Malaysia Day: Celebrating Unity In Diversity Across The Federation

Last update: 14/09/2017

By Newmond Tibin

KOTA KINABALU (BERNAMA) -- On Saturday, Sept 16, Malaysians will be celebrating Malaysia Day to commemorate the formation of the Malaysian Federation on that day in 1963. Malaysia Day has taken greater significance since 2010 after Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak declared the day as a nationwide public holiday.

The Malaysia Day celebration though more significant for Sabah and Sarawak, now, it is in fact an extension of the National Day or Merdeka Day celebrations in Peninsular on Aug 31 with the unity of the people in the Federation taking centre stage.

However, one may ask whether Malaysians are celebrating two National Days? It is certainly not the case, as explained by Associate Professor Dr Bilcher Bala from The Faculty of Humanities, Arts and Heritage, Universiti Malaysia Sabah (UMS).

Bilcher highlighted some salient points on the significance of each commemoration in an interview with BERNAMA's editor Newmond Tibin recently.

BERNAMA: Is it strange that we have two separate \'National Days\', one on Aug 31 and the other on Sept 16?

BILCHER: To me, they are not two National Days. Refer to the constitution, Merdeka Day falls on 31 Aug and is the National Day while Malaysia Day falls on 16 Sept and is a national holiday.

In general people may think both are national holidays but this is not the case. On the day of Merdeka, we will hear cries of "Merdeka". How then could we proclaim to the people "Merdeka" on Malaysia Day as it only commemorates the merger of 13 states under the Federation of Malaysia.

BERNAMA: Do academics view differently on this than the man/woman on the street

BILCHER: I would say most Malaysians in all sectors of society are not aware of this difference because they do not really understand the context of the two terms that have not been correctly taught in school.

BERNAMA: Is having two celebrations important for national pride and unity? What is Prof's comment on this?

BILCHER: There is nothing wrong in having two or more celebrations. The purpose is to show the best in terms of pride and unity of the multiple races and cultures in Malaysia. We share Merdeka Day for pride and for freedom; and we share Malaysia Day for unity in diversity. The commemoration of Malaysia Day enables the nation to truly celebrate and appreciate even more the beauty of our multicultural and diverse country.

BERNAMA: Would having one celebration still have the same impact?

BILCHER: The more the merrier. Of course, if we have more there are more opportunities to share and bring people together. Thus, they could help create greater understanding.

BERNAMA: How should we educate the people, especially the younger generation, on the true meaning of Malaysia Day celebration?

BILCHER: Firstly, this should be taught in the schools. The old KBSM history textbook is now in process of being changed to the new KSSM history textbook starting this year (2017).

Secondly, the media being an effective daily channel for disseminating information has to educate the public by constantly providing information on this. The media must explain that Malaysia Day is an event or a day to commemorate the unification of 13 states in the Federation of Malaysia. While Merdeka Day is a day to feel grateful for the freedom from colonisation.

BERNAMA: Malaysia Day celebration on Sept 16 is the birthday of Malaysia. In Prof's view, should Malaysia Day be celebrated over a period of one month as Merdeka Day or is the way it is celebrated now sufficient? How can it be improved to unite all Malaysians with a common love and respect for Malaysia?

BILCHER: 16 Sept is just an "Appointed Day" (came in force) of the Malaysia Act or MA63 including the Malaysian Constitution. The day is called Malaysia Day. It is not a day of independence (National Day) agreement signed on July 9, 1963 to form the Federation of Malaysia".

The Malaysia Agreement was transformed from binding international treaty to a domestic pact on Aug 20, 1963, the day when Federation of Malaya Parliament enacted Act No. 26 of 1963 (Malaysia Act), which came into effect on Sept 16, 1963. This "Malaysia Act" rewrote the Merdeka Constitution of 1957 (Federation of Malaya) and became the new Constitution of the new Federation, namely Malaysia.

In many respects, the new federation resembled a union 13 states of Malaysia (not to mention Singapore which left the Federation in 1965). I support the idea of a month long celebration; especially as it will have a worthwhile impact on nationalism.

We have to teach or encourage the people to understand that Malaysia Day is a day of solidarity for the nation and is not the same as independence day.

This is especially true for West Malaysians who have to accept the fact that they needed Sabah and Sarawak as part of Malaysia to face the threat from Indonesia that aspired to form the Indonesia Raya at that time.

At the same time, the people of Sabah and Sarawak must accept the idea that the joint merger with Malaysia was the wisest decisions made by their leaders at that time. The decision was clearly enacted in the Malaysian Constitution. Therefore they should claim or defend any rights entitled to them in the constitution.

BERNAMA: In 2010, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak declared Sept 16 as a public holiday that provided greater recognition for Malaysia Day. Did this move provide greater significance for Malaysia Day?

BILCHER: Of course, the impact may have caused some confusion among Malaysians. For the people in Peninsular, they have never been granted a holiday on Sept 16 prior to that. On the other hand, in Sabah and Sarawak, the people thought they were celebrating the TYT's birthday.

However, it may take some time to enable all Malaysians to accept this decision as it will further strengthen the unity of Malaysians. It is clear that Malaysians by and large have benefited from the Prime Minister's decision made seven years ago. The reality of 1Malaysia will certainly be strengthened in the future as long as as certain parties and the media do not create misunderstandings.

BERNAMA: Could Prof elaborate on the significance of Malaysia Day?

BILCHER: Malaysia day is a time when the people (Malays, Indians, Chinese) of the 11 states in Malaya agreed to unite with the people (Kadazandusun, Iban, Bidayuh, Bajau, Murut, Orang Ulu, Melanau, Berunai, etc.) of Sabah dan Sarawak.

The notion of neo-colonialism has been dissolved via a long process of negotiations including the Malaysia Solidarity Consultative Committee (MSCC), Cobbold Commission, An Inter-Governmental Committee (IGC), the Malaysian Agreement (MA) and the Constitution prior to 16 Sept 1963. In short, Malaysia Day should be a day for unity of cultural diversity or the embodiment of the 1Malaysia spirit.