Call on Barisan Nasional Government to honour its general elections pledge to preserve the character if Chinese primary schools

Speech by Parliamentary Opposition Leader, DAP Secretary-General, MP for Tanjung, Lim Kit Siang, in Dewan Rakyat Monday, 12.10.1987 at 5.30 p.m. on adjournment of House to discuss a definite matter of urgent public importance: the promotion of non- Chinese educated teachers as assistant headmasters and senior assistants in over 50 Chinese primary schools throughout the country

Call on Barisan Nasional Government to honour its general elections pledge to preserve the character if Chinese primary schools by immediately transferring out non-Chinese educated teacher from Chinese primary schools, which will be an important step in restoring confidence in the country

Fourteen months ago, the nation had our seventh general elections, and the Barisan Nasional won with a four-fifth parliamentary majority.

One would have thought that with such an overwhelming parliamentary majority, the three-year-old crisis of confidence overhanging the
country would have been resolved, and the nation returned to the proper tracks of nation-building, while the climate created for restoration of economic confidence and economic recovery.

But the opposite has taken place in the past 14 months, and in particular in the past few weeks, where a whole variety of issues, some affecting questions of language, educations, culture, and religions, had surfaced to further deepen the crisis of confidence in the country.

All the countries in the world had been hit by the international economic recession, but we can see around us, nations making impressive strides in economy recovery, except for Malaysia. Why is this the case?

The Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister, and other Government Minister had been going round the world trying to woo foreign investments to Malaysia, but they all could not answer the question, are taking out their capital for investments abroad?

This is the crux of the problem in our country – the crisis of confidence afflicting the nation as to whether the government can successfully carry the diverse Malaysian people along to build a united Malaysian nation and chart the economic recovery of the country.

Malaysia has just celebrated our 30th national anniversary, but Malaysia has never been in the throes of a greater national crisis as now, whether nation-building or economic.

All parties, groups, leaders and citizens should unite with one common purpose, to create the conditions whereby differences in the country are minimized, so that confidence, both local and international, could return to the economic future of Malaysia.

This is why the controversy over the promotion of non-Chinese educated as assistant headmaster and senior assistants in over 50 Chinese primary schools is so unnecessary, apart from being utterly insensitive to the feelings, rights and sensitivities of the diverse racial group in the country.

One would have thought that if the government’s top-most priority is to create both local and international confidence to ensure economic recovery and growth, the government would have gone out of its way to ensure that issues which could divide Malaysians, like the promotion of non-Chinese educated to senior positions in Chinese primary schools, would never have occurred; or if by some oversight, it occurred, would have been resolved immediately when the government’s attention is drawn to it.

Unfortunately, the nation seems to be embarking on a suicidal course, where on the one hand, we urge foreign investor to come to bring in their money into the country, while on the other hand, we allow divisive and fractious issues to multiply and magnify which would further undermine the very confidence without which no foreign or local investor would risk his money.

Firstly, let me state that the demand if the parents and Boards of Management of Chinese primary schools that only teacher with Chinese educated qualifications should be promoted senior positions in Chinese primary schools is not a new demand, as some quarters would want to make it, but merely asking that the status quo fir the last 26 years since the 1961 Education Act be preserved.

That this demand is fair, just lawful and constitutional could be seen from the fact that the Barisan Nasional Government made this pledge itself about the preserving the character and identity of Chinese primary schools in its 1986 general elections manifesto. In fact, the Barisan Nasional went further, for the Prime Minister promised that Section 21(2) of the1961 Education Act would be amended in the first meeting of the new Parliament to remove the unease, anxiety and fear of the Chinese community on this score.

However, the Prime minister’s election pledge had not been honoured, and what is even worse, the government has taken a step, in promoting non-Chinese-educated teachers as assistant headmasters and senior assistants in Chinese primary schools, which would change the character of the Chinese primary schools. It is not the DAP alone which is saying this, but also the component Barisan Nasional, parties and leaders. This is why yesterday, at the Tien Hou Temple protest meeting in Kuala Lumpur, the three parties, MCA, Gerakan and DAP took a united stand that the move will change the character or Chinese primary schools.

In the 1986 General Elections, the Barisan Nasional Government campaigned in the slogan of ‘Tradisi Membela Rakyat’. This is the time and test of this slogan of Barisan Nasional, as to whether it would honour its pledge to respect and preserve the character and identity of Chinese primary schools.

Who would be the best judge on the character and identity of Chinese primary schools? Surely, none other than the Chinese community itself. And in this case, there is 100% unanimity in the Chinese community and all political parties with Malaysian Chinese membership that the character and identity of Chinese primary schools would be endangered by the latest move by the Education Ministry.

One would have thought that the matter would have rested there, and steps taken immediately by the Education Ministry to transfer out non-Chinese educated teacher for promotions to national primary or secondary schools.

