Why won’t Malaysians fly their national flag for independence day?

Malaysian flag
Read Time:8 Minutes

In this dispatch from Malaysia, the freelance journalist Jay Ihsan asks why is it businesses and homes will not fly the national flag for independence day. Perhaps, Jay suggests, the population’s indifference to nationalism has something to with the prime minister’s racism and his disastrous Covid lockdown.


Independence is a mouthful of a word. Even more difficult is to ensure that its execution remains impartial, healthy and more importantly, meaningful.

Be it Malaysia or India, when flying the national flag becomes “compulsory” to mark independence day, we need to look at the elephant in the room.

Why the lethargy or reluctance to voluntarily raise the national flag at residences and business outlets?

Is there a relation between a country’s leadership and the people’s desire to embrace the nation’s symbol of identity: the national flag?

For the longest time now, Malaysia has been struggling to impel its citizens to fly the national flag known as Jalur Gemilang. The interest has always been dismal, so much so that this year a fine of RM250 ($56) awaited business premises in Malaysia’s city of Ipoh whose owners refused to fly the national flag to celebrate August 31, the country’s 65th independence day.

Ipoh mayor Rumaizi Baharin was quoted by English daily The Star on 18 August as saying fines will be issued in accordance with the general conditions written on the back of each business premises’ licence under Section 107(2) of the Local Government Act.

“To enliven the celebrations this time, we have issued 6,000 flag installation notices to private premises in Ipoh and hoisted more than 5,000 Jalur Gemilang along the main streets and around

Ipoh. We will monitor these premises regularly, usually a week before National Day, but all this time, the Ipoh City Council is still being tolerant by giving advice instead of issuing compound notices,” the mayor had said.”

Really, the Ipoh City Council is being tolerant? On the contrary, it is the people of Ipoh who have been suffering the laziness of the Ipoh City Council: be it by enduring flash floods, clogged drains and indiscriminate dumping of rubbish.

But then arm twisting is the only act the Malaysian ruling government of Barisan Nasional is competent at.

Why should the people be prosecuted for their unwillingness to fly the Jalur Gemilang? Is love for the nation to be forged through coercion?

Malaysia’s population as of 2022 is 32.7 million. Why does the federal government not undertake a survey to determine what “merdeka” or independence means to Malaysians?

(A lawyer I asked said “merdeka” means nothing to her. Her honesty is a slap in the face of the federal government.)

Malaysians’ indifference towards the national flag does not deserve to be punished. Patriotism has not made its way into their hearts and this diagnosis needs to be treated with sensitivity, not punishment.

A racist PM has hurt Malaysia

A racist and corrupt government, an incompetent police force, plundering of the states’ resources by unscrupulous politicians and rulers, undermining and threatening civil liberties and imposing a climate of fear – are these reasons not sufficient to put Malaysians off from looking forward to 31 August?

The present prime minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob, the country’s ninth, will go down in Malaysian history as yet another racist premier. Despite the existence of a petition named “We don’t want Ismail Sabri Yaakob to be prime minister Malaysia” he regrettably ended up sitting on the PM’s plush chair.

It was in 2015 when Malaysians first got a taste of Ismail’s racist streak when he urged Malay consumers via his Facebook post to boycott Chinese businesses, citing monopolistic practices and the latter discriminating against non-Chinese entrepreneurs.

Ismail then held the Agriculture and Agro-based Industries portfolio.

Ismail claimed it was necessary for Malays to flex their consumer muscles to stop “profiteering” by Malaysia’s ethnic Chinese that control over 90% of Malaysian economies.

Apalled by Ismail’s race politics, a political analyst, Wan Saiful Wan Jan, who chaired the Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs think tank, had this to say:

“I think the reaction of any right-minded Malay or Chinese who believes in Malaysian unity would be of disgust. “And I think, or at least hope, that the Chinese voters will remember what he said when it comes to the vote.”

Then Inspector-General of Police Khalid Abu Bakar meanwhile said Ismail would be investigated under the Sedition Act 1948.

Though Ismail went on to delete the Facebook post, he remained unrepentant and once again stirred racial unrest. This time it was his suggestion that “Low Yat 2”, a Malay-only IT mall be set up throughout the country to give the existing Chinese-operated Low Yat Plaza a run for its money.

