KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysians celebrated the 50th anniversary of the formation of the Federation of Malaysia, which included Sabah, Sarawak and Singapore when it was formed in September 1963.
The former British colonies of Sabah and Sarawak decided to join Malaya and Singapore to form the Federation of Malaysia.
Singapore left the federation on Aug 9, 1965, when it was booted out and became independent, following several clashes between the federal authorities in Kuala Lumpur and the state government in Singapore.
The historic date was marked in grand style on Monday with parades and fireworks, with Malaysia's King, Prime Minister Najib Razak and other leaders attending Malaysia Day celebrations in Sabah and Sarawak that were aired on national television.
The Prime Minister and Cabinet ministers were in Kuching on Monday for the festivities. They left later for Kota Kinabalu, Sabah's capital, to attend a parade.
Until Sept 16 was designated a national holiday four years ago, the anniversary had been a relatively low-key affair in Peninsular Malaysia. This year's celebration will continue until the year-end.
On Monday, Datuk Seri Najib promised that Sabah and Sarawak would not be left behind in the country's development. In his speech in Kuching, he pledged to speed up development in rural areas, especially those in Sarawak. Sabah and Sarawak, two of the the largest Malaysian states, are rich in natural resources, mainly oil and timber.
They are major contributors to the country's economy through their oil exports and have consistently won the most seats for the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition in past elections, earning the nickname "fixed deposit" states.
Over the years, however, the people in the two states, whose majority populations are made up of more than 50 indigenous groups, have grown disenchanted with the federal government in Kuala Lumpur as the states struggle with a lack of infrastructure and development.
In an article posted on local news portal Malay Mail Online on Monday, Ms Azreen Draim, a Sarawakian, lamented: "Fifty years after forming the nation, so many Sarawakians - so many Malaysians - don't even have access to basic needs."
Besides the lack of roads and schools, people are also unhappy with an influx of migrants from neighbouring countries. In Sabah, a commission of inquiry is investigating the so-called "Project IC".
Malaysian citizenship was allegedly given to thousands of Indonesian and Filipino migrants in the 1990s in exchange for their votes to help the BN win elections.
In Sarawak, illegal logging and clearing of land to make way for oil palm plantations have displaced thousands of indigenous people. Many resorted to suing the state government to get back their ancestral lands.
Many Sabahans and Sarawakians are wondering if joining Malaysia was the right move, Professor James Chin, a Sarawakian, told The Straits Times.
"They feel the federal government is not honouring the agreement made back then, especially on the autonomy of the states," added Prof Chin, a political analyst at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore.
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