Merdeka: Challenges ahead but still cause for celebration

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Merdeka this year will be especially meaningful: we are not only celebrating independence, but also a year when political history was created, writes Benedict Lopez.

Malaysians on the peninsula will once again be celebrating Merdeka on 31 August.

Merdeka this year will be especially meaningful for us as we are not only revelling in 61 years of independence, but marking a year when political history was created on 9 May.

Many Malaysians like me had given up hope of seeing change in our lifetimes, but a new chapter was written!

We have faced challenging times over the past few years with negative publicity in the international media. A lot of water has flowed under the bridge. But for all our imperfections, Malaysia has the best track record in democracy in the region. We even have a far better record in our stability compared with other Asian and most African, South
American and even many European countries.

For many years, Malaysia was a realm of stability in a very problematic region. Except for the stain of 13 May 1969, we towered over many countries which had acquired independence around the same time as we did. Definitely something we can be proud of.

Despite our reservations about our political system, we have managed to navigate the country on the right economic course. From an economy, where our exports were based on primary commodities like rubber, oil palm and tin, we made a successful transition to an economy based on manufactured products and services.

Our strength comes from our ability to live with our differences and collaborate for the progress of our country. For all our faults, our people realise the risks of insecurity and display a veneer of magnanimity when required.

READ MORE:  What it takes to be Malaysian

The irony of Malaysia today is that for all the racial polarisation we have witnessed – narrow-minded rhetoric by certain individuals, occasional religious activism – the subsequent tensions that arise are simmered down when the voices of reason prevail. Malaysia is still a non-violent country, which in itself is a testimony to the maturity and magnanimity of our people.

As a Malaysian first and Indian second, I can still walk down any Malay kampung or Chinatown without concern for my safety. This may not be possible in many other major cities in the world.

But it remains a cause for concern when we witness the malaise prevailing in our country: corruption, cronyism, nepotism and the abuse of power. Malaysia’s poor ranking by international organisations like Transparency International should be immediately tackled.

The lack of fluency in English, especially among the younger generation, should be of deep public concern, even a cause for alarm. During a recent trip overseas, a young Malaysian requested my assistance to fill up the disembarkation card which contained simple words like name, surname and flight number. I was shocked!

Currently, we have thousands of Malaysians holding good positions overseas. Our bright sparks should be here working for the country and helping Malaysia become a developed and high-income country.

In research and development and development and design, Malaysia is still trailing many countries. Look at the developed countries and follow their ways: they have science parks, with universities and multinational companies pooling their resources for the innovation of products.

Sports, too, has been a disappointment. Apart from squash, we have dropped appallingly. We used to rule the badminton world at one time. Malaysia was also a football powerhouse. Our peers were then South Korea and Japan. Now, they qualify for every World Cup and we are regarded as minnows in the game. Sadly, we cannot even produce any household names in football today, unlike during the 1960s when there were so many. Even in hockey, we have plunged internationally, and sports like rugby are virtually extinct these days.

READ MORE:  What it takes to be Malaysian

It is a herculean task for Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad and the new government to remedy the many wrongs in the country. He is doing his best for the country. We need to give him and his ministers all the support they need. After all, Mahathir made a comeback to lead this country at the age of 93 – undeniably, a world record which all Malaysians should be proud of.

Malaysia still has its invaluable assets which among others include its excellent infrastructure, business-friendly and sound financial policies. Its ethnic diversity and multicultural mosaic are also an advantage to foreign investors. We have always shown resilience and weathered the storm as in the 1997/98 financial and economic crisis.

We can bring out the best in our people. For this to happen, we need to build a society based on meritocracy. Only then would we be able to walk tall in the global arena.

Happy Merdeka to all Malaysians. God bless Malaysia.

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Benedict Lopez
Benedict Lopez was director of the Malaysian Investment Development Authority in Stockholm and economics counsellor at the Malaysian embassy there in 2010-2014. During the course of his work, he covered all five Nordic countries. An eternal optimist and now an Aliran member, he believes Malaysia can provide its citizens with the same benefits and privileges found in the Nordic countries - not a far-fetched dream but one that he hopes will be realised in his lifetime.

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