Cast aside your political differences and come together as Malaysians this Merdeka Day.
This was the call that a prominent political analyst made as he spoke to FMT about his distress that partisan lines were being drawn over the Aug 31 celebrations.
“Politicians need to rise above petty political fights,” said Denison Jayasooria, secretary-general of the human rights organisation Proham and a research fellow at Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia.
“The celebration of Merdeka Day must be seen as a national one. Merdeka Day happens for one day. It’s a political ceasefire. Don’t put yourself first, put the nation first.”
He noted that the federal government had not made it a practice to invite opposition MPs to official national celebrations and the latter had usually held their own functions to commemorate Malaysia’s independence from British rule.
There has been no indication that the practice will change this year. Indeed, chances are the divide will be even more apparent, especially with the heavy BN-centric Janji Ditepati (“promises fulfilled”) theme of the celebration.
BN’s refusal to review the theme has prompted Pakatan Rakyat to come up with its own alternative, along with an organising committee led by national laureate A Samad Said.
Jayasooria finds these developments unsettling. He said Merdeka Day was supposed to unite Malaysians of all political persuasions.
He pointed out that opposition leaders in other countries such as Britain and India were routinely invited as VIPs to their national celebrations.
“MPs are chosen by the people. You have to respect the people’s choice. They cannot be isolated from such a national celebration,” he said.
“If you don’t respect an MP or a chief minister, you are disrespecting the people who elected them.”
Jayasooria also had words of advice for Pakatan Rakyat.
“If they’re not invited, they should still go,” he said. “If the leaders don’t put them on the stage, then they should stand with the crowd. If they give in this way, I think people will respect them more.”
Maturity and statesmanship
He had one word to describe Pakatan’s plan for a separate celebration: “Not advisable”. And he had a message for Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak: mobilise all leaders at federal and state levels to work together for a “joint programme of celebration”.
Universiti Malaya’s Azmi Sharom, although agreeing with Jayasooria, had strong words about the Janji Ditepati theme, which he said was being used to further BN’s chances in the coming election.
“They have hijacked the Merdeka Day celebration and turned it into a campaign for Umno and BN,” he said.
He acknowledged that national celebrations in Malaysia had always been “a very ruling party thing”, but lamented that this year this exclusive control had reached the point of vulgarity.
He also took a swipe at this year’s theme song, the lyrics for which were written by Information, Communications and Culture Minister Rais Yatim.
“Rais should hang onto his day job,” he said. “The lyrics are shameful.”
The song, which focuses heavily on Najib’s recent 1Malaysia government programmes, including the Bantuan Rakyat 1Malaysia RM500 cash aid, has been soundly attacked by local netizens.
“It should not be a BN do or a government do. If you look at the US’s Fourth of July celebrations, they’re not about government involvement. They’re about the people’s involvement.”
However, another analyst from Universiti Malaya, KS Balakrishnan, does not think the theme choice was too serious a matter.
According to him, large events such the Merdeka Day celebrations were always used by governments of the day as an advantage to promote themselves.
The feeling that Merdeka may have been politicised, he said, might have been brought by the public’s awareness that the general election was near.
“The tendency to promote the government as good and right is always there,” he said. “It’s always an advantage to use events to serve the intentions of the government.”