WHAT really is all the fuss over the theme, logo and song lyrics of our upcoming Merdeka celebrations? Is it really a case of political manoeuvrings by the Barisan Nasional (BN)? Or poor judgement by the government of the day? Or both?
Or does it say something more about what the current federal leadership promotes?
Over the past weeks, detractors have been pouring scorn on the federal government’s branding of Peninsular Malaysia’s 55th year of independence from the British. Information, Communications and Culture Minister Datuk Seri Dr Rais Yatim has been defensive about these criticisms. In response, Pakatan Rakyat and citizens, including local designers, have responded by coming up with their own theme and logos for our Merdeka Day celebration, which will be held at the end of this month.
Is this all a storm in the teacup, as Umno Youth chief Khairy Jamaluddin suggested when he tweeted that the issue was “petty” even if the official logo was “aesthetically challenged”? Or does the build-up to the government’s Merdeka celebration point to underlying trends that undermine how great this nation can be?
One has to wonder why Rais thinks he can defend the indefensible in this day and age when citizens are far more engaged and connected. Clearly the BN’s idea of a Merdeka celebration this year is self-serving. How else would one describe the use of the BN’s election campaign theme of Janji Ditepati as the independence theme and in the logo? And how else can one explain why the lyrics to this year’s Merdeka song, penned by Rais himself, is littered with, as one detractor aptly describes, “vulgar propaganda”?
Clearly the logo, theme and song are self-serving because it promotes three things this Merdeka: BN, BN and BN.
Should we be surprised that it has come to this? Not really. Politicians, especially those who have much at stake, are often prone to self-serving behaviour. The Father of Independence himself, Tunku Abdul Rahman, never wanted the 1955 Baling peace talks with the Malayan Communist Party to succeed, even though he organised them. As documented by former Utusan Melayu editor-in-chief Said Zahari, the Tunku used the talks as leverage to compel the British to quickly hand over independence to the Alliance.
Fast forward to today, and the self-serving behaviour is unbelievably blatant. Take the government panel set up to investigate alleged violence by police and protesters during the Bersih 3.0 rally for free and fair elections. It is clear whose interests the government is serving when it appoints as head a former inspector-general of police who had disparaged the rally as a possible coup attempt.
And since we’re on the topic of the police, who does it serve when the police perform in malls in response to public perception of rising crime? Surely not the rakyat, since a friendly, singing police force is not about to deter criminal activity. It never has and never will.
I also don’t think the 55th Merdeka issue, as we shall call it, is too small an issue to be appalled and outraged by. Why? Because apart from being self-serving, the theme, logo and song smack of mediocrity, and Rais’s defence boils down to the defence of mediocrity in a national celebration.
How is the official logo, which has since been withdrawn, mediocre? Well, the fact that the official logo can be so easily copied and pasted shows how sub-standard the logo is.
Compare that to the Facebook competition that resulted in logos which demonstrate how very talented a nation we are. Indeed, every time The Nut Graph does a Found in Malaysia interview, we are struck at just how many talented Malaysians there are.
And yet, what does our government do? Instead of drawing on this talent pool, it uses taxpayers’ money to support and promote mediocrity, and for the Merdeka celebrations, no less! Yet again, perhaps we shouldn’t be too surprised. Mediocrity is prevalent in the BN, in part because the coalition has been in power for so long without having much competition, till 2008, to keep it on its toes.
That mediocrity is again represented in the state apparatus — for example, when the Home Ministry says crime in Kuala Lumpur isn’t so bad because there have only been nine cases of reported crimes in city malls. Firstly, an excellent police force would ensure that there was no crime in malls or elsewhere. And even if some crime is inevitable in any society, the Home Ministry has solved only two out of those nine cases. That means that out of nine criminals, seven know they are likely to get away with it.
Recently, after my yoga class in SS2, Petaling Jaya, we were all told to be careful when exiting the centre because of a spate of snatch thefts in the area. Now, do these situations tell us that we have an excellent or mediocre police force at work?
Honestly, it’s not too difficult to guess why it’s easier to be mediocre and why the BN chooses mediocrity instead of excellence. After all, only the mediocre are always at their best.
Apart from withdrawing the official logo, Rais has since also asked for feedback about the Merdeka song, also named Janji Ditepati. Additionally, its composer says the song is still being finalised and it could be changed if there is “a request from any party”. I wonder what stopped the BN government from crowd-sourcing ideas for the logo, theme and song, as they have done previously, before launching a self-serving and mediocre brand for our 55th Merdeka.
Rais’s softening stance towards criticisms unfortunately isn’t good enough. Indeed, he is now attempting to cast the federal opposition as being sectarian over the national Merdeka celebrations. Between Janji Ditepati — the BN’s election campaign theme — and Sebangsa, Senegara, Sejiwa — a nonpartisan and inclusive choice of words — which do you reckon sounds more politically skewed?
Whether Rais or the BN leadership will ever admit it, it’s too late for damage control and/or calling the opposition names and expecting it to stick. The BN’s goods for Merdeka are already spoilt. And while a logo or song or theme can be withdrawn, the message from the BN about independence cannot. This Merdeka, the independence celebration just before our next general election, the BN wants us to buy into a national brand that is both self-serving and mediocre. And after 55 years of independence, you’d think the ruling coalition could do better than that.
Jacqueline Ann Surin wonders why the Datuk Seri Najib Razak administration keeps making it so easy for Pakatan Rakyat to come out looking and smelling like thornless roses.