53 or 59?
(New Mandala) – 31 August marks Malaysia’s independence. But not everyone is celebrating a broader federation, writes James Chin.
Today Malaysia celebrates Hari Merdeka or Independence Day.
But, the 31 August anniversary again raises the old debate about the actual date of independence and what the Federation means to the peoples of Sabah and Sarawak. It’s a discussion that has happened this time every year for much of the past decade.
Most banners in Malaysia have ‘59’, marking when Malaya became independent in 1957. The ‘53’ comes from 1963 — the year when the Federation was formed.
For many years, the federal government in KL/Putrajaya did not take the difference in years seriously. The situation changed in 2010 with the creation of another public holiday — Malaysia Day — to be celebrated annually on 16 September and commemorating the formation of the Federation.
The sudden acknowledgment by Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak was no doubt in part to the increasing assertiveness of leaders in Sabah and Sarawak. Before 2008 Sabah and Sarawak were seen as a reliable ‘fixed deposit’ for the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN). The number of BN MPs elected from the Bornean states gave the BN a two-thirds majority in parliament.
The situation is markedly different now. The current Najib administration is holding on to power with a wafer-thin majority of 18 seats (as at July 2016). There are 47 BN MPs from Sabah (22) and Sarawak (25). Najib would be out of a job without the BN MPs from East Malaysia.