by Wan Saiful Wan Jan. First published in The Star 2 September 2014

There seems to be a huge disconnect between what is being said by those in power and what they actually do.

THE official line is that the Merdeka celebration on Sunday was a great success. Malaysians from all walks of life gathered at Dataran Merdeka and various other places across the country to celebrate the auspicious day.

I watched the celebration on television. Indeed it was a grand day. The Government did well to mark Aug 31. The Dataran Merdeka parade looked grand with an estimated 40,000 people joining the festivities.

The Merdeka speech given by Prime Minister Najib Razak on Merdeka eve was good too.

Admittedly it was a bit distasteful to hear him snide at opposition parties in a speech that was supposed to unite and rouse everyone regardless of their political affiliations, but, overall the message of the speech was a good one.

Right at the beginning of his speech Najib told the nation that we should stop bickering about whether to celebrate Aug 31 or Sept 16.

He explained that if not for a technical delay caused by the United Nations, Malaysia would have been formed on Aug 3, 1963 and not Sept 16.

Najib obviously knew that more people in Sabah and Sarawak are becoming increasingly unhappy with the way they feel they are treated.

In his speech, Najib was at pains to tell the nation how he appointed so many representatives from Sabah and Sarawak as ministers and deputy ministers. And he also acknowledged that both states have the potential to shape the course of Malaysia as a whole.

The Prime Minister went on to outline three Merdeka messages.

First, he called on all Malaysians to strengthen our solidarity in the face of challenging times ahead.

Second, he urged Malaysians to believe that we can achieve all that we dream to achieve if we are able to unite as a country.

Third, he told Malaysians to commit to bequeathing a prosperous and harmonious Malaysia to our children and grandchildren.

If we were to look only at the National Day parade and the Prime Minister’s speech, then it seems like the country is doing great these days. But is that really the case? I am afraid that if I were to look at the wider picture, I am not that optimistic.

There seems to be a huge disconnect between what is being said by those in power and what they actually do.

Since the Prime Minister mentioned Sabah and Sarawak quite a lot, let’s take a look at the two states.

The disquiet really does exist. And I think the people in Sabah and Sarawak have very valid reasons to be upset.

Many people from the states feel that when Sabah, Sarawak, Singapore and Malaya joined hands to form Malaysia in 1963, four entities became one federation.

Not fifteen (including Singapore) states becoming one, but four nations uniting into one federation.

What happened with Singapore is water under the bridge.

But of course Sabahans and Sarawakians will become upset if they are treated as one out of fourteen states when this was not the original understanding.

They are supposed to be treated equal to Malaya as a whole, not as an equal to Johor or Kedah.

Both Sabah and Sarawak agreed to form Malaysia after securing several safeguards as outlined in what are commonly known as the 18 and 20 points agreements. How much of these agreements are actually respected today?

In fact, if we look at how things are on the ground, some people may even feel that there is an elaborate effort to erase these agreements from our collective memory.

I know many people from Sabah and Sarawak who are very unhappy with the creeping Islamisation into the states.

This is happening despite the fact that Sabah did not want to have Islam as the official religion of the state right from the start. And they are worried that the actions of Islamic religious authorities will affect their freedom to practise their religions.

The two Borneo states were promised that they will see a Borneonisation of the state civil service. But in practice what they see is an increasing Malay-isation of the two states.

When it comes to sharing wealth, how is it possible that the two states that are supposedly rich with natural resources are still among the poorest in the country?

Wealth from the oil and gas industry, as well as from logging and commodities, are being used to fund mega projects in Malaya while some schools in Sabah and Sarawak don’t even have reliable electricity and clean water. And this is happening when those who reside in Putrajaya talk about how important Sabah and Sarawak are.

The picture becomes more depressing if you widen your observation to beyond the relationship between the states in Malaysia.

If we look at Malaysia as a whole, we see the police force detaining anti-crime volunteers on Merdeka Day itself, racists and bigots continuing to divide the nation freely, individual liberty being trampled on, some Malays still seeing non-Malays as second class citizens, and many more incidents that make you ask where are we actually heading to.

I must admit that during this Merdeka celebration, I am not as cheerful as I could or should be.

How can I be when the disconnect between what is being said and what is being done is so obvious? In fact, the thing that came to my head was, as we celebrate this Merdeka, where exactly is our country heading to?

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Wan Saiful Wan Jan is chief executive of the Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs

Imgae credit: The Malaysian Insider

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