Independence Day (Malaysia)

Independence Day (Malay: Hari Merdeka, also known as Hari Kebangsaan or "National Day"), is the official independence day of Malaya.[1][2] It commemorates the Malayan Declaration of Independence of 31 August 1957, and is defined in Article 160 of the Constitution of Malaysia.[3] The day is marked by official and unofficial ceremonies and observances across the country.

Hari Merdeka
(Independence Day)
Children waving the Malaysian flag on Merdeka Day
Official nameHari Merdeka
Also calledMerdeka, Hari Kebangsaan, National Day
Observed byMalaysians
SignificanceMarks the independence of the Federation of Malaya
Date31 August
Next time31 August 2023 (2023-08-31)

The observation of 31 August as Malaysia's national day is the cause of some controversy, due to calls to prioritize the celebration of Hari Malaysia (Malaysia Day) on 16 September instead. Hari Malaysia commemorates the formation of Malaysia in 1963,[4] when the four entities of North Borneo, Sarawak, Singapore and Malaya federated to form Malaysia.[5] Some, especially people from East Malaysia, argue that it is illogical to celebrate 31 August 1957 as Malaysia's national day when Malaysia was only established in 1963.[6][7] Supporters of Hari Merdeka argue that "the Federation" as defined in Article 160 of the Constitution of Malaysia is the "Federation of Malaya" that was established in 1957.[3]

Events leading up to independence

The effort for independence was spearheaded by Tunku Abdul Rahman, the first Prime Minister of Malaysia, who led a delegation of ministers and political leaders of Malaya in negotiations with the British in London for Merdeka, or independence along with the first president of the Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA) Tun Dato Sri Tan Cheng Lock and fifth President of Malaysian Indian Congress Tun V. T. Sambanthan.[8] Once it became clear that the Communist threat posed during the Malayan Emergency was petering out, an agreement was reached on 8 February 1956,[9] for Malaya to gain independence from the British Empire. However, logistical and administrative reasons led to the official proclamation of independence in the next year, on 31 August 1957, at Stadium Merdeka (Independence Stadium), in Kuala Lumpur, which was purposely built for the celebrations of the national independence day. The announcement of the day was set months earlier by Tunku Abdul Rahman in a meeting of the Alliance in Malacca in February 1957.[10]

Independence Day (31 August 1957)

On the night of 30 August 1957, more than 20,000 people gathered at Merdeka Square (Dataran Merdeka) in Kuala Lumpur to witness the handover of power from the British. Prime Minister-designate Tunku Abdul Rahman arrived at 11:58 p.m. and joined members of the Alliance Party's youth divisions in observing two minutes of darkness.[11] On the stroke of midnight, the lights were switched back on, and the Union Flag in the square was lowered as the royal anthem "God Save The Queen" played.[12] The new Flag of Malaya was raised as the national anthem Negaraku was played. This was followed by seven chants of "Merdeka" by the crowd.[11][12] Tunku Abdul Rahman later gave a speech hailing the ceremony as the "greatest moment in the life of the Malayan people".[11] Before giving the address to the crowd, he was given a necklace by representatives of the Alliance Party youth in honour of this great occasion in history, with a map of Malaya inscribed on it. The event ended at one in the morning.

On the morning of 31 August 1957, the festivities moved to the newly completed Merdeka Stadium. More than 20,000 people witnessed the ceremony, which began at 9:30 am. Those in attendance included rulers of the Malay states, foreign dignitaries, members of the federal cabinet, and citizens.[13] The Queen's representative, the Duke of Gloucester presented Tunku Abdul Rahman with the instrument of independence.[13] Tunku then proceeded to read the Proclamation of Independence, which culminated in the chanting of "Merdeka!" seven times with the crowd joining in. The ceremony continued with the raising of the National Flag of Malaya accompanied by the national anthem being played by a military band and a 21-gun salute, followed by an azan call and a thanksgiving prayer in honour of this great occasion.[13]

The day followed with the solemn installation of the first Yang di-Pertuan Agong, Tuanku Abdul Rahman of Negeri Sembilan, at Jalan Ampang, and the first installation banquet in his honour in the evening followed by a beating retreat performance and a fireworks display. Sports events and other events marked the birth of the new nation.


