As the country celebrates its 65th anniversary of independence for the peninsula and 59th anniversary of independence or self-governance for Sarawak and Sabah, as well as the 59th Malaysia Day (on 16 September), many will look back wistfully at the hopes that surrounded these events at the beginning.
These longings were best encapsulated by this snippet of Tunku Abdul Rahman’s speech at the proclamation of independence for the peninsula in 1957:
… we look forward in faith and hope to the future; from henceforth we are masters of our destiny, and the welfare of this beloved land is our own responsibility: Let no one think we have reached the end of the road: Independence is indeed a milestone, but it is only the threshold to high endeavour – the creation of a new and sovereign State. At this solemn moment therefore I call upon you all to dedicate yourselves to the service of the new Malay[si]a: to work and strive with hand and brain to create a new nation, inspired by the ideals of justice and liberty – beacon of light in a disturbed and distracted world.
Looking from our vantage point, Tunku’s optimism seems naive in light of the financial and political scandals that have plagued the country over the years, which was crowned by the infamous Sheraton move in 2020. Many were disheartened by this episode and felt powerless to affect change for the better.
Yet, we forget it was the efforts of countless individuals that prepared the ground for the surprising result in the 2018 general election. Remember, for instance, those who came out to support the Bersih rallies in recent times. Recall the role of NGOs (eg Aliran) that have been at the forefront of highlighting issues confronting the nation since the late 1970s.
While we cannot deny the setback that was the Sheraton move, there was no going back to the status quo, as witnessed by the affirmation by the Federal Court of the guilty verdict handed down to Najib Razak by the High Court. Such an event could only have happened because the public would no longer tolerate those who abuse power in high office.
Democracy is like the rising and ebbing of tides. With every advance, there will be setbacks. The point is, we must not give up and keep on fighting for a better Malaysia.
As we come together on 31 August and 16 September, let us move forward with determination to make the country a place where all of us can hold our heads high.
Let us be able, when the country celebrates its centenary of independence a generation from now, to say how far we have come since those dark days.
Happy Birthday, Malaysia!Chris Chong
Co-editor, Aliran newsletter
29 August 2022