Malaysia Day is celebrated every 16th of September to commemorate the founding of Malaysia – when North Borneo (Sabah) and Sarawak on the island of Borneo (Kalimantan) together with Singapore joined the Federation of Malaya to form Malaysia. It was under intense circumstances that this occurred as Indonesia under the charismatic Sukarno opposed this formation and launched a brief war called Konfrontasi. (Read a Singaporean version here and a Malaysian version here). Furthermore, the Philippines laid its claim on Sabah, a claim which has yet to be resolved.
However, this day was never given prominence and the Federation of Malaya’s independence day, the 31st Aug is always celebrated as the main national day celebration, demonstrating to a certain extent, the lack of inclusiveness by the government. In fact, after Bangladesh claimed independence from Pakistan, East Malaysia was formally dropped from official use – fearing that Sabah and Sarawak would follow East Pakistan (now Bangladesh). Nevertheless, there is still no official reason why the 31st of August is celebrated as the national day instead of the 16th of September.
The opposition coalition and several people’s movement (e.g. Fast for Malaysia and Peoples Parliament) are calling for September 16 to be made the main national holiday and has given it more prominence. This was the date given by Anwar Ibrahim last year, for the opposition alliance to form a new federal government (although it never materialised). This is of course in part a signal to move Malaysia to a new identity that is inclusive and away from the race-based national characteristics that has coloured Malaysia’s past.
Will this come to pass?