PETALING JAYA, Aug 31 — An amazing thing happened this year as we counted down the days to Malaysia's 61st anniversary. We changed the government.
So today is the first Merdeka celebration under the Pakatan Harapan government.
Malay Mail spoke to more than 20 Malaysians, from various backgrounds and of different ages, to get a sense of how different this year’s independence day is and their hopes for the nation in moving forward.
Lecturer Murina Pawanteh, 40, said she felt she had brought independence to the country with her vote during the 14th general election.
“We have shown the world we are able to change the government peacefully, proving that we are a mature nation,” she said.
Hip-hop singer-songwriter Roshan Jamrock, whose real name is Roshan Nair, said Merdeka this year marks a newfound freedom for Malaysians.
“We have achieved something much larger for ourselves and as a whole – independence from self-inflicted denial, doubt and demotivation which somehow crept across the nation these past few years,” he said.
“I want to see the race box stripped away but if they must keep it for whatever reason, add other races in the options and not just chuck them under lain-lain (others).”
Like Roshan, most respondents said being Malaysian feels different this Hari Merdeka.
“Being Malaysian ‘becomes’ relevant and Malaysia our country has become a place you can call home and not a place you want to escape from,” said Loke Kean Hooi, a 54-year-old company director from Subang Jaya.
“Here’s towards zero corruption, equal opportunity for all regardless of race or religion, and better transparency in key ministries such as finance and economics.”
Equality too was on the top of Chris Kam’s wish list.
The senior pastor of a Methodist church in Petaling Jaya said he wants to see the poor given a chance to prosper in a fair economy as well as see more women in policymaking roles.
Many cited education as an area that requires major overhauling.
“A significant portion of our population is still far from being knowledgeable, with racism and gender discrimination still common. The public's knowledge on science, space, world history and arts are also limited,” said Azmi Ahmad Rosehaizat, a 21-year-old student in London.
Management consulting analyst Emira Ridza, 24, added that Malaysia’s primary and secondary education needs to be improved.
Others, like project manager Chris Mak, 65 voiced his disappointment that the government was slow in implementing education policies.
“Have one type of school with English as the medium of instruction, Malay as a mandatory language and other languages such as Mandarin optional,” said Mak, who is celebrating Merdeka by hanging a 6.3ft Jalur Gemilang in his house.
Feeza Ashruff Hassan, a 32-year-old shipping company assistant general manager from Subang Jaya, would love to see better health care, more affordable education and cheaper homes.
Environmentalists like Paranchotheswaran S. Arumugam said in post-Barisan Nasional Malaysia, he felt peace and stability returning to the country but stressed the importance of embracing green energy to attain developed nation status.
“The country has not positioned itself well where renewable energy is concerned. I hope by the year 2025, there will be no more landfills,” he said.
Across the South China Sea, Sarawakians said the power of representation cannot be underestimated.
“As a native Bidayuh and Lun Bawang, I’m happy to see a strong revival of our cultures and traditions,” said Zoee Hilson Tami, 33.
“I hope Sarawak will catch up in terms of facilities and infrastructure but though this might be the case, no one should think we Sarawakians are not as smart as those who live in Semenanjung,” added Mark Gurang, a 42-year-old Iban loss adjuster.
Film director Mamat Khalid said it was heart-warming to see Malaysians from all races fight for their rights during GE14.
“If that doesn't explain the true meaning of Merdeka any better, nothing will,” said the Hantu Kak Limah director.
“I’d love to see more appreciation for our traditions and for our cultural practices to be upheld.”
Despite the optimism, some are not celebrating until the new coalition delivers their promise.
“Economically, I think it’s tricky for the government to completely resolve the liabilities they’re currently facing,” said accountant Megat Solleh, 28.
“I don’t feel very different because there aren’t many visible changes but I’m happy to be Malaysian,” said banker Norli Baharudin, 41.