Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak said on Wednesday 2014 has been "the most challenging year of my career", summing up 12 months marked by air tragedies and the country's worst flooding in decades.
"Twelve months ago, in my New Year message, I looked forward to a 'prosperous and united' Malaysia. 2014 did bring prosperity for Malaysia - our economy grew strongly. But it was also the year we were united in grief," Najib said in his New Year's message to the nation posted on his website, NajibRazak.com.
On March 8, Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, flying from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, vanished without a trace. It was carrying 239 people, mostly Chinese nationals and 50 Malaysians. Nearly 10 months on, investigators have yet to make meaningful progress towards locating it.
The national carrier lost a second Boeing 777 when Flight MH17 was shot down over Ukrainian airspace on July 17, killing all 298 on board, including 43 Malaysians.
This week, Malaysia was hit anew by the crash of an Airbus belonging to the joint-venture of homegrown budget airline AirAsia. Although Indonesia AirAsia is a separate entity from AirAsia, which has a 49 per cent stake in it, the brand is synonymous with Malaysia, whose people are unused to major air tragedies. But 2014 was like no year before.
"In the space of a few months, we lost 93 Malaysians. And we found ourselves at the centre of the world's attention - not once, but twice," Najib said in his message.
"The disappearance of MH370, and the destruction of MH17, are part of our story now. My heart reaches out to those who lost loved ones; and I share their sorrow. Like so many Malaysians, my family too was touched by tragedy.
"This has been the most challenging year of my career - and one of the most difficult years in Malaysia's history. But I take heart from the way we came together, as one nation, to #prayforMH370 and #prayforMH17," wrote the 61-year-old premier, who was elected to Parliament in 1976 and became PM in 2009.
Referring to floods which have swept northeast Malaysia, displacing a quarter million people and killing at least 21, Najib said: "We are used to floods in Malaysia. But I was shocked by how bad the situation became. The scale of the destruction was profound, with so many people going through intense personal suffering.
"The Government’s priority is to get help to people who need it now – with the supplies and assistance for those who are stranded or displaced – and financial support, so that people can get their lives back together."
Najib then sounded a more upbeat note by reminding his country of better things to come, such as Malaysia's upcoming chairmanship of Asean and its non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council, both in 2015.
"Clearly, Malaysia will play a much bigger part in world affairs in the year to come. It is important that we continue to be a positive player, pushing the issues that we care about, and representing our people, our interests and our businesses. That is the only way we can ensure that Malaysian and South East Asian voices are heard," the prime minister wrote.
On Malaysia's economy, Najib noted that it is on track to grow by 5.7 per cent in 2014, and 4.7 per cent in 2015. He added: "Our deficit is falling, our reserves are strong; we have trusted financial institutions, low unemployment, and record levels of foreign investment. Malaysia’s economy is well placed to weather any storms."
He concluded with a rallying call to Malaysians.
"Last year, I said I looked forward to a more prosperous and united Malaysia. Although this has been a difficult year, we have achieved both. In 2015, as we prepare to play a bigger role on the world stage, I want us to work together to build a safer, more prosperous, and more equal society. I wish you all the best for the year ahead."