Malaysia, age and independence

AUGUST 26 ― In just a few days, we celebrate Merdeka Day. A bit more than two weeks after that we celebrate Malaysia’s birthday. So how old is Malaysia turning this year?

The obvious answer is our country is turning 52 ― the federation of Malaysia was formed on September 16, 1963.

However, that figure is sadly not so obvious to too many Malaysians yet. Going by some online remarks I’ve seen recently, there are still those who believe the country is turning 58 this year.

Now this is an understandable misconception. We have spent so many years celebrating Merdeka Day, the anniversary of August 31, 1957 as the point of independence than we have September 16, 1963, which we call Malaysia Day.

However, there is a difference when it comes to a nation’s age and how long it has been independent. And of course it may be confusing if you’re not so into history and dates and all that.

So here’s a quick list of significant dates vis-a-vis the Merdeka season:

August 31, 1957: The Federation of Malaya gained independence.

July 9, 1963: What we call the Malaysia Agreement today was signed between Britain, Malaya, North Borneo, Sarawak and Singapore.

July 22, 1963: Sarawak gained independence conditional upon the state forming Malaysia later the same year.

August 31, 1963: North Borneo (now Sabah) gained independence conditional upon it forming Malaysia later the same year.

September 16, 1963: Malaya, Sarawak, North Borneo and Singapore formed the Federation of Malaysia.

August 9, 1965: The Malaysian Parliament unanimously expelled Singapore from the federation.

Now as you can tell from the list the matter of Malaysia’s age and independence can be tricky.

For instance, Malaysia turns 52 years old this year. But how long has Malaysia been independent?

It’s hard to say because as a nation, different components of Malaysia have been independent for different lengths of time. The Peninsula obviously have been independent longer ― first as the Federation of Malaya and then as part of Malaysia.

On the other hand, Sarawak and Sabah have only been independent since July 22 and August 31, 1963 respectively, briefly as independent states unto their own and then as part of Malaysia.

And there had also been the argument that Sarawak and Sabah had not been truly independent until Malaysia was formed, since the independence granted them in the months prior was conditional upon the federation being formed.

If you take this view then the length of independence for Sarawak and Sabah is cut shorter by a matter of weeks (but who’s counting).

As for Singapore, this year they celebrated a golden jubilee, which has been branded SG50 to mark the 50th anniversary of its independence. Clearly they are going by the 1965 year, when it became a sovereign state unto its own as opposed to 1963 when it took part in the formation of Malaysia.

Of course, these dates and the distinction between Malaysia’s age and how long we have been independent may have you asking: what does it matter?

Simply a point of knowing our history, I say.

*This is the personal opinion of the columnist.