Speech by Parliamentary Opposition Leader, DAP Secretary-General and MP for Kota Melaka, Lim Kit Siang, at the Penang State DAP Seminar on Culture held in Penang on Sunday, 26.2.1984 at 10 a.m.
Malaysian Chinese must understand the real nature of the problem of National Culture Policy if they are to influence it instead of engaging in ‘the last gasps of opposition’
The year 1984 started with three uncompromising pronouncements on culture by three UMNO leaders, who made it very clear that there was nothing more to discuss or debate as far as the National Culture Policy is concerned.
The Minister of Youth, Culture and Sports, Anwar Ibrahim, told the UMNO Youth Seminar on Culture in early February that the debate on the National Culture Policy is closed and that the government would not tolerate any questioning or criticism of the National Culture Policy.
The Finance Minister, Tengku Razaleigh, proposed a Seven-Point perspective plan to implement the National Culture Policy which includes countering ‘anti-national’ elements who opposed the Nasional Culture Policy.
The Mentri Besar of Pahang, Datuk Mohamed Najib bin Tun Abdul Razak, declared that the national culture incorporated from the region’s original culture based on Islam would not be successful if it incorporated other cultures and proposed that efforts to evolve the national culture should be made from kindergarten level up to the university level.
These uncompromising stands on the National Culture Policy elicited the usual adverse reactions from Chinese organizations and associations, and even from minor officials from MCA and Gerakan, but all these criticisms were brushed aside and treated with contempt by the UMNO leaders, in the same way that Anwar Ibrahim dismissed as a ‘small matter’ the memorandum on culture submitted by Chinese national organisations in March 1983.
Even the proposal by the MCA Youth Leader and Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, Datuk Lee Kim Sai, to have another dialogue between MCA Youth and UMNO Youth was dismissed by Anwar Ibrahim as ‘unnecessary’!
The UMNO is now all set to implement the National Culture Policy in the most intensive manner in 1984, totally disregarding all criticism and opposition to the National Culture Policy.
Malaysian Chinese who are opposed to a policy of ‘One Language, One Culture’ and want instead a multi-cultural policy must understand the real nature of the problem of National Culture Policy if they want influence any policy changes. Otherwise, the criticisms would be merely the ‘last gasps of opposition’ which would be completely ignored while the National Culture Policy is implemented without compromise or slow-down.
The most vital aspect of the problem of the National Culture policy is that UMNO leaders are advocating its uncompromising implementation on the basis that it had received the full support of all the other component parties in the Barisan Nasional, like the MCA and Gerakan, and also from the people at large, especially as a result of the Barisan Nasional landslide general elections victory in April 1982.
No MCA or Gerakan Minister had ever denied or dissociated himself or his party from the National Culture Policy. So long as the MCA and the Gerakan continue to give full support to the National Culture Policy at Cabinet level, so long would the UMNO be justified in pushing for the uncompromising implementation of this policy.
In fact, the Barisan’s great victory and the DAP’s disastrous defeat in the April 1982 general elections, with the help of Tung Chiau/Chung leaders who joined or campaigned for the Barisan Nasional, gave the UMNO the golden opportunity to push for the wholesale implementation of the National Culture Policy which they had been talking since 1971.
This also explains why MCA, Gerakan and some Tung Chiau/Chung leaders adopted a most ambivalent attitude on the National Culture Policy.
Thus, when in the first flush of its landslide general elections victory, the Barisan Nasional announced for the first time in Parliament in Oct. 1982 its policy of ‘one language, one culture’, the MCA and Gerakan took different public postures.
The MCA leaders attacked the DAP for launching a campaign against a ‘one language, one culture’ policy arguing that there was no such policy, despite the government’s announcement in Parliament. MCA claims that what is meant by ‘one language, one culture’ is ‘one National Language, one National Culture’.
The Gerakan and the Tung Chiau/Chung elements in Gerakan took a different stance. They asked why the DAP should now launch a campaign against ‘One language, One culture’ when all these years since the DAP’s formation in 1966, the government had been pursuing such a ‘one language, one culture’ policy.
The Tung Chiau/Chung elements in Gerakan had to adopt this stance so as to camouflage its responsibility in bringing about the wholesale implementation of the National Culture Policy following its successful role in contributing to the Barisan’s general elections victory and the DAP’s defeat.
This also explains the different stances adopted towards Anwar Ibrahim’s policy pronouncements on the National Culture Policy as closed to any more debate or discussion.
There are those in MCA, Gerakan and Tung/Chiau Chung element in Gerakan who criticised Anwar as if this was Anwar’s personal policy. They want to confuse the public about the real nature of the problem of the National Culture Policy into thinking as if Anwar is toppled, the National Culture Policy would be abolished. In actual fact, if for any reason, Anwar is no more Minister of Culture today, the National Culture Policy would not be altered one iota, for Anwar is merely an implementor of a policy laid down by the Barisan parties in Cabinet.
There is a second group best typified by the Gerakan Penang State Political Bureau Chairman, Dr Ong Hean Tee, who regarded Anwar’s statement as representing his own personal opinion and not that of the Government. If Dr. Ong is right, then we can afford to ignore Anwar’s statements and pronouncements. But if we follow Dr. Ong’s advice, then we would be forfeiting our cultural rights and those of future generations without even an effort.
Thus, the first thing that Malaysian Chinese must understand about the real nature of the problem of the National Culture Policy is that it is given Cabinet support by MCA and Gerakan, and secondly, that the Barisan’s 1982 general elections victory is being used by UMNO to implement the National Culture Policy at a pace never experienced in Malaysia before.
This explains for the announcement over the weekend that by 1986, all primary schools, including Chinese and Tamil primary schools, would have to teach Jawi as a compulsory subject.
The MCA Deputy Minister of Education, Dr. Tan Tiong Hong, even defended the introduction of Jawi as a compulsory subject for non-Malay students, even in Chinese and Tamil primary schools, on the ground that the study of Jawi is essential to non-Malays who want to acquire a high standard of proficiency in Bahasa Malaysia.
The DAP is opposed to the introduction of Jawi as a compulsory subject of non-Malay students. What is more relevant is the introduction of mother-tongue language as a compulsory subject in all national primary schools, and raising the standards of English in the Chinese and Tamil primary schools.
The DAP calls for the abandonment of government plans to introduce Jawi as a compulsory subject for non-Malay students from Std. Four to Std. VI by 1986.
The introduction of Jawi as a compulsory subject in higher primary classes, the increased pace of Islamisation, and progressive restriction of non-Malay cultural expressions and forms like the lion dance must be seen in the context of the intensive implementation of the ‘National Culture Policy’.
If Malaysian Chinese cannot understand the real nature of the problem of the National Culture Policy, then they would be engaged in ‘last gasps of opposition’ to the policy, Such criticisms, without any bearing on policy changes, would be futile, purposeless and ineffective.