Malaysia Day for me is a reflection of how much things have changed.
Two years ago, I wrote an angsty rant about how little people in West Malaysia thought about Sept 16 and how its significance seemed to be lost outside East Malaysia.
“Dates are funny things. We celebrate birthdays and anniversaries with reverence and as the 16th of September is Malaysia’s ‘real’ birthday, you would think some celebration would be in order.
How do you celebrate what you don’t recall? While every year Sabahans are reminded of the choice and sacrifices we made to be a part of this country, many West Malaysians are woefully ignorant of 16th September’s significance.”
Things have changed. Sept 16 is now a gazetted national holiday with Aug 31, Malaya’s Independence day sidelined. The latter for me is sad. Though I have no personal attachment to the date, I am sure many other people do. Must Merdeka lose its meaning just because we want to make the country more inclusive for the East Malaysians among us?
I muse this just as the Prime Minister has given a Malaysia Day address, announcing the much hoped-for repeal of the ISA. It is testament to the long years of struggle by activists brave enough to protest its existence, when many Malaysians were complacent or too afraid to speak up.
But the Prime Minister’s promises are still just promises. Anything could happen between now and the elections. Still, I think as a country we have made some strides despite economic challenges. There is much less apathy among Malaysians, the “tidak-apa” attitude does not have as much of a grip as it used to. For better or for worse, Malaysians are learning to express themselves and participate more as members of society.
So with some hope and tempered joy, I wish Malaysia a very happy birthday with even better ones to come.