This article was originally submitted somewhere else for publication. After a few weeks, and a few rounds of editing, the edited article was spiked for being too controversial. Marcus then begged the LoyarBurok powers-that-be to publish the piece. Despite being obviously upset at being second choice, the powers-that-be, having consulted Lord Bobo, agreed to publish this on two conditions. Firstly, that it will be the unedited version that is published (LoyarBurok readers don’t need articles to be sanitised for their consumption). Secondly, that Marcus publishes one article every month on this most awesome blawg for the rest of 2012.

There are very few things that observers of Malaysian politics can regularly agree on.

However, there will be much concurrence with the suggestion that there are two significant traits for those who follow the local political scene very closely – a sense of humour, and a dose of masochism. Naturally, the agreement will be because those involved deem these traits necessary due to the ineptitude of those on “the other side”.

An unhealthy and extreme partisanship has evolved in Malaysian politics since 2008. This is even more obvious to anyone who follows political “commentary” on Twitter (to whom my use of the inverted commas would be obvious).

There is nothing wrong with a bit of banter and partisan one-upmanship. The disconcerting thing is when the immaturity comes from elected representatives, who forget (or perhaps never realised in the first place) that they are supposed to represent everyone, not just those who voted for them or their party.

Despite the frustration and disappointment, I do still follow some of these tweets, including the propaganda offered by full-time political commentators who are prominently featured in national newspapers. I did mention masochism earlier on.

However, the recent discussions about the Merdeka theme have taken things beyond what should be acceptable to any Malaysian, political or not.

I waited some time before putting my thoughts into writing, as I harboured some hope that the theme would be scrapped following the incessant criticism. Perhaps those responsible would hold their hands up and admit that it was a mistake? Silly me.

When announcing the theme – “55 Tahun Merdeka, Janji Ditepati” (55 Years of Independence, Promises Fulfilled) – Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak said “we can already see that the promises made by the Barisan [Nasional] have been implemented”.

The theme has since been widely criticised. Some say the criticism is unjustified. It is important to put the theme in context, and consider the facts.

Barisan have been running a nationwide Janji Ditepati tour to highlight the promises that they have delivered to the people.

The theme speaks of the fulfillment of promises, which implies a need to be grateful. Whose promises? To whom are we to be grateful? How do we display this gratitude?

If the answers to these questions were not obvious enough, helpfully, there is an official song. The chorus goes, “Janji siapa? Janji kita!” (Whose promises? Our promises!). The verse serves up the kicker, “Janji sudah ditepati, kini masa balas budi” (The promises have been fulfilled, now it is time to repay our deeds).

Merdeka is supposed to be a celebration by all Malaysians of our nation’s independence. An official theme sets the tone for the entire occasion – and undoubtedly the message of the theme will seep into everything involved in the celebrations. For this reason, the Janji Ditepati theme is fundamentally flawed. It is self-serving, and immediately alienates anyone who does not support Barisan – which, lest we forget, is a choice that Malaysians are entitled to.

I am not surprised that it has come to this. The political campaigning and posturing that has been putting “Malaysia” in the back seat has now extended to our Merdeka celebrations. It looks like this will continue at least until the general elections are finally called. Or perhaps even beyond then – the “winning at all costs” mentality that politicians on both sides of the divide have adopted is unlikely to result in either side losing graciously.

Is there an alternative? Perhaps a Merdeka celebration organised by a coalition of NGOs (no, not that coalition of NGOs)?

For the past two years, an alternative Malaysia Day celebration called “Malaysiaku” (My Malaysia) has been held in Bangsar, organised by Ed Soo. It brought together many NGOs and featured talks, film screenings, cultural performances, forums, stalls, and food.

It was a true celebration of the joy and privilege of being Malaysian, free of the stain of political campaigning – which really is what Merdeka should be about. Unfortunately, the event is not being organised this year. The Janji Ditepati theme means the absence of Malaysiaku is even more keenly felt.

Merdeka Day is already upon us, and Datuk Seri Rais Yatim has firmly said that the theme is fixed. He also asked the Opposition not to ignore Merdeka Day over political differences. This is where the sense of humour I mentioned earlier comes in, seeing that some argue that it is Barisan who have in essence ignored Merdeka with their unsuitable theme.

Datuk Seri Nazri Aziz said that Barisan has the right to determine the theme, as it is the Barisan component parties who fought for independence in the first place. This sentiment unfortunately encompasses all that is wrong with the government’s approach to this year’s Merdeka celebrations.

The unfortunate victims amidst all this politicking are, as always, the Malaysian public. The political stakes are too high for the government to back down without seeming to be giving in. The political temperature that has been rising for months has gone past boiling point and scalded the Merdeka celebrations.

While all this is going on, we ordinary Malaysians will just have to celebrate Merdeka in our own ways, forcibly distanced from official themes and events.

It is unfortunate that, in our 55th year of independence, it has come to this. We expect our leaders from all political parties to conduct themselves in a manner that shows a respect and acknowledgement of the maturity of Malaysian society. The Barisan government, in insisting on a theme that is unbecoming of the meaning of Merdeka, have allowed immature politicking to pollute this year’s Merdeka celebrations, and in doing so have disappointed and disrespected many Malaysians.

Marcus van Geyzel tweets at @vangeyzel. He believes that the only certain thing in life is that everything can be explained by the transperambulation of pseudo-cosmic antimatter.

7 replies on “Janji Ditepati? Merdeka Deserves Better”

  1. It's a case of "Its our party and we'll blow our trumpets if we want to" so it's very exclusive and very alienating. I must say I've never felt as detached from the Merdeka celebrations as I have in the last two years and it's not about where I am, geographically, but where my mind's at. It's clearly on a different plane from the government's. Somehow, I don't feel I belong to the "Grateful Slaves Who Are Being Robbed Daily by the Master" gang.

  2. Students have always been 'forced' to take part in National Day performances since forever. You're such a wuss, Loque.

  3. I'm one of the students who involve in Perhimpunan Janji Ditepati. We were 'forced' to take part in Human LED performance at Bukit Jalil Stadium on 31st night. We had to leave the assignments, leave the class, our studies. Then we have to do class replacement of course. Here is my comment. They (whoever behind this Perhimpunan Janji Ditepati) treat us badly. Bad management and the worst part is the food's bad. Complaint already been made but to no avail. Surprisingly 5 students already get caught under Akta 174 today but I don’t know the reason why. Another worst part is my ear can't stand anymore because they keep shouting the word 'Janji Ditepati' while doing the practice and rehearsal. The funny part is we all got t-shirt with the old logo (created using MS Word) of 'Janji Ditepati'. There are lack here and there. We are not demanding or lembik or mengada-ngada, we just need to be treated fair and good. We don’t want always to be victimized and politicized by the government.

  4. I always wonder what was promised and what was achieved? Can anybody do a spreadsheet on the 55 years of promises and achievement?

  5. True, Marcus, our Merdeka Day celebrations have been hijacked! Never mind. You can still celebrate it though, in unity and solidarity with the rest of your Malaysian brothers and sisters, at Dataran Merdeka, starting 10 pm, 30 August 2012.
    Let's have a hopeful countdown and usher in a new dawn, for all of us.
    God bless.

    P.S. Please come in yellow. Thanks and "Happy Hari Merdeka".

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