Merdeka deserves better
Writer: Marcus van Geyzel
Published: Fri, 31 Aug 2012
There are very few things that observers of Malaysian politics can regularly agree on.
However, there will be much concurrence with the suggestion that there are two significant traits for those who follow the local political scene very closely – a sense of humour, and a dose of masochism. Naturally, the agreement will be because those involved deem these traits necessary due to the ineptitude of those on “the other side”.
An unhealthy and extreme partisanship has evolved in Malaysian politics since 2008. This is even more obvious to anyone who follows political “commentary” on Twitter (to whom this writer’s use of the inverted commas would be obvious).
There is nothing wrong with a bit of banter and partisan one-upmanship. The disconcerting thing is when the immaturity comes from elected representatives, who forget that they are supposed to represent everyone, not just those who voted for them or their party.
Despite the frustration and disappointment, I still follow some of these tweets, including the propaganda offered by full-time political commentators who are prominently featured in national newspapers. I did mention masochism earlier on.
However, the recent discussions about the Merdeka theme have taken things beyond what should be acceptable to any Malaysian, political or not.
I waited some time before putting my thoughts into writing, as I harboured some hope that the theme would be scrapped following the incessant criticism. Perhaps those responsible would hold their hands up and admit that it was a mistake? Silly me.
When announcing the theme – “55 Tahun Merdeka, Janji Ditepati” (55 Years of Independence, Promises Fulfilled) – Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak said “we can already see that the promises made by the Barisan [Nasional] have been implemented”.
The theme has since been widely criticised. Some say the criticism is unjustified. It is important to put the theme in context, and consider the facts.
Barisan has been running a nationwide Janji Ditepati tour to highlight the promises that have been delivered to the people.
The theme speaks of the fulfillment of promises, which implies a need to be grateful. Whose promises? To whom are we to be grateful? How do we display this gratitude?
If the answers to these questions were not obvious enough, helpfully, there is an official song. The chorus goes, “Janji siapa? Janji kita!” (Whose promises? Our promises!). The verse serves up the kicker, “Janji sudah ditepati, kini masa balas budi” (The promises have been fulfilled, now it is time to show our gratitude).
Merdeka is supposed to be a celebration by all Malaysians of our nation’s independence. An official theme sets the tone for the entire occasion – and undoubtedly the message of the theme will seep into everything involved in the celebrations.
For this reason, the Janji Ditepati theme is fundamentally flawed. It is self-serving, and immediately alienates anyone who does not support Barisan – which, lest we forget, is a choice that Malaysians are entitled to.
I am not surprised that it has come to this. The political campaigning and posturing that has been putting “Malaysia” in the back seat has now extended to our Merdeka celebrations.
It looks like this will continue at least until the general elections are finally called. Or perhaps even beyond then – the “winning at all costs” mentality that politicians on both sides of the divide have adopted is unlikely to result in either side losing graciously.
Is there an alternative? Perhaps a Merdeka celebration organised by a coalition of NGOs?
For the past two years, an alternative Malaysia Day celebration called “Malaysiaku” (My Malaysia) has been held in Bangsar, organised by Ed Soo. It brought together many NGOs and featured talks, film screenings, cultural performances, forums, stalls, and food.
It was a true celebration of the joy and privilege of being Malaysian, free of the stain of political campaigning – which really is what Merdeka should be about.
Unfortunately, the event is not being organised this year. The Janji Ditepati theme means the absence of Malaysiaku is even more keenly felt.
Merdeka Day is already upon us and Datuk Seri Rais Yatim has firmly said that the theme is fixed.
He also asked the Opposition not to ignore Merdeka Day over political differences. This is where the sense of humour I mentioned earlier comes in, seeing that some argue that it is Barisan who have in essence ignored Merdeka with their unsuitable theme.
Datuk Seri Nazri Aziz said that Barisan has the right to determine the theme, as it is the Barisan component parties who fought for independence in the first place. This sentiment unfortunately encompasses all that is wrong with the government’s approach to this year’s Merdeka celebrations.
The unfortunate victims amidst all this politicking are, as always, the Malaysian public. The political stakes are too high for the government to back down without seeming to be giving in. The political temperature that has been rising for months has gone past boiling point and scalded the Merdeka celebrations.
While all this is going on, we ordinary Malaysians will just have to celebrate Merdeka in our own way, forcibly distanced from official themes and events.
It is unfortunate that, in our 55th year of independence, it has come to this. We expect our leaders from all political parties to conduct themselves in a manner that shows a respect and acknowledgement of the maturity of Malaysian society.
The Barisan government, in insisting on a theme that is unbecoming of the meaning of Merdeka, has allowed immature politicking to pollute this year’s Merdeka celebrations, and in doing so has disappointed and disrespected many Malaysians.
Marcus will be celebrating Malaysia and Malaysians (yes, even the politicians) this Merdeka.