Public holidays, calls for unity as Malaysia celebrates 60th Independence Day
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Public holidays, calls for unity as Malaysia celebrates 60th Independence Day

“IN THE NAME of Allah, the compassionate, the merciful,” read the Malayan Declaration of Independence on Aug 31, 1957.

“The time has now arrived when the people of the Persekutuan Tanah Melayu will assume the status of a free independent and sovereign nation among nations of the world.”

Sixty years ago, the man who would become Malaysia’s first prime minister Tunku Abdul Rahman declared an independent and democratic state on the Malay peninsula, casting off the shackles of British rule.

The declaration of Merdeka (independence) for Muslim-majority Malaya was handed down at a ceremony at the Royal Selangor Club in Kuala Lumpur – hitherto a potent symbol of colonial pomp and excess.

SEE ALSO: Malaysian PM thinks Malay should be the language of Asean

Google Malaysia’s Doodle on Thursday was dedicated to the Southeast Asian nation of more than 31 million’s national day.

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Source: Google MY

“The truth is when our country achieved its independence, I was only four years old and certainly I cannot remember the moment that has become very meaningful to us all,” said Prime Minister Najib Razak in an address during independence celebrations on Thursday, as quoted by state news agency Bernama.

The PM has urged national “unity” ahead of next year’s general elections, in which the scandal-ridden leader is expected to face a viable challenge from the Pakatan Harapan alliance – led by jailed opposition figure Anwar Ibrahim and Najib’s former mentor Dr Mahathir Mohamad.

The ruling Barisan Nasional party has enjoyed the longest period of holding government continuously by a coalition in the democratic world.

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Najib alongside King Muhammad V sing the national anthem during Malaysia’s Independence Day celebrations in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, on Aug 31, 2017. Source: Reuters/Lai Seng Sin

“It is clear that the rate of development and growth of our country quickened significantly, especially since 2009,” Najib said on Wednesday, referring to the year in which he came to power.

The PM’s standing with voters has been severely damaged by the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) scandal, in which he had been accused of channelling almost US$700 million into his personal accounts from the state-owned development corporation.

 

Malaysia’s population is estimated to be around 69 percent ethnic Malay-Muslim, 23 percent Chinese and seven percent Indian. Urban-dwelling ethnic minorities overwhelmingly support the opposition, while BN draws much of its support from rural, Malay-majority electorates.

The proportion of ethnic Chinese in Malaysia has decreased significantly from around 40 percent at independence.

SEE ALSO: UK lawmaker tables motion to debate Malaysia’s 1MDB scandal

The PM granted Malaysians yet another public holiday on Sept 4 due to the country’s “tremendous” performance in the SEA Games, adding to a four-day weekend for Independence Day and the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha.

Host Malaysia grabbed 145 gold medals at the 29th SEA Games in Kuala Lumpur, compared to Thailand’s 72 and Vietnam in third place with 58. Host nations often perform above average.

“Since we have achieved an outstanding result in the SEA Games through the unwavering support of the various races and the excellent performance of our athletes, on behalf of the government I declare Sept 4 as a public holiday,” said Najib during the SEA Games closing ceremony at the National Stadium.

On Wednesday, Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong extended his congratulations to Malaysia, stating that: “Singapore deeply values our friendship and cooperation with Malaysia. We share a long history with strong people-to-people ties and closely inter-linked economies.”

“Malaysia has a strong and vibrant economy, and plays an active and influential role in our region and the international community,” he said.

SEE ALSO: SEA Games: Malaysia profit from home comforts to win 145 golds – but history shows staying at the top will not be easy

The United States Embassy in Kuala Lumpur congratulated Malaysia in a tweet: “So proud to be your friends since the beginning!”

The year 2017 also marks 60 years of US-Malaysian diplomatic relations, with US having recognised Malaysia’s independence at inception.