just a small part of the debate. The fact that Malaysia Day is not observed as a national event or public holiday like Merdeka is, is but one grievance about the peninsula’s neglect of Sabah and Sarawak. The neglect runs deeper than that, of course. It is political, demonstrated in uneven development and in the lack of protection of human rights. The plight of the Penan is one damning example of how minority groups in east Malaysia are treated.

In 1963, Malaysia’s formation would have fallen on 31 Aug to coincide with independence. However, more time was needed to announce a United Nations survey on whether the peoples of Sarawak and North Borneo, as Sabah was then called, wanted to join Malaysia. It is instructive to note that Sabah and Sarawak were admitted into Malaysia as a way to increase the ethnic composition of bumiputera: Malays and indigenous peoples.

Yet, East Malaysian leaders now lament that the lack of recognition given to 16 Sept is hampering genuine national unity. They contend that there has been little advancement of East Malaysians in the civil service, and that glaring economic disparities remain between Malay Malaysian bumiputera and non-Malay Malaysian bumiputera.

Other outstanding woes include the influx of illegal immigrants in Sabah and their strange success in obtaining citizenship. There are concerns, too, about the importation of Islam and race-based politics when Sabah and Sarawak are guaranteed cultural, religious and language diversity autonomy under the Sabah 20-Point Agreement and the Sarawak 18-Point Agreement. Both are international treaties signed when Malaysia was established.

Political changes

Last year, 2008, saw Malaysia Day being given prominence, but perhaps for the wrong reasons. It took the Barisan Nasional (BN)’s dismal performance in the peninsula at the March general election for the political spotlight to be turned onto Sabah and Sarawak. Combined, these two states kept the BN in federal power with the 54 out of the 140 seats it had contested. East Malaysian BN politicians felt empowered to demand due reward, such as more cabinet posts and higher oil royalties.


Coinciding with calls for more political recognition and greater economic opportunities was the Sabah Progressive Party (SAPP)’s no-confidence vote against then prime minister Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi. SAPP president Datuk Yong Teck Lee then said there was no more BN “spirit” in Sabah, and that the BN had not given “due recognition” to the state. On 17 Sept 2008, a day after Malaysia Day, Yong withdrew his party from the BN coalition. Its two Members of Parliament (MPs) are now independents.

At the same time, there was much hype over the Pakatan Rakyat (PR)’s plan to take over federal government. 16 Sept was the deadline and speculation abounded on the number of BN MPs said to be willing and ready to cross over. Coy about the numbers and hopelessly confident that it would happen, PR leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim disappointed many when the takeover did not materialise, and provided fodder for the BN to criticise the opposition.

With the PR’s takeover plan a failure, the date became symbolic of aspirations of what a united Malaysia, free from racial and religious bias and free from repressive laws, could be.

Parti Keadilan Rakyat on 15 Sept 2008 convened a mammoth rally at the Kelana Jaya stadium in Petaling Jaya to commemorate Malaysia’s formation and to press for the release of blogger Raja Petra Kamarudin and Seputeh MP Teresa Kok, then Internal Security Act detainees. Journalist Tan Hoon Cheng had also been arrested but was released a day later on 14 Sept.

Meanwhile, Anwar had proposed that 16 Sept be made a public holiday in all PR-led states, and Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng promised to do so starting in 2009.

Citizens reclaim Malaysia

But these may just be populist moves by politicians. More meaningful are efforts by citizens to reclaim a united Malaysia and to celebrate Malaysia Day in individual ways.

Bunga raya, symbol of choice for the Fast for the Nation campaign (Pic by cyborg1us /

East Malaysians are among those successful in the arts scene and the theme of pluralism is significant in their work. This year, civil society groups and prominent personalities are also fasting on 16 Sept and going vegetarian for one day for peace in Malaysia, and inviting ordinary citizens to do the same. Fast for the Nation, Peace for Malaysia 2009 is a community-initiated event commemorating the formation of Malaysia through an act of solidarity across racial and religious boundaries.

Such initiatives are heartening in the face of the official government position as to why 16 Sept does not warrant more attention. Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak said since 31 Aug has been chosen as National Day, “having another date will give rise to all kinds of interpretation, polemic, and this is not healthy to national integration.”

Would it really? According to whose interpretation? What do you think of Malaysia Day? What does it mean to you? How would you show solidarity with all Malaysians today? Reclaim history — but in six words only. Here are ours:

Cindy Tham:

Independence Day ≠ National Day la…

Malaysia’s National Day is 16 Sept.

Malaysia: Sabah + Sarawak + Peninsula.

Celebrating 46 years as a nation!

Deborah Loh:

Little did Sabah and Sarawak know…

National unity incomplete without East Malaysia.