The foreign guests of honour included:

Members of royal families
Heads of government
Representatives from other British colonies
Members of the former British colonial administration
  • Sir Gerald Templer (former British High Commissioner in Malaya) and Lady Templer
  • Lady Gurney (wife of former British High Commissioner in Malaya Sir Henry Gurney)
  • Lady Gent (wife of former British High Commissioner in Malaya Sir Edward Gent)
High Commissioners of other Commonwealth countries
  • High Commissioner of Canada to Malaya, Arthur Redpath Menzies
  • High Commissioner of Australia to Malaya, Tom Critchley
  • High Commissioner of New Zealand to Malaya, Foss Shanahan

The formation of Malaysia

The Federation of Malaysia, comprising the states of the Federation of Malaya, North Borneo, Sarawak and Singapore, was officially declared on 31 August 1963, on the 6th anniversary of Malayan independence. However, it was postponed to 16 September 1963, mainly due to Indonesian and the Philippines' opposition to the formation of Malaysia. Nevertheless, North Borneo and Singapore declared sovereignty on 31 August 1963. Indonesian opposition later escalated to a military conflict. Indonesia considered Malaysia as a new form of colonisation on Sarawak and North Borneo, which bordered Indonesian territory on Borneo. However, they did not lay claim upon the two territories, unlike the Philippines which claimed the eastern part of Sabah. To assure Indonesia that Malaysia was not a form of neocolonialism, a general survey (instead of a referendum) was organised by the United Nations involving interviews of approximately 4,000 people, which received 2,200 memorandums from groups and private individuals. The Cobbold Commission, led by Lord Cobbold, was also formed to determine whether the people of North Borneo and Sarawak wished to join Malaysia. Their eventual findings, which indicated substantial support for Malaysia among the peoples of Sabah and Sarawak, cleared the way for the final proclamation of Malaysia.

The formation of the Federation of Malaysia was announced on 16 September 1963, the anniversary of which is celebrated as Malaysia Day. Hari Merdeka continued to be celebrated on 31 August, the original independence date of Malaya, while Malaysia Day became a public holiday only in East Malaysia. This caused discontent among East Malaysians in particular, it being sometimes felt that celebrating the national day on 31 August is Malaya-centric.[14][15][16] In 2009, it was decided that starting 2010, Malaysia Day would be a nationwide public holiday in addition to Hari Merdeka on 31 August.[17]


1970 Muhibah dan Perpaduan [18]
(Goodwill and Unity)
1971 Masyarakat Progresif [19]
(Progressive Society)
1972 Masyarakat Adil [19]
(Fair Society)
1973 Masyarakat Berkebudayaan Malaysia [19]
(A Society with Malaysian Culture)
1974 Sains dan Teknologi Alat Perpaduan [19]
(Science and Technology as Tools of Unity)
1975 Masyarakat Berdikari [19]
(A Self-Reliant Society)
1976 Ketahanan Rakyat
(Strength of the People)
1977 20 Tahun Bersatu Maju [19]
(20 Years United and Progressive)
1978 Kebudayaan Sendi Perpaduan
(Culture is the Core of Unity)
1979 Bersatu Berdisplin
(United and Disciplined)
1980 Berdisplin Berbakti [19]
(Discipline and Service)
1981 Berdisplin Berharmoni [19]
(Discipline and Harmony)
1982 Berdisplin Giat Maju [19]
(Discipline Creates Progress)
1983 Bersama Ke Arah Kemajuan
(Together Towards Success)
1984 Amanah Asas Kejayaan [19]
(Honesty Brings Success)
1985 Nasionalisme Teras Perpaduan [19]
(Nationalism is the Core of Unity)
1986 Bangsa Tegas Negara Teguh [19]
(Steadfast Society, Strong Country)
1987 Setia Bersatu Berusaha Maju [19]
(Loyally United, Progressively Striving)
1988–1989 Bersatu [19]
1990 Berjaya [19]
1991 Wawasan 2020[19]
(Vision 2020)
1992 Wawasan Asas Kemajuan [19]
(Vision is the Basis of Progress)
1993 Bersatu Menuju Wawasan [19]
(Together Towards Vision)
1994 Nilai Murni Jayakan Wawasan [19]
(Good Values Makes the Vision a Success)
1995 Jatidiri Pengerak Wawasan [19]
(Steadfastness Moves the Vision Forward)
1996 Budaya Penantu Kecapaian [19]
(Culture Determines Achievements)
1997 Akhlak Mulia Masyarakat Jaya [19]
(Good Values Make a Successful Society)
1998 Negara Kita, Tanggungjawab Kita [19]
(Our Country, Our Responsibility)
1999 Bersatu Ke Alaf Baru [19]
(Together Towards the New Millennium)
2000–2005 Keranamu Malaysia [19]
(Because of you, Malaysia)
2006 Keranamu Malaysia: Misi Nasional, Penjaya Wawasan [19]
(Because of you, Malaysia: National Mission, Visionary Generator)
2007 Malaysiaku Gemilang [19]
(My Glorious Malaysia)
2008 Perpaduan Teras Kejayaan [19]
(Unity Is The Core of Success)
2009 1 Malaysia: Rakyat Didahulukan, Pencapaian Diutamakan [19]
(1 Malaysia: People First, Performance Now)
2010 1 Malaysia: Menjana Transformasi [19]
(1 Malaysia: Transforming the Nation)
2011 1 Malaysia: Transformasi Berjaya, Rakyat Sejahtera [19]
(1 Malaysia: Successful Transformations, Prosperous Citizens)
2012 55 Tahun Merdeka: Janji Ditepati [19]
(55 Years of Independence: Promises Fulfilled)
2013 Malaysiaku Berdaulat, Tanah Tumpahnya Darahku [19]
(My Sovereign Malaysia, The Land Where My Blood Has Spilt)
2014 Malaysia, Di Sini Lahirnya Sebuah Cinta [20]
(Malaysia, Here Is Where Love Begins)
2015–2016 Malaysia, Sehati Sejiwa[21]
(United, Unified Malaysia)
2017 Negaraku Sehati Sejiwa
(My Country, United and Unified)
2018 Sayangi Malaysiaku[22]
(Love My Malaysia)
2019 Sayangi Malaysiaku: Malaysia Bersih[23]
(Love My Malaysia: A Clean Malaysia)
2020–2021 Malaysia Prihatin[24]
(Concerned Malaysia)
2022 Keluarga Malaysia Teguh Bersama[25]
(Malaysian Family: Stronger Together)

