Merdeka Day 2023: Do Malaysians still feel the festivities after 66 years?

Here are some citizens' reflections on Malaysia's 66th Independence Day, discussing the nation’s hopes and struggles

A Malaysian woman on a street carrying the country's flag as Malaysia's 66th Merdeka Day approaches.
It is Malaysia's 66th Merdeka Day. But do people in the country still feel the festivities after all these years? (Photo: Getty Images)

KUALA LUMPUR - As Malaysia approaches its 66th Independence Day, the sentiments of Malaysians on the state of the country are diverse.

Unlike last year's Merdeka Day, which saw the nation celebrate coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic, 31 August this year arrives less than a month after Anwar Ibrahim's ruling party thwarted an opposition alliance in the state elections.

From the picturesque streets of Penang to the vibrant urban landscapes of Kuala Lumpur, individuals Yahoo Southeast Asia spoke to shared views that reflected both a shared patriotism as well as lingering concerns that persist within the nation.

Azizi, 31, a chef from Penang, expressed his hope that Malaysians will "get along with each other better" in the future.

He was concerned about the "divisive lines" drawn between Malaysians along lines of race, class, and political affiliation. As a father, his hope is for Malaysians to come together, fostering a sense of harmony that transcends differences, much like a figurative Kumbaya circle around a campfire.

"After getting the kids ready for the day, I finally found the words to say. I'd say it's all about hope — hope that the next day, people will get along with each other better," he told Yahoo.

The spirit of Merdeka

From a generational perspective, Azmi Mohamad, 61, from Rawang, Kuala Lumpur, shared that he wanted to pass 'the spirit of Merdeka' to the next generation.

“The spirit of Merdeka has been inculcated into my life since I was small — from stories from my grandparents and their contemporaries about their struggles during the Japanese occupation, difficulties during the communist insurgency, etc,” he said.

“During our early days, we didn't get to see the 31 August celebrations over TV like nowadays, but to me, that is the highlight of the national day celebrations. I get goosebumps watching the march past, especially the military ones,” Azmi added.

These instilled in him a deep appreciation for Malaysia's history and the sacrifices made for independence, he said, emphasising his commitment to passing down this sentiment to his children

The significance of 31 August, 1957, goes beyond its historical date; it marks the culmination of a long-fought struggle for independence.

On that day, the Federation of Malaya declared itself a sovereign nation, breaking free from centuries of colonial rule.

For Adri T. Azhar, a high-school teacher from Perlis, there was much to be proud of, despite the nation's ups and downs.

"After all that has happened, and after 66 years of independence, we are still here as a nation," he said, adding that Malaysians should feel proud of the country's achievements in that time.

“I am still hopeful for our future, and I have faith that our nation can go further. That is my definition of patriotism,” Adri added.

Political turmoil in recent years

Malaysia has experienced political turmoil over the past few years, beginning with the 2018 general election that saw the defeat of the long-ruling Barisan Nasional coalition.

The Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition, then led by Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, took power, but it was plagued by infighting and internal divisions.

In February 2020, a group of PH MPs defected to the Barisan Nasional, leading to the collapse of the PH government and Mahathir's resignation.

Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin was then appointed Prime Minister, leading a new coalition government called Perikatan Nasional (PN). However, the PN government was also unstable, and it faced criticism for its handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In August 2021, Muhyiddin resigned as Prime Minister and was replaced by Dato' Sri Ismail Sabri Yaakob.

Ismail led the country for a year and a half but eventually gave in to political pressure and called a general election in November last year, which elected Anwar Ibrahim’s coalition as the government.

For Suthesh S, a 36-year-old Tech Engineer from Seremban, the upcoming Merdeka Day was a chance to reflect on the evolution of the nation and the need for change.

"Every day feels as if it is something the same, but if you squint enough, you will see that change has always been a constant," he said. "It may be paced a little slowly, but it is there, and I wish that all Malaysians see that, with the recent change of our governance. Sometimes that is all that we need."

Suthesh also called for Malaysians to embrace progressive change, hoping that the youth of today will approach the world with open minds, breaking free from "regressive trends" that his generation has observed.

The disparity between East and West Malaysia

However, amidst these expressions of hope, Ushar Daniele, 34, a TV Producer from Sabah, called for more to be done to lessen the disparity between Peninsular Malaysia and the Bornean states.

"Being Sabahan has also shown me the disparity between the Peninsula and the Bornean states," Ushar noted, pointing out the infrastructural gaps and basic needs that remain unmet in certain regions.

She questioned the allocation of resources, highlighting the contrast in having architectural achievements like the tallest towers in Asia while there were infrastructural shortcomings in other parts of the nation.

“How are we just building roads in Sabah when we have two of the tallest towers in Asia in the heart of Kuala Lumpur?”

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