Let’s celebrate Sept 16 for its significance

By Wong Sai Wan, The Star

It’s time to recognise the date our country was actually formed so that we can truly be a single nation.

THIS Aug 31 must have been the quietest ever in our 54-year history since independence from the British – no grand parades, no multi-million ringgit fireworks display and no days of closed roads to cater for all sorts of rehearsals.

Instead, the streets of Kuala Lumpur were empty as city folks deserted the Klang Valley for their hometowns over the Hari Raya Aidilfitri holidays.

The Government realised that it would have been practically impossible – and very unpopular – to stage the Merdeka Day celebrations as usual because it would fall on the second day of the Raya celebrations.

Even if they could have forced the civil servants, soldiers, police and other uniformed units to participate in a parade, there would not have been anyone to witness any of the festivities.

Instead, the celebrations will now be held on Sept 16 to coincide with Malaysia Day – that is the exact day 48 years ago Sabah, Sarawak and Singapore joined Malaya to form the Federation of Malaysia.

Decades ago, the whole nation used to observe Malaysia Day but later, in the 1970s, it was only left to Sabah and Sarawak to do so.

It would not be far wrong to say the separation of Singapore from the Federation in 1965 left a bitter taste in many in the ruling Government, thus making it difficult to continue to commemorate that date.

However, things have changed recently.

The rising political importance of Sabah and Sarawak has made it necessary for the Government to celebrate the formation of Malaysia.

For years, the people in the two states have been grumbling as to why they should celebrate Aug 31 when it was not the date they gained independence; they would rather celebrate the day they joined the Federation.

After being independent from the British for over 54 years, it is time that we as a nation focus on celebrating the formation of the whole country.

Our leaders – past and present and from both sides of the political divide – have often paid lip service that we have to practise integration between the Peninsula and the two states on Kalimantan island.

The time for lip service is over and it is time for action, and we can start by making Sept 16 the permanent celebration of our nationhood.

We should celebrate how far we have come along, we should celebrate our achievements as a country, and we should celebrate how we are more united now than we were 48 years ago.

We should not forget about Aug 31; after all it is the day Malaya became a country.

It is an important day in history and maybe it should be a day of remembrance while Sept 16 be the day of celebration.

Over the past few years, Aug 31 has become the day of flying the flag and show of patriotism, and somehow this Wednesday felt really different without all the jingoism about the need to show we are Malaysians.

In many ways, what we had been doing for Aug 31 was a bit contrived. We now need to bring back the true meaning of what it is to be Malaysian, and to allow that expression of patriotism to be real and from the heart.

After all, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak had used 1Malaysia as his rallying call to unite the people. Making Sept 16 a permanent celebration date will surely be a step in the right direction for him.

Last year, he announced that Sept 16 would henceforth be a Federal holiday.

Historically, Malaysia was to have been formed on June 1, 1963, but the date was later postponed to Aug 31, 1963, to coincide with the sixth Merdeka Day.

As we all know, that did not happen because Indonesia and the Philippines objected to the formation of Malaysia.

The formation date was then postponed again – to Sept 16 – to give the United Nations team time to conduct referendums in Sabah and Sarawak regarding the two states’ participation in a new federation. Recognising Sept 16 would also mean re-opening certain issues the two states have with the Federal Government over certain points of agreement when joining the Federation.

It is time to take a relook at the issues.

For one thing, I could never understand the need for Immigration procedure for travel between the Peninsula and the two states. Yes, at one time there was a need to control the number of people from the peninsular from grabbing all the job opportunities in Sabah and Sarawak.

Today, the education disparity has narrowed, and in some cases have become even non-existent.

I have met so many capable Sarawakians and Sabahans in my 27-year career in The Star, some of them as colleagues and some people I had interviewed.

In my frequent trips to the two states, I have found that the people there can more than stand up to any Orang Malaya (as Sarawakians call those from the peninsular) or Orang Semenanjung (the Sabahan equivalent) in terms of capabilities and qualification.

There are a reported 50,000 Sarawakians working in the shipyards of Johor, and they have proven to be essential workers for the industry. They have integrated well into Johor society.

This is among the many reasons we have for reinstating Malaysia Day. The following is a ditty I wrote to greet all my friends on Facebook and Twitter:

We have had KongsiRaya.

We have had DeepaRaya.

We have had XmasRaya.

In a few hours MerdekaRaya.

Selamat Hari Raya.

Selamat Hari Merdeka!!

To that I want to add Selamat Hari Malaysia come Sept 16.