Bahasa Baku - Cabinet should stop playing UMNO politics with Bahasa Malaysia and nation-building and should fully consult different sectors of society before undoing 12 years of standardisation

Media Statement
by Lim Kit Siang

(Penang, Monday): Last Thursday, Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Datuk Dr Rais Yatim announced the Cabinet decision to abolish  the use of the baku pronunciation of the Malay language and that  all television and radio broadcasts would  revert to the so-called standard Bahasa Malaysia pronunciation.

Rais said the Cabinet decision last Wednesday was aimed at creating a national identity and to avoid confusion among the public.  He added that the standard national language is also easier to understand.

The next day,  the Education Minister Tan  Sri Musa Mohamad followed suit and announced that the Education Ministry had abolished  the use of "bahasa baku" in schools in line with the  Cabinet decision and that his  ministry would send a directive to schools on this matter soon.

He said: "Bahasa baku differs from the standard Malay language only in terms of  pronunciation and it sounds artificial."

Following public protests and opposition, including from Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka,  at the arbitrary Cabinet decision to abolish the use of  bahasa baku after it was introduced in schools since  1988 when  students had been  required to use it during the Bahasa Malaysia oral test as well as in society in general, the Education Minister immediately backtracked and said that the government is  willing to review its  directive abolishing the use of the baku pronunciation of the Malay language  if there is strong justification to continue with its use.

This is a most unprofessional way for the Cabinet and the Education Minister to make an important policy decision, as public consultation should precede and be an important part of the decision-making process, and not be used as a public relations exercise to mollify public protests and opposition after the announcement of  the decision.

When Cabinet tradition was broken after the tenth general election and a non-UMNO member Musa Mohamad was appointed Education Minister, hopes were expressed that this would mark the de-politicisation of the education portfolio as education was too important to the nation and the future to become a party political football.

These hopes have been dashed by the manner the Cabinet has made an important policy decision, viz to abolish the use of bahasa baku, without any proper study or consultation, whether with the Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka whose mission includes the promotion of bahasa baku or the lecturers in the universities and teachers in the schools who had been in the vanguard to promote bahasa baku in the past 12 years.

Musa was himself spearheading the promotion of bahasa baku in Universiti Sains Malaysia for seven of these twelves years of bahasa baku when he was Vice Chancellor before he opted for early retirement in 1995.

Did he ever submit a memorandum or report to the Education Ministry during the seven years he was promoting bahasa baku in USM to express his misgivings and opposition?

If not, why then did he so easily and compliantly go along with the proposal to abolish bahasa baku?

Had a professional study been commissioned as to how the introduction of bahasa baku had undermined the creation of national identity as implied by Rais, and if not, what was the scientific basis for the Cabinet arriving at the  conclusion that bahasa baku should be abolished because it undermined national identity and unity?

Apart from the Deputy Prime Minister, Datuk Abdullah Ahmad Badawi and Rais, more than two-thirds of the present Cabinet members were party to the Cabinet decision 12 years ago for the introduction of bahasa baku under the principle of collective responsibility whether as Ministers or Deputy Ministers.

Didnít senior Cabinet Ministers like Datuk Seri Dr. Ling Liong Sik, Datuk Seri S. Samy Vellu, Datuk Seri Dr. Lim Keng Yaik, Datuk Amar Leo Moggie, Datuk Law Hieng Ding have independent views of their own and express them in the Cabinet or did they take the position that this is an issue which has nothing to do with non-Malays and should be left solely  to the UMNO politicians to decide?

The decision of the Cabinet last Wednesday was all the more surprising as less than four months ago, the Information Ministry  appointed Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka to its broadcasting advisory panel to improve Radio Televisyen Malaysia's usage of bahasa baku.

The only real reason for the arbitrary and haphazard  Cabinet decision to abolish bahasa baku has nothing to do with linguistics or education but everything to do with petty politicking - because it was associated with former Deputy Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim who introduced it when he was Education Minister.

There is clearly an attempt to try to wipe out all influences and changes associated with Anwar.  If this is the case, is the Cabinet going to abandon the use of "Menteri Pendidikan" and revert to the previous  term of "Menteri Pelajaran" as it was Anwar who effected this change of name?
The  Cabinet should stop playing UMNO politics with Bahasa Malaysia and nation-building and should fully consult different sectors of society before undoing 12 years of promotion of Bahasa Baku.

The issue of the abolition of Bahasa Baku is not a subject concerning only the Malays and UMNO but all Malaysians, and Cabinet Ministers from MCA, MIC, Gerakan and SUPP must show that they are Malaysian Ministers and not Chinese or Indian Ministers in Malaysia.  They should  play a full part in the decision-making process by getting the Cabinet to suspend its decision to abolish bahasa baku and in the meanwhile, to commission a nation-wide consultation process on the issue.


*Lim Kit Siang - DAP National Chairman