Speech by Parliamentary Opposition Leader, DAP Secretary-General and MP for Petaling, Lim Kit Siang, at a tea-party at Hotel Malaya, Kuala Lumpur on Sunday, 20th July 1980 for representatives of organizations to discuss ways to put an effective stop to strident demands for the closure of Chinese and Tamil primary schools
DAP proposes the formation of a National Action Committee to defend the constitutional position of Chinese and Tamil primary schools comprising representatives from organizations concerned and committed to the concept that Chinese and Tamil primary schools should be an integral and eternal part of the national education system
This tea party had been organized for representatives of political parties and organizations which had all along expressed concern and commitment to the concept that Chinese and Tamil primary schools should be an integral and eternal part of the national education system to discuss and find ways to put an immediate and effective step to the recent growing strident demands for the closure of Chinese and Tamil primary schools, and to work out concrete steps to defend the constitutional position of Chinese and Tamil primary schools in accordance with the Constitutional guarantees in the country.
The right of mother-tongue education, in the sense of mother-tongue medium schools and not the teaching of mother-tongue as a subject, had been a contentious issue in Malaysia for the last two decades.
This contention started in 1961 when the Education Act that year was passed with Clause 21(2) which vests the Education Minister with the power to convert national-type primary schools into national primary schools when the Minister deems it fit to do so.
It was clearly stated by the Education Minister at that time, Abdul Rahman Talib, when introducing the Bill in the Dewan Rakyat, of the government’s intention to convert national-type primary schools into national primary schools, although this would run counter to the Razak Education Report of 1956 which enunciated that Bahasa Malaysia would be the ‘main medium’ and not ‘sole medium’ of instruction in schools.
That Clause 21(2) of the 1961 Education Act had not been implemented with regard to Chinese and Tamil since 1961, although it had been implemented for the former English primary schools, is not because of the change of heart of those in power, but because if the solid demonstration of Malaysian Chinese and Indians of their aspiration for the continued existence of these schools.
This has again been vividly highlighted by the naked and blatant demand by the UMNO Youth Leader, Haji Suhaimi Kamarrudin, at the recent UMNO Youth General Assembly for the implementation of Clause Clause 21(2) of the 1961 Education Act, which must mean the closure and conversion of Chinese and Tamil primary schools into national primary schools.
This UMNO Youth demand was again taken up at the UMNO General Assembly the following day.
The Cabinet Committee Report on Education’s recommendation that “memandangkan keadaan skearang ini, adalah diperakukan supaya sistem persekolahan peringkat rendah yang sedia ada diteruskan” only confirm that his continjuation is of a temporary and grudging nature, and not meant to emplace Chinese and Tamil primary schools in the status of an integral and eternal part of the mainstream of the national education system.
Over the years, to demand inside and outside Parliament that the status of Chinese and Tamil primary schools in the national education system should be clarified by the repeal of Clause 21(2), which exists as a hangman’s noose over the Chinese and Tamil primary schools, the strongest opponents had been the component parties in the Barisan and their Ministers, MPs and leaders.
On the one hand, component parties in the government and their leaders claim that it is not the intention of the government to close Chinese and Tamil primary schools. Only yesterday, in a specially-summoned meeting of MCA Divisional Chairmen and Secretaries, the MCA President, Datuk lee San Choon, declared:
“I wish to state emphatically once again that the existence of Chinese Primary Schools is not a point to be disputed and least of all to be made into a political issue. It is not the Policy of the Government to abolish Chinese education. As President of MCA, I stand by my pledge and the pledge of the MCA on this subject.”
Yet on the other hand, the component parties in the Barisan, including the MCA and the President, Datuk Lee San Choon, twice opposed DAP attempts in Parliament in 1975 and in June 1980 to repeal Clause 21(2) which is the only way to give substance to any such assurance as to the non-convertibility of Chinese and Tamil primary schools.
Datuk Lee San Choon said yesterday that the MCA had previously stated that it would swim and sink with the existence of Chinese Primary Schools in the country, and that this was a non-negotiable issue.
What is pertinent to ask, is how non-negotiable an issue is this to the MCA, which could agree to the enactment of Clause 21(2) of the Education Act 1961 with the purpose of making Bahasa Malaysia as the ‘sole medium’ of instruction?
The people of Malaysia have demonstrated that they have had enough with verbal assurances which are not only supported by legislative provisions, but contradicted and weakened by existing legal provisions.
Again, it is pertinent to ask how non-negotiable an issue is this to the MCA when the MCA national leadership could remain content and self-satisfied by strident demands by the UMNO Youth Leader, Haji Suhaimi Kamaruddin, and an UMNO Kelantan delegate at the UMNO General Assembly, especially when this directly challenge one of the entrenched sensitive issues in the Malaysian Constitution after 1970?
