Speech by Parliamentary Opposition Leader, DAP Secretary-General and MP for Kota Melaka, Lim Kit Siang, at the Pulau Sebang DAP Branch Annual General Meeting held at Pulau Sebang, Malacca, on Sunday, 3rd April 1983 at 8 p.m.
Call on MCA, Gerakan and SUPP Ministers to form a ‘three-in-one’ union in Cabinet to demand for the Cabinet review and modification of the three government principles of Malaysian culture building.
The Prime Minister, Dr. Mahathir Mohamed, at the official opening of the Meeting of the Malay World 1982 held in Malacca on 18th and 19th December 1982 reiterated the Barisan Nasional government’s commitment to the three principles of building a Malaysian culture, namely :
1. The national culture be used be based on the indigenous culture;
2. Elements of other cultures which are suitable and appropriate could be accepted into the national culture; and
3. Islam should be an important element.
Dr. Mahathir said that these three principles were adopted at the National Cultural Congress more than 10 years ago as the basis of national culture.
After more than a decade of the Barisan Nasional cultural policy, based on these three principles, more and more Malaysians now realize that the approach adopted by the Barisan Nasional government is more one of assimilation, rather than integration.
In a cultural policy which is committed to national integration and rejects the policy of assimilation, the various cultures in the country in the country would be accorded full recognition as local cultural elements, and given full freedom to develop and interact to create a new Malaysian cultural entity, whether in private or public arenas, including radio, television and official functions.
In the last 25 years of Merdeka, Malaysia has gone well down the road in the direction of cultural assimilation and intolerance, and a halt must be made if we are to ensure that Malaysia shall forever be an example of a society where the different cultures have met, which could not only happily co-exist, but could come together in full flowering to bring into a being a new Malaysian culture comprising the best of the various cultures in the country.
Any attempt by any culture to oppress or eliminate other cultures is not only doomed to failure, but would only lead to great division and disunity in Malaysia.
That Malaysia in the last 25 years had gone well down the road in the direction towards cultural assimilation could be seen from two instances:
• On 20th October 1961, when debating in Parliament on the 1961 Education Act and replying to charges that in having Clause 21(2) which empowers the Education Minister to convert Chinese primary schools into national primary schools, the Government was not aware the importance of Chinese culture, the then MCA President and Minister of Finance, Tun Tan Siew Sin, said:
“ Those of us who like myself have been privileged to attend State banquets and functions held at the Istana Negara have, for example, noticed that every time there is some sort of entertainment provided after a meal is over, or in the course of a meal, we get cultural exhibitions given by, for example, Radio Malaya; and in every one of these exhibitions there are always a few items which are performed by Chinese artists and in the Chinese language and depicting some aspects of Chinese culture.”- ‘Hansard’.
Tun Tan went on to say:
“ I do not think that has ever happened before, and I do not think it ever happened during the time when the British were in control of this country. If today the Alliance Government was not aware of the importance of Chinese culture, I do not think such a thing would be allowed to happen.”
Tun Tan Siew Sin and the MCA leaders must now agree that for over a decade, the cultural scheme of things Tun Tan described in 1961 had ceased to exist.
The position today in fact has gone very far towards the other extreme, as illustrated by the statement by a noted Malay scholar at the Meeting of Malay World 1982 held in Malacca where he stressed that there should be no discrimination against those Chinese who adopted the ways of the island – for instance the Chinese datuks must be accorded the same respect as Malay datuks, provided “ their loyalaty and willingness to be part of the nation is proved through their adoption of Malay cut customs.”
Recently, 15 Chinese organizations drafted a memorandum on Malaysian culture which was submitted to the Deputy Minister of Culture, Youth and Sports, Datin Paduka Rosemary Chong, on the ‘integrationist’ basis on which Malaysian culture should be founded, rather than the ‘assimilationist’ approach.
The memorandum is a highly commendable work, but more thought should be given to ensure that the memorandum received the attention of the highest authorities, and not thrown into the waste-paper basket after the formality of receiving it from the Chinese organizations.
That the memorandum should be dismissed offhand is what is advocated by the commentator of a national Bahasa Malaysia daily, Berita Harian, of 2nd April 1983, who wrote:
“Pertubuhan-pertubuhan Cina di Negara ini telah menyampaikan memorandum setebal 18 muka kepada Kementerian Kebudayaan Belia dan Sukan mengenai tanggapan mereka terhadap soal-soal bahasa, kebuayaan dan pelajaran.
“MAS fikir-fikir, Kementerian tersebut tentu ada formatnya sendiri menimbangkan memorandum-memorandum seperti itu.
“Format itu tentunya pula didasarkan kepada aspirasi- yang dipernyatakan dalam Kongress Bahasa, Kongres Kebudayaan dan beberapa kongres, seminar, pertemuan, bengkel dan perhimpunan kita dimasa lalu.
“Mudah bukan, tugas Kementerian tersebut?
– MAS KALENG –
( Budayawan tulen ) ”
Furthermore, the fact that the memorandum was submitted to the Deputy Minister of Culture, Youth and Sports, Datin Paduka Rosemary Chong, does not promise that it would receive serious attention at the highest policy-making levels. This is especially so as Datin Paduka Rosemary Chong, like her previous predecessors as MCA Deputy Minister of Culture, Youth and Sports, like Chin Hon Ngian, Mak Hok Kam, had always parrotted the Barisan Nasional cultural line of the three principles whenever asked in Parliament about the basis of Malaysian culture.
If the memorandum of the 15 Chinese organizations on Malaysian culture is to receive attention at the highest policy level, and in particular the Cabinet, then the first thing would be the convening of a national conference by the signatory organizations to secure from all MCA, Gerakan and SUPP Ministers, Deputy Ministers, Parliamentary Secretaries, Members of Parliament the commitment to support and stand by the principles and objectives laid out in the memorandum.
The political history of the last 25 years have shown that political parties, whether through branches or even annual general meetings, could adopt positions on language, education and culture, which need not be pursued by their respective Ministers of MPs either in Cabinet or in Parliament. In fact, these Ministers and MPs had often voted against such party positions in Cabinet or Parliament, on the ground that this is in conformity with the wishes of UMNO.
The same mistake must not be made this time, if the memorandum on Malaysian Chinese culture by the 15 Chinese organizations is not to end up as an empty exercise in memorandum-writing.
Before any step could be taken to ensure that the memorandum would receive the serious attention of the highest authorities, MCA, Gerakan and SUPP Ministers, Deputy Ministers, Parliamentary Secretaries and Members of Parliament must publicly make a commitment to support the memorandum, and take a pledge to get the memorandum considered and accepted by Cabinet and Parliament.
This is the time when the MCA, Gerakan and SUPP Ministers should by action put into practice the ‘three-in-one’ union concept in Cabinet to demand for the Cabinet to review and modify the three Barisan Nasional government principles of Malaysian-culture building.