DAP calls for establishment of an all-party-cum-NGOs National Youth Service Commission to study and make recommendations on the Najib Cabinet Committee report to ensure that the national service to be introduced in Malaysia does not degenerate into a “national disservice” or “Barisan Nasional Service”
by Lim Kit Siang
(Petaling Jaya, Sunday): DAP calls for establishment of an all-party-cum-NGOs National Youth Service Commission to study and make recommendations on the Najib Cabinet Committee report to ensure that the national service to be introduced in Malaysia does not degenerate into a “national disservice” or “Barisan Nasional Service”.
This is imperative as there has not been sufficient national debate or consensus as to the real purpose and objective of the national service, although the Cabinet Committee on National Service has proposed that all Malaysians reaching the age of 18 be required to undergo six months of national service.
The Cabinet cannot also ignore the fact that two opposition parties, PAS and Parti KeAdilan Nasional, have openly declared their opposition to the Barisan Nasional concept of national service.
In his speech to Malaysians in Paris on Friday night, the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad said that the government decided to introduce National Service to bring the various races together for at least six months because the national schools have failed to bring about better relations among the various races.
He said the Chinese and Indians deserted national schools because they felt that the schools were becoming more and more Islamic. He hoped that national service would create citizens who are less chauvinistic in their relationship with Malaysians of different ethnic groups.
There is something amiss both about the diagnosis and the prescription of the solution for the problem of national unity and national integration.
Firstly, what Mahathir said in Paris contradicts what he said during his recent visit to India where in answer to a question by an Indian journalist on his legacy, he said he regarded forging closer race relations in Malaysia’s plural society as his most important achievement in his 21 years as Prime Minister.
Secondly, it is not correct to say that the Chinese and Indians “deserted national schools” leading to greater polarization among the races, as in the five years of secondary education, the overwhelming majority of the Malaysian students, regardless of race or religion, undergo the same schooling together in the national secondary education system.
It is only in the six years of primary education that the students are streamed into the different language-medium schools, as given by the following Education Ministry statistics as at 31st January 2001:
Although some 90 per cent of Chinese pupils and 75 per cent of Indian pupils enrol in their mother-tongue primary schools, some 10 per cent of the Chinese primary school enrolment are Malays, Indians and other non-Chinese and they all use the same common national syllabus set by the Education Ministry.
However, for the five-year secondary education, the overwhelming majority of the Malaysian students, regardless of race, undergo the same schooling in the national secondary schools as there are no Tamil secondary schools and although there are 60 Chinese Independent Secondary School, they only enrol some 10 per cent of the Std. VI pupils – which means that some 90 per cent of the Std. VI Chinese students continue their studies in the national secondary schools.
The pertinent question to be asked, then, is how a six-month stint of national service going to succeed in fostering national unity and national integration in the 18-year-olds when five full years of studying together in the national secondary schools have signally failed to achieve these objectives?
The next question is what is the concept of national unity and national integration that would be imparted in the compulsory national service proposed by the government - is it the concept in accordance with the understanding of the Barisan Nasional, in contrast to the understanding not only of Opposition parties but also Malaysians who are not politically-aligned?
If so, then what we are having is not national service but national disservice or more specifically, “Barisan Nasional Service”.
Malaysians do not want to copy some African countries where national youth services have “produced young thugs who maintained the ruling party’s grip on power”.
Nigeria introduced the national youth service after its four-year civil war 1967-1970 to help reduce ethnic prejudices by assigning university graduates to serve in parts of the country different from where they grew up. However, the riots in the country in the past few days, with the death toll reported to be over 200 with over 600 injured in the sectarian violence involving Muslims and Christians sparked off by a blasphemous newspaper article about the Miss World contest showed that a long-standing national youth service to promote national unity and integration could not prevent the Nigerian ethnic tensions from reaching boiling point for a variety reasons.
If the compulsory national service envisaged by the government is genuinely to foster national unity and national integration in Malaysia, then the proposal itself must be able to promote unity and not produce discord by transcending party and sectional differences.
This is why the conception, deliberation and completion of the national youth service proposal must involve all political parties, ruling or opposition, NGOs, the youth movement and the entire spectrum of the civil society, allowing for a full, in-depth and comprehensive discussion of its purpose and objectives, in particular to achieve a national consensus on the fundamentals of national unity and national integration in a multi-racial, multi-lingual, multi-cultural and multi-religious Malaysia.
It is sheer arrogance on the part of Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak, the chairman of the Cabinet Committee on the National Service, to say that the government is willing to listen to the views of opposition parties but will not include their representatives in any committee – as this may be the way to formulate a Barisan Nasional Service or National Disservice, but clearly not the way for any National Youth Service scheme acceptable to all sections of the Malaysian people.
* Lim Kit Siang, DAP National Chairman