Surge in Support for Petition to Ban Vernacular Schools after Perlis Mufti’s Nod

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DAP assemblyperson M Satees tells Asri that his comments caused racial friction.

A petition urging the government to prohibit vernacular schools in Malaysia has surged to its 150,000 target after Perlis Mufti Datuk Mohd Asri Zainal Abidin called for his supporters to back this.

One Ashraf Luqman started the petition on Change.org about five months ago and it took that long for it to surpass the 100,000 mark.

Mohd Asri posted a simple “Jom sign (Let’s sign)” message on Facebook calling support yesterday, leading to a spike in signatories.

Asri’s post was shared by more than a thousand Facebook followers, liked by 6,000 users and received 500 comments.

Most of them support closing down Chinese and Indian vernacular schools, believing that these institutions cause racial and religious tension.

The petition described vernacular schools as a “cancer” to Malaysian unity, a view that the Perlis mufti shared, as evidenced by his message yesterday blaming these for communal friction in the country.

“Let us unite to pressure the Malaysian government into eliminating SJKC (Chinese schools) and SJKT (Tamil schools) with the mandatory introduction of a national education stream for students aged 7-12 for all Malaysians, in the interest of fostering national unity among races through national education,” the petition read.

The petition also calls for the creation of “one national Malaysian stream”.

A similar petition in English also exists on the site but is only halfway to its 150,000 target over seven months since it was launched.

Asri, or better known as Dr Maza, said disagreements among the country’s various communities would persist as long as vernacular education exists.

Asri’s comments come after a court barred Chinese education group Dong Jiao Zong from holding a conference on Jawi on Saturday.

“As long as vernacular schools that do not use the national language are not eliminated from the country, conflict and unrest between races will remain,” Asri said.

Miera Zulyana

“We must unite and forget our differences in trying to restore the country’s strength with political power that will deal with this insolence firmly.”

Meanwhile, Bagan Dalam assemblyperson M Satees has refuted Asri’s assertion that vernacular schools are the cause of racial friction in the country.

Instead, Satees said, comments like that made by Asri have led to racial friction.

He said Asri had previously defended a preacher who made hurtful comments about Hindus and even suggested a “Saddam Hussein” approach to minorities.

“Did Asri go to vernacular school to come out with such comments?

“Racial friction within Malaysia has increased, not due to vernacular schools, but because of politics based on racial and religious lines.

“Especially after the last general election, race-baiting has increased dramatically, with losers racing to win over their vote base. Each and everything is being turned into a race argument and politicised.

Koh Jun Lin/Malaysiakini

“Asri (below) didn’t help to cool down the temperature then and instead increased it with his statements. In such circumstances, Asri has no moral standing whatsoever to comment on the issue,” the DAP lawmaker said in a statement.

Satees also acknowledged that the authorities have been weak in handling communal friction.

“For instance, hundreds of reports have been lodged against a foreign fugitive, Zakir Naik, who openly made insulting remarks against Malaysian Hindus and Chinese, in front of thousands of attendees.

“What was the outcome of the police investigation? Has the Attorney-General’s Chambers even considered any action against the permanent resident for his remarks, which are clearly an offence under the law?

“Aren’t the authorities aware that inaction, in this case, will be sending a message that such insults are normal, and action won’t be taken against whoever makes such insulting comments? No wonder racial, religious hatred is all over the social media,” he said.

Satees said only those who survive on race-baiting would blame vernacular schools for Malaysia’s deteriorating race relations.

“Vernacular schools are no lesser than national schools in promoting the national language, national identity and unity. In fact, sometimes vernacular schools are much better in that aspect, compared with national schools,” he said.

Vernacular education is constitutionally guaranteed in Malaysia but has become increasingly contested with the resurgence of communal politics since the last general election, as it is seen as a touchstone of Chinese-based parties such as DAP.

It came under additional criticism after Chinese education coalition Dong Zong attempted to hold a congress on December 28 to object against the government’s plan to teach Jawi script in vernacular schools. Authorities barred this with a court order.

Challenges against vernacular schools include two ongoing lawsuits to declare them unconstitutional.