Happy Birthday, Malaysia !
A Happy Merdeka and Malaysia Day !!
Please stand up and show respect to our Negaraku, and No photo-taking when national anthem is played !
Malaysia marked 50 years of independence today with dances and parades in a colorful show of ethnic unity that belied worsening race relations and growing fears about eroding minority rights.
Smartly dressed Malays, Chinese, Indians and other ethnic groups making up this racially diverse nation danced in a parade at the Merdeka Square, or Freedom Square, where Malaysia's first Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman announced the country's independence from Britain on Aug. 31, 1957.
Malaysia's constitutional monarch, Sultan Mizan Zainal Abidin, presided over the two-hour celebration, joined by Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, his Cabinet ministers and foreign dignitaries including Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, the Thai crown prince and the sultan of Brunei.
In a speech at midnight, Abdullah reminded Malaysians that the struggle to fulfill the objectives of independence have not been won even though the country has achieved remarkable economic progress and prosperity for nearly all citizens.
"The struggle is for all Malaysians. We must ensure that no region or community is left behind. We will hold true to the concept of justice and fairness for all citizens," Abdullah said.
But racial equality remains a distant dream, say many observers, citing an affirmative action program for the majority Malays and the pervasive influence of Islam in what founding fathers envisaged as a secular nation.
"Although we have achieved a lot in 50 years I have my doubts we can continue to sustain the pace of the progress until we change our mind-set and develop more dynamic and meritocratic policies," said Ramon Navaratnam, a former Finance Ministry adviser and an architect of the country's economic policies.
Malay Muslims form about 60 percent of the country's 26 million people. Chinese are 25 percent, Indians 10 percent and the rest belong to other minorities.
At independence, the Malays were the poorest and the most backward. But the New Economic Policy, the affirmative action program started in 1971, gave Malays privileges and preferences in jobs, education, businesses, housing, bank loans and government contracts.
Many Malays complain that the NEP benefited only those connected to Abdullah's United Malays National Organization party. The party dominates the ruling coalition, sharing a little power with Chinese, Indian and other race-based parties.
Analysts say the NEP is holding back Malaysia's progress, producing Malay university graduates who can hardly speak English, creating a class of inefficient bureaucrats and suppressing enterprising businessmen from minority communities.
"This is a blessed country in terms of resources, climate, location. We are on a take-off stage and we are not taking off," Navaratnam said.
The spread of Islamic conservatism is adding to ethnic tensions, which have remained under the surface since racial riots in May 1969 left hundreds dead.
Court verdicts this year have found that civil courts have no jurisdiction in Islamic matters, even when applied to non-Muslims.
Imtiaz Malik, a prominent human rights lawyer, said the Constitution is clear that civil courts can overrule the Islamic courts — but judges are unwilling to rule against Islam.
Clerics have been telling Muslims not to attend Christian or Hindu festivals, and some condemn Christians and Jews at Friday prayers. Most Malay women now wear head scarves, not part of their traditional attire. Some schools have started reciting Muslim prayers.
This trend also worries many modern Malays.
"The question we are facing is, are we Malay first or Muslim first? Right now most people have become Muslim first," said Tengku Zafrul Aziz, the chief executive of Tune Money, an investment and insurance company.