Malaysia is getting ready for its 60th birthday, evident from the all the promotional slogans, contests, billboards,events using the hashtag #Malaysiaat60. Wah senior citizen already, but are we not celebrating the wrong birthday?
On 31st of August 1957, the Federation of Malaya declared its independence from British rule. We are reminded of its importance every year with grainy footage of Tunku Abdul Rahman punching his fist into the air, proudly proclaiming Merdeka, Merdeka, Merdeka. It was a proud moment for those were there to witness it, but in actuality, meant very little to the rest of Malayans, and even less to British North Borneo and Sarawak at the time. On 16th September 1963, the Federation of Malaya formed a partnership with Sabah, Sarawak and Singapore to form a new country, Malaysia. In 1965 it was mutually agreed that Singapore should leave Malaysia to form an independent nation-state. And henceforth Malaysia continued to develop as one nation, geographically split into East and West.
In 2010, Prime Minister Najib Tun Abdul Razak finally declared Malaysia Day a nationwide celebration, after it being a public holiday in east Malaysia long before. While East Malaysia has long celebrated their own independence and role in the formation of Malaysia, the date is largely meaningless on the peninsular. And the same applies to Hari Merdeka in the eyes of East Malaysia.
There is nothing wrong with celebrating Hari Merdeka, but it cannot be our Hari Kebangsaan (National Day). 1957 marks the birth of an independent Malaya, and 1963 the birth of Malaysia. And so rightfully, Malaysia’s national day should be Hari Malaysia, celebrated every 16th of September, and not 31st of August. To have the history of Malaya alone supersede that of the partner states is unfair, and runs counter against aspirations for an inclusive national identity.