There is no reason whatsoever for this issue to drag out for six long weeks, without and solutions in sight. In fact, only two days ago on Saturday, Education Minister, Anwar Ibrahim, said that the transfer and promotion exercise of non-Chinese educated teachers and administrators of Chinese primary schools will routinely continue “with more care and consideration.” He said there would be a ‘case-by-case’ review of the non-Chinese educated teachers promoted to Chinese primary schools.

From this statement, the Education Minister had refused to concede and respect the view of 100% per cent of the Chinese Community, and even component Barisan Nasional parties like MCA and Gerakan, that such promotions are objectionable because they threaten the character and identity of Chinese primary schools.

For six weeks, the parents, Boards of Managements and Parent-Teachers’ Associations had sought, through telegrams, appeals, meetings, and even protests, to get the government to resolve this issue, but to no avail.

They have finally been forced to hold a protest meeting of Chinese organizations, (including Boards of Management and PTAs) and the three political parties. Gerakan and DAP, at Tien Hou Temple in Kuala Lumpur yesterday which resolved that unless the issue is resolved by Wednesday, 14.10.1987, the parents of students of the Chinese primary schools affected by the promotions would withdraw their students from school for three days from 15.10 to 17th October. It is likely that if this three-day school boycott by the affected schools does not produce results, it would be followed by a nation-wide boycott of the 1,000 Chinese primary schools.

A confrontation of serious repercussions is in the making, and if not averted, would cause great damage to the national economy and the nation-building process – in which case the Prime Minister, DPM and all Ministers might as well cancel all future trips overseas to attract foreign investor as they would be counter-productive.

I want to stress here that the confrontation I am referring to is not a confrontation between Chinese and Malays, but between the parents of schools affected the government.

I also want to make it clear that the proposed three-day school boycott by the affected Chinese primary schools is not a threat or a blackmail but an expression of despair and protest that after six weeks, the government had refused to acknowledge that the Education Ministry had not only violated the 1986 Barisan Nasional manifesto, the constitutional guarantee of Article 152 on Chinese primary schools, but even more important, injured the feelings, sensitivities, self-respect and dignity of the Chinese community with the regard to Chinese primary schools.

I hope no one, in particular in UMNO, will try to communalise this issue, regarding this as a challenge by the Chinese community to the dignity, rights, sensitivities and privilege of the Malays. It is nothing of the sort. As I said, it is not an act of offensive by the Chinese community to injure or hurt the dignity, sensitivity, rights of self-defence of the rights and sensitivities of the Chinese.

I also hope no one will make extremist distortion of the issue by presenting it as treat or challenge to the position of Bahasa Malaysia in the country. The Barisan Nasional Government pledges the continued existence of Chinese primary schools, which was reiterated by the Deputy Prime Minister, Chaffar Baba only last week, and the Barisan Nasional General Elections Manifesto also gave a solemn undertaking on this issue. So there is nothing anti-national or anti-Bahasa Malaysia in the demand that the Barisan Nasional Government honour its pledge to preserve the character and identity of Chinese primary school.

DAP urges the Barisan Nasional Government to make a new start in nation-building, and stop the present situation where the country is going from one crisis to another. It should set an example to all political parties, leaders and Malaysians to defuse sensitive issues of language, education, culture and religion, by respecting the rights and sensitivities of all Malaysians – and getting all to concentrate on one issue alone – to work hard for the economic recovery and growth of Malaysia to fight poverty and unemployment.

DAP is prepare to give the fullest co-operation to the Government to restore national confidence to ensure economic recovery, but for this to success, we must also co-operate to stop creating or prolonging divisive sensitive issues like the promotion of non-Chinese educated teachers to Chinese primary schools.

I reject the argument that it is necessary to promote non-Chinese educated teachers to Chinese primary schools, because there was not enough Chinese educated who applied for the promotion. This is a lame excuse, for if this is true, it was completely the government’s own making in failing in the past 15years to provide adequate teacher-training opportunities for Chinese primary school teachers.

I call on the Acting Prime Minister, Ghaffar Baba, to take the important step to end the fractious divisions and even greater dangers of confrontation arising from this issue, with the Cabinet making a clear decision that the government adhere to its 1986 general elections manifesto to respect the character of Chinese primary school by immediately transferring out non-Chinese educated teaches promoted to Chinese primary schools.

I realize that I cannot , under Standing Order 18, ask the House to take any position on this issue, as the motion under Standing Order is a parliamentary device to enable Parliament to suspend all other business to debate a grave national issue which deserves immediate attention, to allow MPs an opportunity to let the Government know the popular concern on the issue. But we hope that Government will understand the nature of this issue, which is not a communal issue, but a national problem.