Today, 16 September, we celebrate the 58th anniversary of Malaysia.
On this date, we – Malayans, Sabahans and Sarawakians – came together to form the Federation of Malaysia.
On this date, the British raj and the white sahibs departed from Sabah and Sarawak, and this new nation came into being as a secular, independent and sovereign nation.
However, the Federation of Malaysia is a two-tiered federation in which Sabah and Sarawak were different: they had more state rights and privileges compared with the states in the Malayan federation. This was as agreed to at the time of the formation of Malaysia to safeguard the rights and interests of Sabah and Sarawak and their peoples.
After 58 years, we should take a critical look at where we are and where we are heading. Malaysia was not formed to bring into existence a ‘Melayu Raya’ or to establish ‘ketuanan Melayu’ (Malay supremacy) or an ‘Islamic state’. Neither was it formed on the basis of racial or ethnic discrimination.
Malaysia’s existence was premised on the belief and understanding that all are equal – equal in living standards, personal choice of religion, educational opportunities, job opportunities, health facilities, social progress for all citizens, more so for those lagging behind, like the aborigines. There should be fair development and disbursement of funds to all states.
But what have we got? We see the colonial-minded brown sahibs replacing the white sahibs, but with no change in attitude and priorities. We see racial discrimination, religious bigotry, corruption on an unprecedented scale everywhere and in every field.
Every institution of state is tainted or plagued by inefficiency – the judiciary, the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission, the civil service and even our ‘esteemed’ Parliament.
The checks and balances that are supposed to ensure justice and fairness in governance have been dismantled through irresponsible and wanton amendments to our Constitution, which is now reduced to a near worthless piece of paper.
Far from having statesmen and women dedicated to the welfare and wellbeing of our multicultural and multiracial populations, many of our politicians have become corrupt self-seekers selling out our country to foreigners and maintaining power through the colonial policy of divide and rule, promoting inter-ethnic antagonisms, religious extremism and bigotry.
Far from being dedicated servants of the people and the state, these political leaders have become entrenched, with enforcement agencies harassing and intimidating people. We have become a country where might is right and power is maintained through ‘rule by law’ rather than the rule of law.
The result: many Malaysians have left Malaysia for a better life elsewhere – not just the minorities but also many Malays. Indeed, one Indonesian immigrant who later became a minister in Malaysia even said those unhappy with Malaysia could leave.
But why should we leave? Isn’t this our homeland? Are we that powerless? Definitely not. In 2018, we voted out a corrupt government and replaced it with one of our choice. It may not have lasted long as it fell because of the treachery of a so-called ‘elder statesman’.
But we can do it again. The people are sovereign. Collectively, we are unbeatable.
After 58 years, it is time for Malaysians to collectively regain control of our homeland and make it clear to the politicians they are there on public sufferance. If they fail to deliver, they can be dispensed with. No politician is indispensable or irreplaceable.
It is time to state through the ballot box that we want good governance. We want a government free from corruption, nepotism and cronyism.
We want a government that will act against racial and ethnic discrimination and eradicate religious bigotry.
We want meaningful economic and social development for all Malaysians, as well as quality education, affordable housing, efficient public transport and job security.
We also demand an efficient and corrupt-free civil service and judiciary not under political control. We want a Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission answerable to an independent Parliament.
So, my fellow Malaysians, let us work to build a moral and secular nation – free from corruption, racism and religious bigotry.
Let us work to empower our youth, women and marginalised groups to speak up for their rights and for justice.
Finally, let us work for a nation where all will have a bright future. Change is in our hands and we can and will be able to make Malaysia a nation to be proud of.
Dr Ariffin Omar, a long-time member and former president of Aliran, is a historian and independent researcher as well as former senator