Fireworks were set off in various locations at midnight to usher in National Day. Tens of thousands of people thronged the government administrative capital of Putrajaya early on Thursday for the main procession, waving national flags and cheering as bands, dancers and convoys of vehicles went past.
In a televised speech on the eve of National Day, Anwar appealed to Malaysians not to let their differences ruin the nation. He warned that powerful nations have collapsed not just due to mismanagement or corruption but because they “played with fires of ethnic and religious fanaticism.”
“Don’t take this lightly … our differences can be a strength or a force that can destroy the fabrics of society and the country,” said Anwar, who took power in November after a divisive general election.
“We can choose to continue to sow doubt and suspicion, political and racial hatred or we can choose to say that enough is enough.”
Anwar’s coalition won the most seats but fell short of a majority to form a government. Anwar, 76, later established a multi-coalition unity government with the backing of former rivals.
“This unity is the main key to the country’s stability and prosperity, as well as the seed and source of strength for us to face any current and future challenges,” he said.
Although his government has a two-thirds majority in Parliament, Anwar has not yet managed to shore up support among Malay voters, many who view him as too liberal. They fear their Islamic identity and economic privileges under a decades-old affirmative action programme could be chipped away.
Anwar refused to budge from his multiethnic stance, urging Malaysians in his speech to reject outdated and parochial mindsets. He said the status of Islam and Malay privileges are enshrined in the constitution and will not change.
At the same time, he said his unity government will also defend the rights of all minorities and marginalised groups.
“Malaysia must only be known for its skyscrapers … but also for its guarantee of justice for all citizens,” he said.