No surprise that Ismail was castigated for his racist outlook. But “Low Yat 2” came to be exist and languished, with outlets in Kuantan and Johor making losses.

If such outrageous waste of funds was not painful enough, Ismail as prime minister continued to embarrass the nation and its people when in February this year he ordered government officials to converse in Bahasa Melayu when representing Malaysia abroad.

Ismail also said he would propose that the Malay language be made the official language of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) as it was once-upon-a-time the most widely spoken language in the region.

Once again, it was brickbats for Ismail. His unwillingness to embrace Malaysia’s “unity in diversity” is both a shameful blot and an irrefutable fact.

Equally disastrous was the mess Ismail created through the confusing Covid-19 standard operating procedures (SOPs) movement control order and lockdown. He like his predecessor Muhyiddin Yassin was ill-equipped to handle the Covid-19 “pandemic” and his record is marked by economic mismanagement.

The opposition coalition Pakatan Harapan’s health committee had condemned the lockdown, calling it a complete failure while an army general without mincing his words remarked Malaysia’s Covid-19 response lacked coordination and speed.

Equally worried were the foreign trade chambers vis-à-vis Malaysia’s tackling of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Bank Negara, Malaysia’s central bank in August 2021 slashed its full-year gross domestic product growth target to 3.0%-4.0% from 6.0%-7.5%.

WHO’s regional director for Western Pacific region Takeshi Kasai had cautioned Malaysia that vaccination rate alone was not enough to gauge a country’s control of the spread of the virus. He said any relaxation of COVID-19 restrictions should be properly studied amid the soaring new infections.

Malaysia’s international borders brought their shutters down in March 2020 and prohibited foreigners from setting foot in the country from India due to a spike in new cases in the last six months.

The Muhyiddin Yassin-led government was taken to task for misplaced priorities. In a swift politically-motivated damage control move, Muhyiddin reshuffled the Cabinet, making Ismail Sabri who was then Defense Minister as deputy prime minister before the latter assumed the country’s leadership in August 2021.

With an inept and racially-motivated politician helming the country as its prime minister, why are Malaysians especially the minorities, being persecuted for lacking love for the nation?

Minorities not welcome in Malaysia

When did the country’s so-called leaders ever bother to foster harmonious relations between Malaysians of different ethnicities without an invidious agenda on the their minds?

In December last year, the High Court reiterated that Malaysia’s vernacular schools were consistent with its Federal Constitution and dismissed a lawsuit which sought government intervention to abolish vernacular education (education in the Mandarin and Tamil languages).

“Enrolment in a vernacular school is after all a matter of choice. It is difficult to see in what fashion the establishment and existence of Chinese and Tamil vernacular schools would infringe the fundamental liberties or rights of any person under the constitution,” Judge Mohd Nazlan Mohd Ghazali’s had pointed out.

Mohd Nazlan had stressed that the Federal Constitution clearly protected teaching and learning in mother tongues.

The judge asserted that vernacular schools are educational institutions under the Education Act 1996 purview and not public or statutory authorities. It therefore was not an offence if another language apart from Malay is used as a medium of instruction, adding that this is safeguarded under Article 152 (1) (a) of the Federal Constitution.

The suit was brought on by Gabungan Pelajar Melayu Semenanjung (GPMS), Islam Education Development Council (Mappim) and

Confederation of Malaysian Writers Association (Gapena) – all hoping to wipe out the existence of vernacular schools in Malaysia.

Their nefarious agenda was to get the court to declare vernacular schools as unconstitutional and violating Article 152(1) of the Federal Constitution which held Malay as the national language.

The groups claimed that Sections 2, 17 and 28 of the Education Act 1966, which allow Mandarin and Tamil schools to conduct lessons in these languages, were also unconstitutional.

They wanted too for the courts to declare vernacular schools to be in violation of Articles 5 (right to a dignified life), 8 (equality), 10 (freedom of speech, assembly and association), 11 (freedom in religion), and 12 (rights in respect of education) of the Constitution.

The question is why has Ismail as the country’s prime minister not reprimanded GPMS, Mappim and Gapena for challenging the Constitution, intolerance and inciting communal unrest?

Was Ismail, a lawyer by training, secretly harbouring a similar sentiment, hoping the post-colonial era Malaysia would “thrive” without the minorities calling it home?