KUALA LUMPUR: The Penang state government’s withdrawal of the “Bersih, Cekap, Amanah” theme for its Merdeka Day celebrations is a worrying sign of the extreme centralisation of the nation’s government, says local think tank Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs (IDEAS).
The withdrawal came following accusations from the federal government that the state government was trying to politicise Merdeka Day celebrations, given the link between the word “Bersih” and the Bersih 4 rally planned for this weekend.
“This whole incident clearly shows how centralised our government has become and it is getting to an extreme stage,” said Ideas CEO Wan Saiful Wan Jan.
He also commented on how federal bodies such as the state’s schools, police and the armed forces were all barred from or had decided against joining the state celebrations.
“Merdeka is a celebration for the whole country and sovereign states should be able to decide how they want to celebrate it. Merdeka is supposed to be about independence, not a day for the federal government to behave like a colonial master dictating what people can or cannot do.
“The whole idea behind choosing to be a federation of states is that we respect the rights of states within the federation.”
On Sunday, Education Minister Mahdzir Khalid had said that the theme picked was extremely “confusing” given how it shares the same name as the Bersih NGO and planned rallies for August 29-30.
The Penang state government on the same day accused the federal government of the “politically motivated” sabotage of their state celebrations by banning school children from attending because of the state’s “Bersih” theme.