First published in themalaymailonline.com

MARCH 22 ― “We are all Malaysians. This is the bond that unites us.” were Tunku Abdul Rahman’s words in his final broadcast to the nation as prime minister on August 30, 1970.

This is the promise made during the struggle for Independence and the formation of Malaysia in 1963. It is the promise that was cemented at great cost and sacrifice of blood, sweat, tears and the lives of many. It wasn’t the Communists, the threat of communal strife and of mutually assured destruction, or racial politics which brought us all together. It was this promise.

What was pledged was that as a people, we would be free to be what we could be; that we would live together in harmony and in fair partnership; that together we would succeed as opposed to being separate states; that we would be unified as one people with a shared future, as Malaysians.

We have come far in these past 53 years. There is much to be proud of. But we need to reflect on how far we have progressed as a people and a country to move forward.

Today more than ever before, we are very aware of the racial tensions and communal divisions which bedevil our nation. We have allowed ourselves to be frightened and held hostage to the shrill and ugly voices of merchants peddling hatred, racism, bigotry, fascism, and extremism. They do not speak for us yet we have allowed them to dominate the national narrative.

It’s a topsy-turvy world when those who speak of moderation, pluralism, liberalism, equity and diversity are demonised, condemned and even persecuted.

Today, many of us have become bitter, cynical and pessimistic about the future of this country. Some have even thrown in the towel and cabut to another country.

The long and loud chorus of naysayers, cynics and sceptics say that the Malaysia we seek is now an impossible dream.  That it is all a fantasy. But like many of you, I refuse to give up on this country and its promise. Malaysia is our home and there is no other.

We can accept the status quo which breeds divisive policies, conflict and communal interests or leave the politics of race and religion in the dust behind us, and walk forward together as Bangsa Malaysia and realise this vision.

The zealots, racists and bigots will scream, shout and threaten. They squeal because they too sense the real possibility of change and fear it. We need to find the courage to do our part. Often the kind of change we seek will not come easy.

But we need to work on this. Malaysia is not made of a single race or ethnicity. Nor should it be. Uniformity and assimilation are NOT unity. Neither is racial dominance.

Together, we can choose the aspirations of hope and change over the politics of hatred and fear. The unity of purpose over conflict and disunity. To those who seek to sow conflict and discord, know that we reject the idea that we need to dominate and discriminate in order to progress as a people and a country.

We need to determine what kind of country we want to have. Should we have change or have more of the same?

That choice is yours and yours alone.

There are at least two things to start off with that I believe needs to happen to prepare us for the next 50 years when it comes to this issue of race.

Firstly, we need to commit ourselves with fierce urgency to reduce and work towards the elimination of racial-based preferential policies and legislation. We must end race-based politics. The system today is broken and these privileges have been abused for far too long. Aside from South Africa which suffered from the sins of apartheid, no other country has as much affirmative action and privileges given to the population which forms the majority.

It should be a matter of maruah and pride, especially for the Malay community, to find the courage and finally say that we have outgrown the need for such ethnically divisive measures. After all, what use are decades of progress and development if Malays continue to insist on preferential treatment, special privileges and racial quotas? Such policies should always only be drastic measures and exceptions to help those in need and marginalised minorities.

Secondly, we must do our part to demand leaders who are bold, courageous and committed to make this change happen. We must not get complacent, lazy or apathetic by letting others determine the direction of this country. We need to hold our public officials to account.

In the end, we deserve the governance that we get and have only ourselves to blame if we get crappy representatives. Decisions are made by those who show up. If our Yang Berhormats are stubborn and continue to prop up this broken system, we should stand up, speak out and show them the door. They work for us, remember?

We call upon the leadership of this country to stand with fellow Malaysians in realising a better and fairer Malaysia for all.

It is always going to be easier to be frustrated, sit back and hope somebody else does the work. But we must take up this call for action. We can and will do what is hard.

We must do so if we want to give our children a foundation for their dreams and opportunities worthy of their potential. If we want them to believe that in Malaysia, regardless of race or religion, anything is possible as long as you are willing to work for it.

We must work like never before, we must come together and stand together to make it happen. Imagine thousands if not millions of voices calling for change. Nothing can be more powerful.

We cannot afford to be silent. We must stand up and speak out.

This is our country. Together, that is our destiny.

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