Craftsperson from Sarawak (Pic by kenjordan /

One nation, separate entities, divided people.

Ding Jo-Ann:

Not an event in West Malaysia.

Eh, no parade at Dataran Merdeka?

Sabah and Sarawak forgotten each year.

Jacqueline Ann Surin:

But Sabah and Sarawak are marginalised.

Why is 31 Aug more celebrated?

Are Sabah and Sarawak being shortchanged?

How is 1Malaysia inclusive of everyone?

Why isn’t Malaysia Day a holiday?

Shanon Shah:

Do Penan girls celebrate Malaysia Day?

Is there hope for this country?

One date. Mentioned much. Celebrated little.

16 Sept 2008 was much hyped.

16 Sept 1963 remains a footnote.

The Nut Graph observes 16 Sept.

Inspired by Ernest Hemingway‘s genius, the Six Words On… section challenges readers to give us their comments about a current issue, contemporary personality or significant event in just six words. The idea is to get readers engaged in an issue, while having fun and being creatively disciplined.

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22 Responses to “Malaysia Day”

  1. ilann says:

    Malaysia did not exist in 1957.

    Are you Malayan or you’re Malaysian?

    1957 celebrates past, 1963 celebrates future.

    Honour Malaysia Day above Malaya Day.

    Sabah Sarawak Singapore DIDN’T JOIN Malaya!

    No Sabah Sarawak then no Malaysia.

  2. ilann says:

    Kounsikaan tadau kinohodion nu Malaysia! (Kadazandusun)

  3. ilann says:

    I am Malaysian, I’m NOT MALAYAN.

    1Malaysia is meaningless, only celebrates Malaya.

    Malaysia Day is a nonpartisan issue.

    Sabah Sarawak cheated, colonised by Malaya.

    Malaya is dead! Long live Malaysia!

    Celebrating only Malaya traitorous to Malaysia.

  4. lkl says:

    31/08 phantom birthday, 16/09 no celebration.

    1Malaysia, 2birthdays? Age: 40s or 50s?

  5. reza says:

    National Day? No lah. Semenanjung Day.

    Joined the club, barred from clubhouse.

    The east never gets to feast.

    The west always gets the best.

    Don’t just shout it, do it.

  6. Anonymous Coward says:

    A year later, Anwar still disappoints.

    Malaya: The federation inside a federation.

    Malaysia: Essentially Malaya with two colonies.

    Where Sabah and Sarawak are equal?

    What a sad state of affairs.

  7. ilann says:

    Malaysia Day is about celebrating Malaysia.

    Malaysia isn’t just about Sabah Sarawak.

    Time for Malaya to embrace Malaysia.

  8. Main says:

    52 or 46 all in ONE.

  9. makelight says:

    Singapore didn’t leave, but [was ejected].

  10. elaine says:

    We forget we have another sibling.

  11. lost dayak says:

    What about Straits Settlements’ role, huh?

    Unfederated States lost independence in 1948.

  12. Born Malaysian says:

    Merdeka Day — big national celebrations!

    Malaysia Day — nothing to celebrate?

    Why doesn’t government respect Malaysia Day?

  13. Jade says:

    Multi-cultural. “Seamless borders” yet in sight.

  14. ganesh says:

    Malaysia includes Sabah and Sarawak, really?

  15. Hang Tuah 1 says:

    Aug 31 – Semenanjung. Sept 16 – Expansion.

    1963 – Tanahair took Sabah and Sarawak.

    1957 – [Persekutuan Tanah Melayu]. 1963 – Malaysia.

    1957 – small country. 1963 – big country.

    1957 – rubber, tin. 1963 – oil, oil.

  16. Farouq Omaro says:

    Please answer the question on

  17. CK Chan says:

    August 31? Umno’s chest thumping Merdeka.

  18. amir says:

    Will I-lann submit even more comments?

  19. Justitia says:

    What Malaysia Day? No meaning, one.

  20. meena lakshana says:

    Four words: Saya Anak Bangsa Malaysia!

  21. Shax says:

    BN langsung tidak peduli sejarah Malaysia!

    Jangan abaikan negeri Sabah dan Sarawak!

    Kita sokong perjuangan ketuanan rakyat Malaysia.

    Malaya, Sabah dan Sarawak tanah Merdeka.

  22. Shared history, shared celebrations amplify humanity.
    Cow’s head great unifier. Anwar, NOT!
    The more historical holidays, the better.
    Indian [Malaysians] need more than 6 words.

    Editor’s note: Okay, we couldn’t help editing the last entry to comply with our house style. But we think this proves the commenter’s point. So yes, just this *one* time.

    Shanon Shah
    Columns and Comments Editor

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