Both Datuk Lee San Choon and Dr. Lim Chong Eu, Gerakan President when announcing his party’s refusal to attend this Party, directed their stack on the DAP for deploring and condemning Haji Suhaimi’s striden chauvinist extremist and seditious demand.
To both these eminent political leaders in Government, there is nothing wrong with Haji Suhaimi; what is wrong is with the DAP and other organizations which had reacted with righteious indignation and firmness against such extremist, chauvinist and seditious demand.
To both these eminent political leaders in Government, there is nothing wrong with chauvinist, extremist and seditious calls for the closure of Chinese and Tamil primary schools. What is wrong is with people reacting in opposition and condemnation of such calls.
The people are entitled to ask that, if the issue of Chinese and Tamil primary schools is so ‘non-negotiable’, why MCA did not lodge a report for the prosecution and conviction of Haji Suhaimi Kamaruddin for sedition offence in challenging and questioning Article 152 of the Constitution on the guaranteed free use of the other languages, as declared by the High Court judgement in the Utusan Melayu case in 1971?
Or why a National Supreme Council meeting of the Barisan Nasional was not requisitioned to ensure that “extremism in any form must be stemmed out coming from any quarters.”
The greatest disservice to the cause of Chinese and Tamil primary education which both Datuk Lee San Choon and Dr. Lim Chong Eu had committed is to equate constitutionally-sanctioned aspirarion for the preservation and promotion of Chinese and Tamil primary schools as a form of extremism in Malaysia, at par with Haji Suhaimi’s strident call, or even worse, as an even worst form of extremism than Haji Suhaimi’s strident call.
We must reject and repudiate such mentality and psychology which would soon make the defence of the constitutional position of Chinese and Tamil primary schools as a sort of ‘untouchable’ and ‘unmentionable’ subject in respectable Malaysian circles.
The Malaysian Constitution, as amended in 1970, has made it clear beyond challenge that Chinese and Tamil primary schools are part of the national system of education. Although there are people who don’t like this and want to change the situation, defenders of the Chinese and Tamil primary schools are in fact defenders of the Malaysian Constitution against those who wish to subvert the Constitution and in the process destroy the very fabric of a multi-racial Malaysian society.
If component parties of the government are not prepared to do their part to help defend the Constitutional rights of the people, then it is up to the people and organizations concerned and committed to the constitutionally-sanctioned concept of Chinese and Tamil primary schools to be fully integral parts of the national education system to protect their constitutional rights, by democratic constitutional means through joint action.
I am therefore proposing that a National Action Committee to defend the constitutional position of Chinese and Tamil primary schools comprising representatives from organizations concerned and committed to the concept that Chinese and Tamil primary schools should be an integral and eternal part of the national education system be formed.
This Committee would have numerous onerous tasks.
It would have, at least, three main tasks:
(1) To defend the constitutional position of Chinese and Tamil primary schools;
(2) To find ways and means to stamp out the growing strident calls for the closure of Chinese and Tamil primary schools;
(3) To restore to Chinese and Tamil primary schools the status and treatment they deserved and are entitled to in view of the constitutionally-entrenched position. Chinese and Tamil primary schools have not received the government attention, funds and support they deserve, and this must be traced to the refusal by all concerned to accept them as fully integral and eternal parts of the national education system.
Before I conclude and thank you for coming to this tea party, I want to make clear the DAP’s position.
It is not the intention of the DAP to make, what other’s say, political capital or score political points today. Those who understand the fundamental issues involved would never say such a thing.
In the National Action Committee To Defend The Constitutional Position of Chinese and Tamil Primary Schools, which I had proposed, and which if accepted, the DAP does not propose to play the leading role, although we will make our maximum contribution as is our duty.
The purpose of this tea party is merely to provide an occasion for an immediate exchange of thoughts and views on the challenges faced by Chinese and Tamil primary schools. The DAP’s initiative ends with this tea party.
This tea party, or the proposed National Action Committee to Defend the Constitutional Position of Chinese and Tamil Primary Schools, is not aimed at producing a confrontation, or heightening of tensions. It is aimed at stamping out extremist and seditious demands which could only end in confrontation and disaster. We are all here as Malaysians, not as Chinese or Indians, and what we seek is a Malaysian answer to the problems which the likes of Haji Suhaimi have created for our multi-racial nation.
Let us who are gathered here today reaffirm that the way to national unity and nation building, which is urgently required ih the context of deteriorating regional stability and security, is through the unwavering adherence to the Constitutional guarantee in Article 152, which recognizes and acknowledges that education, through the creation of a common Malaysian language, namely Bahasa Malaysia, and the preservation and sustenance of the other languages by their use as medium of instruction, is most appropriate to multi-racial Malaysia.