Not Yet the Real Merdeka

By Kee Thuan Chye

As we prepare to commemorate Merdeka Day this Saturday – notice that I do not say “celebrate” – it would be timely to acknowledge that the real “Merdeka” has not happened yet.

I say this because we are still not free. We are still under the thrall of the masters who took over from the colonial ones in 1957. They are no different in their intent to oppress us. In fact, over the last few decades especially, they have proven to be even more oppressive. And if the British imperialists divided us in order to better rule over us, the current masters have outdone them in this respect by employing the mechanism of religion on top of that of race.

The current masters also continue to use the instruments of power inherited from the British to control us, such as the Sedition Act, the Printing Presses and Publications Act, the Official Secrets Act, and the Internal Security Act (ISA) which was replaced by the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act and the Public Assembly Act.

In terms of freedom, we have hardly progressed. When I look back on my growing-up years in the 1960s, I find little difference between then and now. People viewed as Communists (even if they were not) or political threats were taken in under the ISA. Youngsters barely out of school were arrested, and some were robbed of their youth for as many as a dozen years.

Even former government ministers were not spared. Aziz Ishak was a minister in Tunku Abdul Rahman’s Cabinet until he resigned in 1963 because of irreconcilable differences with the Tunku. Two years later, he was detained under the ISA for allegedly collaborating with Indonesians to set up a government-in-exile. He denied this and wrote a book about his detention called Special Guest. The book was banned. The media was indeed controlled.

Dissent, especially if it came from a superior intelligence, was also not tolerated. Lee Kuan Yew was found to be too outspoken. So Singapore got expelled from Malaysia in 1965.

As the rock band The Who sang: “Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.”

The new penjajah (coloniser) still holds sway over us. These days, we tend to refer to it as the Umno-BN (Barisan Nasional) government. The emphasis is on “Umno” because it is the biggest party in the ruling coalition and, clearly, the one that calls all the shots.

It now wants us to fly the Malaysian flag to show our patriotism and celebrate the 56th anniversary of our independence. But flying the flag is only for show, and if we are truly patriotic, we don’t even need to do that. As for celebration, what is there to celebrate this year?

What is there to celebrate when we can feel the pain and pinch of our ringgit getting weaker by the day? The currency of Singapore, that small island with no resources that we expelled, is now worth 2.6 times more than our wretched ringgit.

Meanwhile, our budget deficit has increased substantially, and the prime minister has shown no indication of cutting it down. He seems to be spending more money. Our national debt is between 53 per cent and 65 per cent of our GDP, depending on whose calculations you believe. Our national debt apparently amounts to RM656 billion. The international agency Fitch Ratings has downgraded the outlook on our sovereign debt from “stable” to “negative”, which will affect our creditworthiness and potential as an investment destination.

Despite this, is the Umno-BN government still planning to spend millions to stage this year’s Merdeka Day celebrations, for which a good proportion of the money spent would go into kickbacks for cronies commissioned to procure supplies and get preparations done?

As for us ordinary citizens, what can we expect from the upcoming Budget? The likely imposition of a goods and services tax (GST) that will burden us further. Is that cause for celebration?

What about the testimonies of witnesses at the ongoing Sabah Royal Commission of Inquiry on illegal immigrants? What is there to celebrate when we learn from these that citizenships were allegedly given to illegal immigrants so that they would vote for BN and keep it in power?

If citizenships can be given so cheaply, and for such ulterior purposes, what is the value of being Malaysian?

This also reminds us of what happens on the other side of the coin, and makes us wonder what there is to celebrate when people who express dissent against what the Umno-BN government is doing are told to get out of the country. Even AirAsia X Chief Executive Azran Osman Rani was told to do that simply for criticising the Umno-owned newspaper Utusan Malaysia.

And, of course, what is there to celebrate when citizens whose forefathers came from other countries way back in the past are, from time to time, told to go back where their forefathers came from? Or reminded that they must be grateful they were granted citizenships?

What is there to celebrate when someone like High Court judge Mohd Zaki Yassin whom the Court of Appeal recently ruled committed misdirection in his presiding over the Altantuya Shariibuu murder case was last week awarded a datukship?

Does this indicate that the Government celebrates and rewards mediocre work? Or was this, as some people suspect, to reward him for doing the wrong thing right?

More important, what is there to celebrate when the country’s system of justice seems warped, reflected most clearly in the handling of the Altantuya case, including the recent acquittal of the two men who appear to have pulled the trigger and blown up the victim’s body with the C4 explosive?

What is there to celebrate when the crime rate is rising and many people have been shot dead in the past month, and the police are asking to bring back the outdated Emergency Ordinance to detain suspects without trial? To add clout to it, the Home Minister is giving his support. Are we progressing or regressing?

I could go on with more examples, but it suffices to say that many Malaysians are not in the mood to celebrate Merdeka Day because they know the country is broken and needs urgent fixing, and Umno-BN is not up to the task.

They don’t want to fly the Malaysian flag because they are concerned it might be misinterpreted as endorsing and supporting the Umno-BN government.

When I wrote about the Altantuya case last week in this same ‘Bull Bashing’ column, a reader responded with this comment: “If this is the type of government running and managing the country currently, I think I am reluctant to celebrate Merdeka. Right now the Rakyat of Malaysia are more interested in knowing the killer of Altantuya and the mastermind behind the killing than Merdeka Day. The Umno Government can celebrate Merdeka Day.”

Another reader wrote: “Merdeka untuk Umno leaders and cronies jelah. (Merdeka is only for Umno leaders and cronies) ... Double standards so obvious ... C4 was used to kill a Mongolian woman and yet no one is held responsible. Everyone who was involved got away! But normal citizens who asked for fair and clean elections were thrown in a cell. They do sound like ‘penjajah’ to me. So? Merdeka ke?”

I rest my case. We are still waiting for the real Merdeka. But first, we must get rid of the post-colonial penjajah.

* Kee Thuan Chye is the author of the new book The Elections Bullshit, which will be in bookstores starting this weekend.