Malaysian Olympians unite crowd as symbols of Merdeka spirit in city parade

The Olympic contingent on a bus during the National Day parade at Dataran Merdeka, Kuala Lumpur August 31, 2016. — Picture by Mohd Yusof Mat Isa
The Olympic contingent on a bus during the National Day parade at Dataran Merdeka, Kuala Lumpur August 31, 2016. — Picture by Mohd Yusof Mat Isa

KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 31 — The country’s Olympic medallists from the recent Rio Games were certainly the highlight of the 59th Merdeka celebration parade at Dataran Merdeka today.

The Malaysian Olympic contingent, dressed in their signature orange-and-black tiger striped tracksuits, drew the loudest cheers from the multiracial Malaysian crowd who came here to celebrate the anniversary of the country’s independence from colonial British rule, and perhaps look for symbols of unity and cheer amid trying times.

The crowd whooped in delight and waved miniature versions of the Jalur Gemilang when the bright yellow open-topped double-decker bus carrying badminton aces and Olympic medallists Datuk Lee Chong Wei, Goh V Shem, Tan Wee Kiong, Goh Liu Ying, Chan Peng Soon; divers Pandelela Rinong, Cheong Jun Hoong; and cyclist Azizulhasni Awang rode by.

The excited crowd that had gathered in the city’s historic square since before 8am had been cheering the other teams in the march past, but nothing compared to their deafening cries for the athletes.

Several Malaysians interviewed by Malay Mail Online at the parade grounds expressed a keen wish that there could be more such frequent displays of solidarity instead of just during national day celebrations.

“(I wish) that we can have this kind of unity all the time instead of just one day. It is not that you do not see any, there are times (when) conflict happen and it is not very nice,” a photography student who gave her name as Beverly said.

The 18-year-old said she was attending the parade for the first-time, though she was a Kuala Lumpur native.

Another first-timer to the parade from Perak, Afiqah shared a similar view, saying there have been too few examples of unity among Malaysians of diverse social backgrounds while reports of ethnic conflicts dominate even though those cases were caused only by a small number of individuals.

“I do hope we can get together more,” the 24-year-old said.

Pensioner Khalid, also from Perak, also expressed sadness that there few occasions for Malaysians to get together these days that bridged the racial divide.

The 74-year-old voiced surprise and joy at the show of unity apparent in the turnout at today’s parade. He said he had come to see it today for the first time in 20 years and had not expected such a huge crowd would gather today compared to his last parade.

“Nothing more than unity. I think, well, there is a lack of conformity among races, there is no understanding and communication. No understanding, no unity,” he said.

This year's celebration included a brief skit displayed on a big screen at the Dataran Merdeka in which a character encouraged the crowd to sing along and chant the word, “Merdeka”.

Mascots of characters from popular local animation BoBoiBoy were also featured in the parade, adding colour to the festive air from the usual line-up of marching bands, tanks and boats while Merdeka theme songs played in the background.

A clear pale blue sky over Kuala Lumpur helped lift the downcast mood of Malaysians who had been plagued by the haze earlier this week.