50 years of Independence: my thoughts as a former Malaysian

August 31, 2007 6:35 PM

Merdeka Day 1957, Tunku Abdul Rahman
Declaration of Independence by Tunku Abdul Rahman, 1957

Malaysia celebrated its 50th year of independence from British colonial rule today. I remembered years past when I’d excitedly wait for this public holiday because I like being reminded that I lived in a country of so many wonderful cultures and the benefits that that entails. I liked the idea of being tri-lingual in English, Malay and Mandarin. I loved watching TV and movies in English, Chinese, Malay and Hindi with or without subtitles. And I loved eating the foods and celebrating each other’s religious and cultural holidays.

Essentially, I loved being awashed in a rainbow of colours and influences.

But as a kid, I did not understand that that was merely a facade hiding decades-old policies based on race and religion. Malaysia is the only country in the world with an affirmative-action policy for the majority of the population (Malays) called the “Malaysian New Economic Policy“, implemented in 1971. Ostensibly this was to address the economic imbalance, which at the time was dominated by the ethnic Chinese, so that the racial riots of 1969 between the Chinese and the Malays would not happen again, even though special rights for Malays have existed since colonial rule.

It remains in policy today because the Malay-dominated government insists that Malays have not reach an equitable status yet. That it is still needed after 36 years of being implemented begs the question: who failed whom?

The rich Malays get richer due to their special privileges and access to government funding and projects, the rich Chinese do not care because they accept the unfair policies as a necessity to do business, while the middle-class of all races grumble in one form or another. Meanwhile, the poor remains poor no matter what race they are.

Malaysia's 50th year of independence

So on my wishlist of things to see happen in Malaysia …

  1. Have an affirmative-action policy which helps the poor and disadvantaged, and the rural population of Malaysia without racial bias.
  2. Universities with no racial quotas.
  3. That Malaysian politics are less dominated by race-based parties like UMNO (United Malays National Organisation), MCA (Malaysian Chinese Association), and MIC (Malaysian Indian Congress).
  4. That Malay politicians cannot get away with racist statements.
  5. That discussion of race and religion, and of the special Malay rights can be done peacefully and openly without threats, or be threatened by the misuse of anti-sedition laws.
  6. That people will vote for the right person for their communities, and not because they are of the same race.
  7. Malaysians identify themselves as “Malaysian” instead of by their race.

To indeed be “Truly Asia” Malaysia needs to be an inclusive society for all races. Can it happen?

Further reading:

Fireworks on Merdeka Day, near Petronas Twin Towers

Photo Source

8 thoughts on “50 years of Independence: my thoughts as a former Malaysian

  1. LupinTan

    I can consider myself a half-malaysian since my mom from malaysia and I spent practically every holiday @ my mom’s hometown (kluang, JB).

    As I grow older, these question of yours actually comes into my mind, especially the one if SG and MY are still as one.

    I could paint 2 scenario.

    1. Major Economic Power

    2. Major civil war that still leads to separation

    I would stop here though. You have to fill in ur own detail.

    Anyway. I like mooi like the chinese malay hindi tv.

    I remembered I watch alot of cartoon back in the days in the RTM 1, RTM 2, TV3 with my kampongs friends, bugging them about what they talking cause they speak in malay.

    And I watch alot of Hindi movies, cause my aunt like the hunk and babes of bollywood.


    Anyway, Happy 50th birthday MY, from a SG boy.

  2. damion

    not sure but i think i’m one of the odd fews who doesnt really feel the independence spirit…
    perhaps just too unhappy with how things are going on behind the curtains…
    not being a separatist but voicing out my feel..

    we went thru 50 years…
    of what?
    independence they say. i say irony…
    when our forefathers worked together to gain independence, he saw malaysian people as one. without racial bias on skin colours or ethnicity. we are all equal. and then the ketuanan melayu issue was made. and subsequently. more weird policies.

    my way of typing has gone from to lousy to worst recently. must be cos i havent blogged for sometime now i cant adjust my words and sentences. =.=

  3. mooiness Post author

    Lupin: I read somewhere that the British purposely left out Singapore in the initial negotiations for Malaya’s independence because they know that that would tilt the population majority to the Chinese, and that would cause problems.

    I agree with you, it could either be those two things that you mentioned but I think that there would have been a lot of problems. The “Malaysia for all Malaysians and not Malays” issue was brought up even then by Lee Kuan Yew.

    damion: you and me both, and not because I’m now an Australian. So many issues recently that show a lot of hypocrisy and double-standards. Malay politicians can say whatever the hell they want and get away with it, while a Chinese student in Taiwan sings the truth in a brash way and he gets threatened with prosecution and stripping of his citizenship.

  4. mooiness Post author

    Jlshyang: not surprising – I think to most ppl who know the country, those are the obvious issues.

    steph: yeah it’s all shiny and new on the surface but dig deeper you see the ugly stuff.

  5. TenthOfMarch

    When I was younger, I always wondered why Singapore pulled out from Malaysia. I even felt “negative” about it and look at that event as being betrayed or something. However, just look at Singapore now. I am sure they feel glad/thankful for it. I believe that was a good decision.

    Will the situation in Malaysia improve the next couple of years? I am getting sick of politicians “misusing” their powers to gain whatever they have gained. It disgust me further when a leader of a group warns others not to use the racial card to gain political mileage while his group of people are the ones raising racial statements (and getting away with them) the most.

    Malaysia has progressed a lot in the past 50 years. However, I believe Malaysia could have progressed a lot more if politics were not racially motivated, no racial quotas, etc. Please excuse me while I take a short nap and dream of a better Malaysia. *sigh*

  6. mooiness Post author

    10/3: I do not disagree that some form of affirmative action for the Malays were needed at the beginning. You need to have a more or less an equitable society for all if there’s any desire for harmony.

    But it’s been so many years. They really need to ask themselves some serious questions.

    And yes, Malaysia would have been so much more prosperous if everyone was allowed to excel and was helped to excel.


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