– Tan Sri Ramon Navaratnam
The Malaysian Insider
August 30, 2013
I am really happy that we as Malaysians are celebrating our 56th Merdeka, or our National Birthday, with relative peace and progress and a feeling of considerable achievement.
As in the case of our own birthdays, it is therefore a time of reflection, gratitude and for new resolutions that we must make to look forward to a better Malaysian way of life.
For me it is specially important to recall our first Merdeka, because I can say with pride that “I was there”!
Yes, I was at the Selangor Padang or Dataran Merdeka, with my cousin Leslie Abraham, on the eve of Merdeka 1957.
We watched awe struck, as we witnessed the lowering of the British flag, the Union Jack and the hoisting of our new national flag, which was later named the Jalur Gemilang, for the first time, as the clock in the tower of the Secretariat Building struck midnight!
The huge crowd cheered wildly and shouted “Merdeka, Merdeka!”, as the Malaysian flag reached the top of the flag pole. We all experienced the electrifying experience of pride and the honour of historically entering a new era of Independence.
We got home late on our bicycles. I was then a 22-year-old Economics Undergraduate at the only university for both Malaya and Singapore.
The next morning I got up at the crack of dawn feeling the exhilaration of welcoming the first dawn of Merdeka. My dear dad was not pleased that I was going to the spanking new Merdeka Stadium, for fear of civil disturbances and many uncertainties at that time.
It is my dear mother who persuaded him to let me go from our home at Jalan Hose, near the present Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka, to the nearby Merdeka Stadium about 15 minutes walking distance away.
I could not enter the Merdeka Stadium without an official invitation. So I did the next best thing, that is to enter the stadium through a hole in the fence of my old school, the Victoria Institution, which as we all know is just beside the Merdeka stadium.
It was thrilling to see right across me, in the distance, Tunku Abdul Rahman, our beloved first prime minister together with the Sultans and the British Queen’s representative in their plumed cock hats and ceremonial splendor.
Immediately after the Proclamation of Independence, the Tunku led the massive crowd with loud cries of Merdeka, seven times!
We shouted ourselves hoarse, with pride and tears of joy as we celebrated our new born independence. What powerful emotional feelings we had with so much patriotism, high ideals and great expectations for a glorious future of freedom and a Better Malaya for all Malayans under our own Malayan Government rule.
Indeed, Malaya, and then Malaysia subsequently, went through many trials and tribulations and much stress and strain.
First it was the Emergency, then the formation of Malaysia, Confrontation and the 1969 Racial Riots and the Financial Crisis. But our rich resilience and determination got us through all these major challenges.
We succeeded largely because of our Merdeka spirit of National Unity and strong sense of belonging and love and loyalty to our Malaysia.
However, regretfully, the “uncertainties” that many felt at the dawn of independence have re-emerged. Today, our sense of unity has been diluted by some ethnic polarisation , more religious bigotry, the brain drain, corruption and crime. There is now general concern about the pace of our future progress!
We are also caught in the Middle Income Trap, with poor prospects for a break out from the trap – unless of course we adopt new policies and best practices, as a matter of priority.
On this our Merdeka Day therefore, “How do I feel?”
I feel that most Malaysians are still grateful for the relative peace, stability and progress that we have had and still enjoy, thank God. But we need to firmly resolve to raise our national collective determination and our political will, to further build upon our several strengths and to overcome our many weaknesses.
We need to realise our own Malaysian Dream for an even Better Malaysia for all Malaysians and especially for the less fortunate amongst us, in this God given blessed country that is our Home Sweet Home!
May the Almighty bless us Malaysia and all Malaysians on this Merdeka day and in the future! – August 30, 2013.
* Tan Sri Ramon Navaratnam is the chairman Asli center of Public Policy Studies.