The 2012 theme proved to be controversial, as it was seen by many Malaysians to be a political slogan rather than a patriotic one (Janji Ditepati was Najib Razak's campaign jingle in the run-up to the 2013 elections). The official "logo" was also ridiculed for its unconventional design. A video of the theme song uploaded on YouTube (with lyrics penned by Rais Yatim) garnered an overwhelming number of "dislikes" because of its overtly political content, which had nothing to do with the spirit of independence. The video has since been taken down.[26]

The latest 2020 Malaysia Prihatin theme had been chosen because of the COVID-19 pandemic and in recognition of the caring and concerned of all Malaysian.[24] In 2021, despite the theme and logo remained the same, but the theme song changed from Malaysia Prihatin (sung by Aliff Satar, Syamel, Siti Sarah, and Aina Abdul for original version, and Ernie Zakri for symphony version) to Menang Bersama (sung by Faizal Tahir), symbolizing the National Recovery Plan (Pelan Pemulihan Negara) theme, Malaysia Menang Bersama (English: Malaysia Winning Together).

Google doodle

On 31 August 2019, Google celebrated Malaysia's Independence Day, the 'Hari Merdeka' with a Doodle depicting Malaysia's national flower. The accompanying write up read as, "Today's Doodle depicts Malaysia's national flower in honor of Malaysia's Independence Day, known locally as Hari Merdeka. On this day in 1957, the Federation of Malaya became a sovereign state after many years of British rule. Tunku Abdul Rahman, Malaysia's first Chief Minister, read an official declaration at Kuala Lumpur's Stadium Merdeka before a crowd of some 20,000 people."[27][28]

2015 Hari Merdeka Anniversary Issues

Legally, Hari Merdeka is the official independence day of 'the federation' as defined in the Article 160 of the Constitution of Malaysia, which was that established under the Federation of Malaya Agreement 1957.[3] However, beginning in 2015, in a policy announced by the then Minister of Communication and Multimedia Ahmad Shabery Cheek, Hari Merdeka celebrations are to be held without mentioning the number of years since independence. This is to be more inclusive of Sabah and Sarawak, who left British rule in a different year.[29]

The Minister of Land Development of Sarawak, the late James Jemut Masing, responded to this announcement by stating that Malaysia Day on 16 September should be the rallying point for the nation's unity, rather than Hari Merdeka. He added "Everyone now knows that 31 August is Malaya's and Sabah's Independence Day… it's not our (Sarawak) independence day. They can celebrate it both in Malaya and in Sabah as they have the same Independence Day date, and we can join them there if they invite us. We must right the wrong".[7]

Before 16 September, there was no Malaysia. Let everyone remember that. It's on 16 September that the four independent countries namely Malaya, Singapore, Sarawak and North Borneo agreed to form Malaysia. And as everyone also knows, Singapore expelled by Malaysia in 1965.


