By Parliamentary Opposition Leader, DAP Secretary-General and MP for Tanjung, Lim Kit Siang, in Petaling Jaya on Tuesday, 25.8.1987
Swift and decisive action by the Prime Minister to resolve the University of Malaya Senate controversy over elective courses and other issues is the only way to avoid deterioration of race relations
Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, Kasitah Gaddam, yesterday called for a halt to the raising of “sensitive issues” in public to allow Malaysians to get on with the job of economic recovery. He said open discussions will only worsen the situation and divide the people.
He said “groups dissatisfied with any racial issue should bring their grievances to the attention of the Government … which is open and willing to listen to issues considered sensitive.
The greatest culprit in worsening race relations in the country, which is hampering economic recovery and regaining investor confidence, is not so much the discussion, but the creation, of ‘sensitive’ racial, linguistic and cultural issues, like the University of Malaya Senate ruling on elective courses, the Johore Seafood Festival Chinese signboard incident, the UTM ruling on Malay headdress for all graduands, etc.
The government should not and cannot sweep sensitive issues and controversies concerning language and culture under the carpet, for this will only make things worse.
The most effective way to resolve controversial and sensitive racial, linguistic and cultural issue is that the government must take swift and decisive action to resolve them, instead of dragging its feet or even refusing to pay serious note of the incidents, until public arguments make them into national controversies.
The University of Malaya Senate ruling on elective courses is a good case in point. The government had ample time to intervene before the issue became public, to ensure that the sensitivities of all communities would not be trampled and hurt by advising the Senate to reconsider its decision to abolish the use of Chinese and Tamil languages as medium of instruction for the elective subjects.
But the Education Ministry and the government did nothing at all, and the situation was inflamed when critics of the University of Malaya senate ruling were literally accused of being “anti-national” and disloyal to the country, for trying to defend constitutional rights and guarantees.
The situation would not had been so bad if the government had subsequently taken decisive action to resolve the issue, when it became public. But up to now, despite claims that the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamed, would personally resolve the matter, there is no indication whatsoever from the Prime Minister himself.
The recent strained race relations should be a lesson to the government as to how to manage sensitive issues and situations. Swift and decisive action by the Prime Minister or the government to resolve controversial and sensitive issues, like the University of Malaya Senate ruling on elective courses, is the only way to avoid these issues leading to further deterioration of race relations in the country, with adverse consequences on the national economy.