03/07/2023, 16.22
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Mukhriz Mahathir reignites controversy over Mandarin and Tamil schools

by Steve Suwannarat

The leader of the Homeland Fighter's Party, son of a former prime minister, minority schools are a legacy of British colonial rule, and must be overcome to build a Malaysian identity “not coloured by” people’s “ethnic background”. However, the country’s divisions are fuelled more by the fight since independence to assert Muslim Malay identity than language issues.

Kuala Lumpur (AsiaNews) – Some recent remarks by the leader of the Homeland Fighter's Party (Parti Pejuang Tanah Air), Mukhriz Mahathir, have put the spotlight back on one of the most contentious aspects of Malaysia’s ethnic, cultural and religious make-up: the language of education.

Mukhriz Mahathir is the son of the "grand old man" of Malaysian politics, Mahathir Mohamad, 97, who has served several times as minister and prime minister until his defeat in last November's elections,

On Facebook, the younger Mahathir, challenged Lim Kit Siang, an MP for the Democratic Action Party, which is part of the current government coalition, who wonders if the country is ready to accept a non-Malay as prime minister.

Lim said that he did not expect to see this to happen in his lifetime or in that of his children, and cited former US President Barack Obama, who reached the highest office of his country despite his origins.

For Mukhriz Mahathir, a Muslim and an ethnic Malay, it is right to raise the issue, but a solution requires removing what divides the country along ethnic and racial lines.

For him, separate Tamil- and Chinese-language schools nurture different identities among young Malaysians and therefore hinder full integration.

“Our founding fathers would not have agreed to let the British-era vernacular schools continue operating well beyond Merdeka (independence) as they knew it would create more divisions between the people,” Mukhriz Mahathir said.

Children should be allowed to learn, play and mingle with each other until the differences between them become celebrated and not divisive. “Only then can we hope to see a non-Malay as nothing other than a Malaysian, not coloured by their ethnic background,” he added.

Currently, ethnic Chinese and Indian Malaysians represent respectively for 20.8 per cent and 6.2 per cent of the population. Their children attend Mandarin and Tamil schools where both Malay and English are taught as compulsory subjects.

However, the lack of full integration is due more to the post-independence fight to assert Muslim Malay identity than to minority linguistic and cultural autonomy.

In fact, as Mukhriz Mahathir himself acknowledges, “as long as the Malays remain the largest vote block and are united, a non-Malay can only become prime minister if they are supported by the Malays”.

This can happen only if ethnic Malay political leaders give their supporters a greenlight to do so, not because of the qualities and proposals of any non-Malay potential prime minister.

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