See also


  1. "Starchild: Malaysian children are in high spirits to celebrate Merdeka Day." The Star. 27 August 2021. Retrieved 1 September 2021.
  2. Adila Sharinni Wahid. "Ceriakan anak-anak polis pada Hari Merdeka." Sinar Harian. 31 August 2021. Retrieved 1 September 2021. (in Malay)
  3. Chin, James; Harding, Andrew (2015), 50 Years of Malaysia: Federalism Revisited, Marshall Cavendish International, p. 10, ISBN 978-9814561242
  4. Wan Mohd Nor Wan Daud (2011), "A Reflection on Malaysia's Journey Since Independence", Malaysia and the European Union – Perspectives for the Twenty-First Century (Freiburg Studies in Social Anthropology / Freiburger Sozialanthropologische Studien), LIT Verlag: 9, ISBN 978-3643800855
  5. Malaysia Act 1963
  6. Adrian Lim Chee En (30 August 2016). "Stop celebrating 'Hari Merdeka Malaysia'". Malaysiakini. Retrieved 28 August 2019.
  7. Peter Sibon and Karen Bong (11 September 2014). "Emphasis should be on Sept 16 not Aug 31". The Borneo Post. Archived from the original on 15 September 2014. Retrieved 15 September 2014.
  8. Mahmood., Ibrahim (1981). Sejarah perjuangan bangsa Melayu : suatu penyingkapan kembali sejarah perjuangan bangsa Melayu menuju kemerdekaan. Pustaka Antara, Kuala Lumpur. OCLC 959796594.
  9. "MyGOV – The Government of Malaysia's Official Portal". Retrieved 26 July 2021.
  10. Pelancongan., Malaysia. Kementerian Kebudayaan, Kesenian dan (2003). Di atas runtuhan kota Melaka kita dirikan negara baru : pengisytiharan kemerdekaan di Bandar Hilir, Melaka, 20 Februari 1956. Kementerian Kebudayaan, Kesenian & Pelancongan, Malaysia dan Jabatan Muzium dan Antikuiti. OCLC 607250142.
  11. "1957: Malaya celebrates independence". BBC. 31 August 1957. Retrieved 24 April 2011.
  12. "Detik Jam Tengah Malam Di Padang Kelab Selangor" (in Malay). National Archive of Malaysia. Archived from the original on 7 October 2011. Retrieved 24 April 2011.
  13. "Pengisytiharan Kemerdekaan Tanah Melayu" (in Malay). National Archives of Malaysia. Archived from the original on 7 October 2011. Retrieved 24 April 2011.
  14. Merdeka celebration in Kuching Archived 27 September 2007 at the Wayback Machine
  15. "Keadilan's plans for Merdeka" Archived 26 September 2007 at the Wayback Machine, Daily Express, 29 August 2007.
  16. Aznam, Suhaini, "Celebrating Malaysia Day", 24 September 2007.
  17. Yeng Ai Chun (19 October 2009). "Malaysia Day now a public holiday, says PM". The Star. Archived from the original on 29 June 2017. Retrieved 18 September 2014.
  18. 50 Fakta Rukun Negara (PDF) (in Malay). National Archives of Malaysia. 2020. p. 45.
  19. kuazhar. "Merdeka – Celebration Theme and Logo". Perpustakaan Sultanah Bahiyah. Retrieved 26 July 2021.
  20. "Di Sini Lahirnya Sebuah Cinta". Retrieved 26 July 2021.
  21. Bernama (1 July 2016). "Cabinet retains 'Sehati, Sejiwa' National Day theme for 2016". Malaysiakini. Retrieved 26 July 2021.
  22. "United in celebrating Merdeka". The Star. Retrieved 26 July 2021.
  23. Bernama (24 July 2019). "'Love Our Malaysia: A Clean Malaysia' theme for Merdeka, M'sia Day". Malaysiakini. Retrieved 26 July 2021.
  24. "Malaysia Prihatin unveiled as the theme as PM launches Merdeka celebrations". The Star. Retrieved 26 July 2021.
  25. GERARD GIMINO. "National Day logo, theme symbolises strength and togetherness". The Star (Malaysia). Retrieved 1 July 2022.
  26. "Rais seeks views on Merdeka theme song", Malaysiakini, 1 August 2012.
  27. "Hari Merdeka 2019". Google. 31 August 2019. Retrieved 31 August 2019.
  28. "Our Merdeka, Our Malaysia ― Ramkarpal Singh". Malay Mail. 31 August 2019. Retrieved 31 August 2019.
  29. "No more mentioning number of years". Daily Express. 9 September 2014. Archived from the original on 9 September 2014. Retrieved 9 September 2014.
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