Merdeka Day & Malaysia Day are different days resulting in 2 public holidays, explained

Malaysia celebrates National Day twice a year, essentially.

Julia Yeo | August 31, 2019, 07:41 AM

Malaysians celebrate Merdeka Day (Hari Merdeka) on Aug. 31.

Merdeka Day is to commemorate the day in which Malaysia's predecessor, the Federation of Malaya, gained its independence from British colonial rule.

Merdeka Day is also known as Hari Kebangsaan, which means National Day.

Under the constitution of Malaysia, it is the official National Day for the country.

However, things aren't all that simple.

What about Hari Malaysia?

Hari Malaysia, or Malaysia Day, falls on Sept. 16, which commemorates the formation of the Malaysian Federation in 1963.

It marks the day in which the Federation of Malaya, Sabah, Sarawak and Singapore merged to form Malaysia.

Singapore separated from Malaysia in 1965, and eventually became an independent country on Aug. 9, 1965.

In 2010, Hari Malaysia officially became a national public holiday too in Malaysia.

"Hari Merdeka" in East Malaysia

Unbeknownst to some, Peninsular Malaysia, Sabah, and Sarawak did not become independent at the same time.

In fact, Sabah and Sarawak only achieved independence in 1963, six years after Peninsular Malaysia, which was known as Malaya before Malaysia was formed.

According to Daily Express Malaysia, North Borneo declared de facto independence on Aug. 31, 1963, as an independent sovereign country before the merger of the Malaysian Federation.

Sarawak had also declared de facto independence, but on July 22, 1963, as an independent nation, according to The Borneo Post.

Since 2016, the Sarawak government has gazetted July 22 as a Sarawak public holiday, declaring it as "Sarawak Independence Day".

Hari Merdeka or Hari Malaysia?

According to a letter published by Malaysiakini, the writer argued persuasively that Malaysia's formation on Sept. 16 should take greater significance as a national commemoration, disputing the idea of Aug. 31 as Malaysia's "Independence Day".

The writer added:

Malaysia as a whole, can only celebrate Malaysia Day on Sept. 16. For the ‘independence’ part, Malaya, Sarawak and Sabah should be celebrating it individually on Aug. 31, July 22 and Aug. 31.

As a united nation, we should also be more focused on Malaysia Day which falls on Sept 16.

Lesser emphasis on number of years of independence

However, the Malaysian government has also worked towards the unity of the various states in recent years.

Besides declaring Hari Malaysia as a national holiday since 2010, there has been decreasing emphasis by the government on the number of years of independence, catering to the different times of independence.

Although Hari Merdeka celebrations may still be grandiose, it does not discount the fact that Sept. 16 has become a day of national commemoration in Malaysia.

And what's not to like, getting two public holidays instead of one?

Cover image via Shaifulzamri/Getty Images