Hari Merdeka (Independence Day) is a national day of Malaysia commemorating the independence of the Federation of Malaya from British colonial rule in 1957, celebrated on August 31 each year. This should not be confused with Hari Malaysia (Malaysia Day) when Malaysia was formed on 16 September 1963 together by Federation of Malaya, Sabah, Sarawak and Singapore.
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 Malayan Chinese Association (MCA) Tun Dato Sir Tan Cheng Lock and fifth President of Malaysian Indian Congress Tun V.T. Sambanthan. Once it became increasingly clear that the Communist threat posed during the Malayan Emergency was petering out, agreement was reached on February 8, 1956, for Malaya to gain independence from the British Empire. However, for a number of logistical and administrative reasons, it was decided that the official proclamation of independence would only be made the next year, on August 31, 1957, at Stadium Merdeka (Independence Stadium), in Kuala Lumpur.
On the night of August 30, 1957, crowds gathered at the Royal Selangor Club Padang 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. On the stroke of midnight, the lights were switched back on, and the Union Flag in the square was lowered. 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. Tunku Abdul Rahman later gave a speech hailing the ceremony as "greatest moment in the life of the Malayan people". Before giving the address to the crowd, he was given a necklace by representatives of the Alliance Party youth in honor of this great occasion.
On the morning of August 31, 1957, the festivities moved to the newly completed Merdeka Stadium. More than 20,000 people witnessed the ceremony, which began at 9:30 a.m. Those in attendance included rulers of the Malay states, foreign dignitaries, members of the federal cabinet, and citizens. The Queen's representative, the Duke of Gloucester presented Tunku Abdul Rahman with the instrument of independence. 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 honor of this great occasion.
On August 31, crowds gather for the Hari Merdeka Parade. This event is usually held at Merdeka Square, but has been held in other locations in order to bring the celebrations to other parts of Malaysia. In the past few years, the parade has been held thrice in Putrajaya, Malaysia’s administrative government center.
His Majesty Tuanku Abdul Halim Mu’adzman Shah (left) of Kedah, 14th Yang di-Pertuan Agong, Head of State of Malaysia.
Citizens line up the streets to observe the parade, and it is clearly a very enjoyable occasion. Many roads are closed and traffic is routed to alternative streets so that citizens will be able to watch the parade and not be inconvenienced.
While August 31 remains the official date of the public holiday, celebrations for Hari Merdeka start nearly a month earlier and is tagged as Merdeka Month. Various events, programs and activities relating to Malaysia’s independence are held throughout August.
Hari Merdeka is an important holiday for Malaysia, as it shows the country’s strength and unity.
Standing on their own
Video on the declaration of independence: