Speech by Parliamentary Opposition Leader, DAP Secretary-General and MP for Tanjung. Lim Kit Siang, at a Mentakab DAP Branch Dinner held in Mentakab on Saturday, 12.9.1987 at 7p.m.
Selangor DAP postpones hunger strike protest against University of Malaya Senate ruling on elective course to give Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamed, another month to resolve the issue
Two days ago, the Selangor DAP, led by Selangor State Chairman and MP for Petaling Jaya, Dr. Eng Seng Chai and Selangor State Vice Chairman, and MP for Puchong, Dr.V.David, were to hold a hunger strike outside the University of Malaya campus to protest against the University of Malaya Senate decision abolishing Chinese and Tamil languages as medium of instruction for elective course.
I had however advised Selangor DAP to postpone the hunger strike protest for three reasons:
Firstly, to give the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamed, another month to resolve the elective course controversy. Two months ago, when the University of Malaya elective course issue first surfaced publicly, MIC President, Datuk Samy Vellu, rushed into the fray denouncing the University of Malaya Senate for trampling on the language rights and sensitivities of the Indian and Chinese communities, and announcing that he would be raising the matter in Cabinet to resolve it once and for all. But when the Cabinet met on 15th July 1987, everyone seemed only interested in finding a face-saving device to bury the issue.
It is worth noting that although Datuk Samy Vellu subsequently claimed that the Cabinet had decided to leave the University of Malaya elective course issue to the Prime Minister to resolve, neither the Education Minister, Anwar Ibrahim, nor any UMNO Minister, nor the Prime Minister himself, had ever confirmed that the ball is now in the court of Datuk Seri Dr.Mahathir and that the PrimeMinister had promised to resolve the issue.
There is not only no UMNO Minister (including the Prime Minister) who had ever acknowledged in public that Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir would resolve the issue, but there is a total absence of signs that the Prime Minister is taking any action to resolve the issue in the two months since the Cabinet meeting.
Frankly speaking, I have very grave doubts that Datuk Samy Vellu is telling the truth when he said that the Prime Minister had agreed at the Cabinet meeting on July15, 1987 to resolve the University of Malaya elective course issue.
However, as Datuk Seri Dr.Mahathir Mohamed, had neither confirmed nor denied Datuk Samy Vellu’s claim, we will give the Cabinet Ministers the benefit of the doubt, and give the Prime Minister another one month to resolve the University of Malaya elective course issue.
In another month’s time, Parliament will be in session for the next year’s budget, starting on October 12. If by then, there is still no word or sign that the Prime Minister is going to do anything to resolve the University of Malaya elective course issue as claimed by Datuk Samy Vellu, then DAP MPs will demand to know the real position in the Parliamentary meetings.
If the government clarifications or explanations are unsatisfactory, then the DAP will be at liberty to take all necessary action within the democratic process to demand for the repeal of the University of Malaya Senate decision so that Chinese and Tamil languages are restored as medium of instruction for elective courses.
The second reason for the postponement of the Selangor DAP hunger strike protest is our contribution to help defuse the ‘heated’ condition in the country, which prompted Education Minister, Anwar Ibrahim, to say two weeks ago that the “current atmosphere appeared similar to mood prevailing just before May 13, 1969 riots, and if not arrested, national development might be endangered.”
I do not agree with Anwar Ibrahim, but there is no doubt that in the past few weeks and months, certain irresponsible politicians jockeying for power in the ruling parties, had been creating issues which inflame feelings, trample on sensitivities and aggravate racial polarisation in the country, generating a certain jitteriness in the country, which is best reflected in the stock market.
One common thread of these issues is that they centre on language, education and cultural, which have suddenly become the new focal point of racial tension, political and economic instability on the occasion of Malaysia’s 30th anniversary.
It is clear that there are irresponsible and even desperate political groups in the ruling parties who are looking for opportunities to worsen race relations for their own short-term political ends, as was attempted when the Selangor DAP held a peaceful protest demonstration outside the University of Malaya campus on August 21.
The third reason for the postponement is to serve notice to the University of Malaya Senate and the Government authorities that the DAP is opposed to the University of Malaya Senate ruling on the elective course on a matter of principle will not compromise under any circumstances, and if despite our reasonableness and responsible action to allow the Prime Minister adequate time to resolve the issue and avoid situations which irresponsible political ements in the government want to turn into ‘confrontationist’ events, there is no fair and jus solution to this issue, then the DAP will be left with no choice but to mobilise public support for its opposition to the University of Malaya Senate ruling.
In actual fact, as Education Minister, Anwar Ibrahim cannot shirk his responsibility for the University of Malaya Senate ruling – and this applies to the Deputy Education Minister of MCA, Wong See Chin as well. What have Anwar Ibrahim and Wong See Chin done to get the University of Malaya Senate to repeal its ruling on elective course?
Anwar Ibrahim had accused the DAP of hypocrisy on our stand on the University of Malaya elective course issue, that DAP talk about academic freedom and yet clamour that academicians’ decisions be changed to suit the DAP. He dad asked rhetorically: “Since when does the DAP determine what courses or subjects should be taught in universities.”
There is nothing hypocritical in the DAP stand on the University of Malaya elective course issue, that previous medium of optional subjects be restored. The DAP is not trying to determine what courses instruction of the or subjects should be taught in universities. What we are trying to do is to prevent the University of Malaya Senate from trespassing into policy areas already decide and entrenched in the Constitution, and which has nothing to do with academic freedom whatsoever.
I challenge Anwar Ibrahim to state whether the Education Ministry, UMNO Youth, the entire UMNO, would not react if the University of Malaya Senate decide that for the next five years, the medium of instruction for the Faculty of Medicine be in English, or would Anwar defend the Senate’s decision as academic freedom?
The University of Malaya Senate should come out of its ‘ivory tower’ and admit that its decision on the elective course had made racial polarisation in the campus a very serious problem, and the only responsible way is for the Senate to immediate repeal its decision and restore Chinese and Tamil as medium of instruction for elective courses.