KUALA LUMPUR, AFP
Malaysia’s new king on Monday urged racial harmony among Malaysians as the multi-ethnic country prepares to celebrate its 50th year of independence from British colonial rule.
In his maiden speech to parliament after being installed in December, the country’s thirteenth monarch, Tuanku Mizan Zainal Abidin, warned racial strife could tear the country apart.
“Harmony among the people is the key to the success of the country and the community. Without unity and harmony, the country that we love will be broken apart and in the end, be destroyed by hate,” Tuanku Mizan said in his speech. “All our efforts and the peace that we’ve built together for so long would go to waste,” he added.
Malaysia achieved independence from colonial rule in August 1957, marking the birth of a multicultural nation.
However, the government has acknowledged there is growing polarization between the country’s races, and is grappling with sliding race relations.
“This year is most significant and important in the country’s history. This is because we will be celebrating the country’s 50th independence anniversary,” said Tuanku Mizan.
“This means that it has been 50 years that we have been free from the rule of the colonialists who had weakened the spirit of the people with their ‘divide and rule’ policy,” he said.
Under colonial rule, the British promoted socioeconomic segregation between the three main racial groups.
The majority Malays were then mainly involved in fishing and agriculture, while minority ethnic Chinese and Indians were initially brought in to work in the tin mines and rubber plantations respectively.
Although politically dominant, the Malays still lag behind the Chinese in economic terms despite positive discrimination policies introduced in 1971.
In present day Malaysia, Malays make up 60 percent of the population of some 27 million, compared to 26 percent ethnic Chinese and eight percent ethnic Indians.
Tuanku Mizan, the sultan of eastern Terengganu state, became one of Malaysia’s youngest monarchs ever in December last year at the age of 44.
There will be a formal coronation next month. The monarch has largely ceremonial duties and acts on the advice of the Cabinet.