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MALAYSIA will be celebrating National Day tomorrow amidst serious challenges beleaguering the nation, both internally and externally.

Domestically, the people are facing a rising cost of living, escalating home prices, political quagmire and the 1Malaysia Development Bhd issue on the back of racial and religious polarisation.

The fall in global oil price, and the impact of the weakening ringgit on imported goods and services, food, raw materials and building materials are weighing on us.

In addition, there are constant security threats in the east coast of Sabah, and the tragedies of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 and missing Flight MH370 have to be handled with care.

Malaysians should be mindful that growing divide along the lines of race and religion, as well as extremism and bigotry, can sow the seed of downfall in a multiethnic and multireligious nation.

However, all is not doom and gloom. The fate of the country rests on us, the rakyat. This is the best time for each of us to do self-reflection. We have the 1957 Merdeka Spirit that we can build upon to overcome challenges.

There is a lot to learn from the hardship and genuine love for the country shown by the founding fathers of Malaysia, led by our first prime minister and Bapa Kemerdekaan (Father of Independence) Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra Al-Haj.

I would like to call upon all Malaysians, irrespective of race and religion, to unite and show solidarity for the country that we love. This is our birthplace, our home, our workplace and eventually, our final resting destination.

We should be proud to identify ourselves first and last as Malaysians, for such identification fosters patriotism and develops unity. Being a Malaysian does not make anyone less a Malay, Chinese, Indian, Kadazandusun, Iban and others.

If there are solidarity, moderation, selflessness and empathy in each and every Malaysian’s thoughts, emotions and actions, we will be able to arrest the growing racial and religious polarisation in the country. Together, we can put a stop to the actions of some parties who are playing the race card. We can even prevent extremism and religious bigotry.

We have to ensure that the country’s social cohesion and harmony, painstakingly built and carefully nurtured over the years and which remains one of our cornerstones, is not threatened by any quarters.

Respect for one another’s differences has been the hallmark of our multiracial society. To heal a divided nation, people of all races must be concerned about the future of our nation, committed to the philosophy of moderation, embrace our diversity and teach our children to integrate with each other. We should build and cultivate the values needed to maintain a harmonious multiracial country for our future generations.

Undoubtedly, it is the government’s responsibility to consider and implement the many voices of rational Malaysians, and use all the resources at its disposal to address the current issues.

Together, we can resolve to strengthen the Merdeka spirit. This is the time and moment for us to open a new chapter in our history.

With the 1957 Merdeka Spirit as a foundation, we should work towards genuine reconciliation to achieve racial and religious harmony. We need a paradigm shift, and be brave and innovative to chart the next course of history.

Let us revisit the words of Tunku Abdul Rahman during the Proclamation of Independence on Aug 31, 1957: “Independence is indeed a milestone but it is only the threshold to high endeavour. I call upon you to dedicate yourselves, to work and strive with hand and brain to create a new nation.”

TAN SRI LEE LAM THYE,TRUSTEE,1MALAYSIA FOUNDATION

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