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Celebrating our 60th Merdeka with gratitude and concerns

  • Race considerations must be removed for fairness, justice and righteousness to strengthen and national cohesion to rise.

By Tan Sri Ramon Navaratnam

On the eve of our 60th Merdeka anniversary, we tend to recollect the past, contemplate the present and wonder about our future of our beloved country Malaysia.

In many ways it's like how we all feel about our own birthdays. We are grateful for the many blessings we have enjoyed and hope and pray that our regrets and concerns will be overcome in the future.

I belong to the Merdeka Generation in the sense that we closely watched Tunku Abdul Rahman lead us to independence from the British. We helped our political leaders develop our country in both government and private sectors, to progress and to benefit all our people regardless of race and religion, for most of the time.

I well recall the pride, patriotism and great promise that my generation shared as Malaysians on August 31, 1957.

I was at the Victoria Institution on Petaling Hill, overlooking the Merdeka Stadium, with a grandstand view of the whole historic and grand ceremony.

We all witnessed our dear founding father of Independence Tunku Abdul Rahman accepting the Instrument of Independence. We all joined him shouting out joyously "Merdeka!" "Merdeka!" seven times. We had a strong sense of gratitude to God, loyalty to the King and country, a new sense of freedom, and a deep feeling of belonging and national unity.

Many of us were studying at the only university in Malaya and Singapore then, called the University of Malaya, and had come home for the holidays. Most of us joined the public services as civil servants (MCS) /PTD), doctors, lawyers, engineers, accountants and many other professions.

Indeed, we were the pioneers who took over from the reluctant, departing and depressed British officers. The illustrious Group of 25 were some of my colleagues then!

Gratitude for past blessings

Looking back, there is a lot of gratitude that we must have and currently share. Although there were many doubters at home and abroad before and just after Merdeka, we somehow succeeded in a complex and somewhat complicated multiracial, multi-religious and unique country and society.

Poverty gripped and weakened about 50% of our population at Merdeka. This has come down dramatically to only about 2% now, on the basis of World Bank figures.

Living standards and all the social indicators like health, education and incomes have risen significantly from pre-Merdeka days. Our Infrastructure has expanded beyond our dreams and our overall quality of life has improved enormously.

More importantly, we have progressed rapidly to almost a developed country now under conditions of peace, stability and relatively high social cohesion and national unity.

Indeed we thank God, our founding fathers, our leaders and all our Malaysian brothers and sisters of all races and religions, for their great sense of unity and purpose in bringing us all so far ahead in terms of unity, national progress and resilience.

Concerns for future up to TN50

But, we cannot take our many successes for granted. We have to continue to strive and struggle to achieve greater progress, unity, harmony and sustainability as a developed nation by 2020, for all Malaysians regardless of race and religion.

But here is the real challenge: can we sustain our achievements despite the many odds and progress even further? Or do we slow down and weaken and god forbid, fail in many areas and even fade?

What are some of these concerns and solutions?

1. National Unity is not as strong as it used to be and must be raised. The basis for increasing polarization is the growing economic problems, namely income inequality, some distorted New Economic Policies, rising Inflation, unemployment especially among graduates, low wages and corruption.

The solution is to have a planned phase-out of the NEP which could be replaced with the New Economic Model which was seriously considered by the government and then withdrawn. The reasons for this rejection have to be explained to the public and modified wherever necessary in a realistic manner, but not discarded.

2. "Bumiputraism" is a divisive title and connotes negativism. It provides undue protection and curbs competition and the competitive spirit of bumis. It even inhibits their long-term growth and the healthy development of their talents and heightens their future tribulations.

The solution is to treat all low-income Malaysians equally. Hence the underprivileged of all races and religions can be easily categorized under income groups. Priority could then be given for the accelerated development of low income groups such as the Bottom 40%. Race considerations should thus be removed. Then fairness, justice and righteousness will strengthen and national cohesion will rise as divisiveness declines.

3. Religious intolerance is a new and dangerous phenomenon which needs our urgent attention.

The solution to this worldwide problem is to follow the principle and policy of Wasatiyah or moderation in religion. This policy should be more actively promoted by all governments at federal and state levels.

In recent times there has been grave anxiety felt by most Malaysians and especially non-Muslims over what appears to be the erosion of religious understanding and tolerance in this country.

There is growing evidence of the rise in Islamization in our schools, universities, government agencies and policies, especially in the implementation of some policies.

These trends are divisive. They don't promote a greater sense of belonging or cohesion and national unity.

The solution is to follow the Constitution and Rukun Negara closely and regard Malaysia as a Muslim majority country, but certainly not a Muslim country per se.

As I have been told by my Muslim brothers and sisters and non-Muslims as well, all our religions promote religious understanding, tolerance and mutual respect for one another's beliefs. So, why can't the government and we all just faithfully follow our religions teachings? In fact, we should actively discourage extremism, ultra-conservatism and bigotry.


So on our 60th Merdeka anniversary, we thank God for all His blessings these last 60 years. Then we have to summon our courage and sincerity to address our concerns for the present and future progress, unity and harmony for all Malaysians.

We need to apply our proposed solutions to our serious concerns mentioned above, in our considerations for new policies leading up to TN50, even now. We don't have to wait and delay decision making as time may not be on our side!

We have come a long way and we are grateful for our rapid progress since Merdeka. However, let's resolve on our 60th Merdeka anniversary to adopt some of the solutions I have mentioned above and find new ones to overcome our many concerns for our future!

Selamat Hari Merdeka to All Malaysians!

(Tan Sri Ramon Navaratnam is the Chairman of ASLI Center for Public Policy Studies.)


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