Call on UMNO leaders to prove that they are new Malaysians who fully respect mother-tongue education and not old communalists by trying to raise the spectre of racial mistrust and suspicion over Chinese education

Media Statement
by Lim Kit Siang

(Penang, Wednesday): Berita Harian yesterday (27.2.2001) carried a report which might be quite commonplace in the sixties, seventies or even eighties, but is completely out-of-date-and-place and nationally self-defeating  in the 21st century where -  as acknowledged by the Defence Minister, Datuk Najib Tun Razak,  at a luncheon talk at the International Conference on Globalisation in Kuala Lumpur yesterday - Malaysia must compete in the contest of brains with the rest of the world in the era of IT and globalisation.

The Berita Harian report, under the heading “Umno minto DAP tidak ‘bermain api’”, states:

“KUALA LUMPUR, Isnin - Umno meminta DAP ‘tidak bermain api’ dengan menganjurkan Persidangan Harapan Baru Pendidikan Bahasa Ibunda, yang boleh merosakkan integrasi nasional.

“Malah, persidangan untuk menuntut lebih banyak peruntukan daripada kerajaan dan pembinaan lebih banyak sekolah Cina itu adalah di luar kontrak sosial, yang di persetujui bersama.

“Serentak itu, Ahli Majlis Tertinggi (MT) Umno, Datuk Ahmad Zahid Hamid, meminta DAP menghayati falsafah pendidikan negara berdasarkan kepada semangat yang tercatat dalam Penyata Razak.”

In the first place, let me stress that the DAP is not “playing with fire” when we extended invitations to the three top MCA, Gerakan and SUPP Cabinet Ministers, Datuk Seri Dr. Ling Liong Sik, Datuk Seri Lim Keng Yaik and Datuk Law Hieng Ding to the first conference on New Deal for Mother-Tongue Education in the Eighth Malaysia Plan to be held in Kuala Lumpur on March 6, 2001, but making a positive contribution to the Malaysian nation-building process in the 21st century to give full recognition to the multi-racial, multi-lingual, multi-religious and multi-cultural characteristics of the country - which are Malaysia’s richest heritage and resources for our national success and greatness in the new millennium.

It is the  UMNO leaders and desperadoes like Ahmad Zahid who are really “playing with fire” by trying to re-communalise the people, such as to raise the spectre of racial mistrust and suspicion over Chinese education to escalate ethnic fears and tensions as their formula to win back majority Malay political support which UMNO lost in the 1999 general election.

Earlier attempts to resuscitate this old politics of communal divide-and-rule through unscrupulous tactics of  political fear,  intimidation  and blackmail were the 83-point Suqiu election appeals, GPMS 100 Malay Demands and 100,000-People Gathering, and the “Takkan Melayu Hilang Di Dunia” rally episodes - and just as these earlier attempts had failed to ignite and escalate ethnic tensions, the attempt to use the mother-tongue and Chinese education issues to recommunalise Malay and Malaysian politics is also going to fail.

This is because Malaysia is going through an important political transition to a new politics and a new Malaysia where politics will not be so race-dominated but more issues-centred.

For the past four decades, extremist UMNO leaders had been very successful in painting Chinese education and its supporters and defenders as Chinese extremist, chauvinist and even communists  when mother-tongue education is guaranteed in the Malaysian constitution and an integral part of Malaysian national education system and the nation-building process.

The Chinese primary schools in the country  are not attended only  by Chinese pupils as out of the 620,000 pupils in the Chinese primary schools, over 70,000 are non-Chinese, comprising Malays, Indians, Kadazans and Ibans and more equitable funding, provision of better facilities and even the construction of more Chinese primary schools would benefit pupils of all races in Malaysia.

I would urge UMNO leaders to prove that they are new Malaysians who fully respect mother-tongue education and not old communalists by trying to raise the spectre of racial mistrust and suspicion over Chinese education.

They should emulate the example of the PAS leaders, members and supporters who have shown that they are more sensitive to the legitimate aspirations of mother-tongue education in a plural society.  February 26, 2001 will be an important milestone in mother-tongue education in Malaysia because of two  historic breakthroughs chalked up on that day:

Who will be the first UMNO leader who is prepared to set the example of a new Malaysian by stepping forward to sign the Damansara School SOS signature petition?

After all, even the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad, had publicly praised the quality and standards of Chinese primary schools  before the 1999 general elections, stating that some Malay parents prefer to send their children to Chinese primary schools because the teachers and pupils in these schools were more dedicated and committed.

It would be unfair to demand UMNO Ministers and leaders to sign the Damansara SOS signature petition when MCA Ministers and leaders - apart from former MCA leaders like Tan Sri  Lee Kim Sai, Datuk Wong Seng Chow and Dr. Tan Tiong Hiong - are not prepared to do so.  After all, as MCA President has rightly said, a fish rots from the head and if “the fish head” is to resolve the “fish head problem”, Liong Sik and the other three MCA leaders should take the lead to support the Damansara school “SOS” campaign to retain the original school while building an additional Chinese primary school.

I would advise UMNO leaders not to arbitrarily and unilaterally expand and distort the “social contract agreed to by the communites” to deny or suppress the legitimate rights and place of mother-tongue education in Malaysia.   Ahmad Zahid was being downright mischievous when he claimed that asking for fairer financial treatment of Chinese  primary schools and the building of more new Chinese primary schools go against the “social contract” agreed to by the various communities.

The MCA Ministers should come forward to state whether there is the “social contract” where MCA had agreed that Chinese primary schools do not get fair and just treatment, including no building of new Chinese primary schools despite pressing need as a result of increasing demand for Chinese primary school places by  Chinese, Malays, Indians, Kadazans and Ibans.

MCA Ministers should be aware that their silence and failure to rebut Ahmad Zahid’s new-fangled expansion of the “social contract” would further  undermine their diminishing credibility.


*Lim Kit Siang - DAP National Chairman