Merdeka University judgment ‘the biggest setback for Chinese Education in the last 25 years since Merdeka’

Speech by DAP Secretary-General and MP for Kota Melaka, Lim Kit Siang, at the Penang DAP State Thousand-People 16th Anniversary Dinner in Penang on Saturday, 24.7.1982

Merdeka University judgment ‘the biggest setback for Chinese Education in the last 25 years since Merdeka’

Malaysia will be celebrating its 25th National Day Celebrations next month. In these 25 years, Malaysian Chinese had struggled to ensure that in the Malaysian society, Chinese education would have its rightful and proper place.

Unfortunately, the struggle for Chinese education suffered its biggest setback in the last 25 years since Merdeka with the Merdeka University judgement both at the High Court and Federal Court.

There are those in the country who want to pretend, and want the people to believe, that the Merdeka University judgment merely meant a setback in the aspiration to establish the Merdeka University. These people are not being sincere or truthful with the people: for the Merdeka University judgment has far-reaching implications and consequences affecting not just the application of Merdeka University itself, but the future of Chinese primary schools, Chinese Independent Secondary Schools, and the whole question of the status and place of Chinese language in Malaysian nation as well.

In the Merdeka University case, the Barisan Nasional Government, through the Attorney-General contended that Article 152(1) of the Malaysian Constitution merely maintains the use of the ethnic languages not as a medium of expression or communication for the nation as such but only to the extent of preventing the erosion of their use as a medium of expression within their respective communities.”

This contention was upheld both by the High Court and the Federal Court. This was in complete opposition to the stand taken by the DAP as well as by Chinese educational bodies that the constitutional guarantee in Article 152(1) about the free use, teaching or learning of Chinese language means their use a s a medium of instruction.

In fact, the logical extension of the interpretation of the High Court and the Federal Court in Article 152(1) could even lead to the abandonment or Chinese language programmes on Radio and TV Malaysia, as it is not confined ‘without’ the Chinese community.

Both the High Court and Federal Court also supported the Barisan Nasional Government’s argument that Article 152(1) did not guarantee ‘teaching in’ Chinese, (i. e. its use as a medium of instruction in schools), but merely ‘teaching Chinese’, i. e. its teaching as a subject.
This is an interpretation of most far-ranging consequences. For it could be used by extremists to contend that Article 152(1) did not guarantee the use of Chinese as a medium of instruction in Chinese primary schools, and Chinese primary schools are unconstitutional and should be closed down, and that there is no need to invoke Clause 21(2) of the 1961 Education Act to close Chinese primary schools.

The extremists and enemies of Chinese education would have another weapon to justify their attack on Chinese primary schools.

Both the High Court and the Federal Court majority judgment struck down the Merdeka University application on the ground that the Merdeka University if established, would be a ‘public authority’, and that under Article 152(6), any purpose of a public authority would be ‘official purpose’. This would mean using Chinese as a medium of instruction in Merdeka University would be using Chinese language for ‘official purposes’, which is prohibited by the Constitution.

This argument could be extended to Chinese primary schools, on the ground that as Chinese primary schools are ‘public authorities’, maintained and funded by the government, the use of Chinese as a medium of instruction in Chinese primary schools would be using Chinese for official purposes, and is therefore unconstitutional and must be stopped.

It is precisely because the Merdeka University judgment could have such far-reaching consequences for Chinese education and the use and status of Chinese language in the country that my comrades and I in the DAP leadership met Merdeka University officials in August 1979 to try to persuade them not to file the Merdeka University suit in court.

For reasons best known to the Merdeka University officials, they disregarded the DAP’s views, and have now not only brought about a situation where the Merdeka University struggle has come to an end, but opened up a completely perilous future for Chinese education in Malaysia in the 1980s.

What is even more shocking is that the principal Merdeka University officials, even before the Merdeka University judgment, should be demonstrating their confidence and support for the Barisan Nasional policies, including the Barisan Nasional government’s contention and interpretation in the Merdeka University, by joining the Barisan Nasional on the eve of general elections.

The entry of several principal Merdeka University officials could only be construed as a public declaration by them that they would support the Barisan’s rejection of the Merdeka University proposal in the final analysis.

It is urgent and imperative that the Chinese community fully understand the ramifications of the Merdeka University judgement, its far-ranging consequences and repercussions, so that they could work out a strategy to protect and defend the legitimate place of Chinese education in the country.

We will be doing ourselves and future generations the greatest disservice if we pretend that the Merdeka University judgement was merely another judgement, for then we will not realise that in the light of this judgment, soul-searching reappraisals must be conducted by every Malaysian Chinese who cherish Chinese education to shore up the greatly eroded position of Chinese education in Malaysia.