Post-Piai, time to face public displeasure

You wouldn’t have needed a bomoh wielding coconuts and bamboo binoculars to predict the outcome of the Tanjung Piai by-election.

As Pakatan Harapan (PH) leaders expressed surprise at Barisan Nasional’s (BN) landslide victory, many writers rained scathing remarks on the ruling coalition’s performance, attempting to explain why it continues to lose in every by-election.

The blame game has started, and Dr Mahathir Mohamad is the scapegoat.

To be fair, he broke BN’s stranglehold in last year’s polls. Without his leadership, BN would still be in power, and Anwar Ibrahim still in jail.

Running a country needs the collective effort of everyone, including a strong and decisive Cabinet.

If you want to apportion blame, I would say Education Minister Maszlee Malik should take most of it. His ministry has been the number one source of public displeasure since the PH government came to power.

In gatherings to discuss the Malay Dignity Congress, audiences were concerned about matters related to education.

During these forums, in fact, I estimate that at least 70% of questions from the floor had to do with concerns over the direction of the Malaysian education system.

The Malay Dignity Congress exposed the state of our education system and alarmed many who are involved, most of all the parents of school-going children.

The congress showed how the highest echelons in the academic world have succumbed to the politics of race, religion and Malay rights, used to control the majority race.

The lack of clear direction in education policies may have hurt the government in the Tanjung Piai by-election. Mahathir himself acknowledged the importance of education by wanting to take on the education portfolio himself in the early days of the new government. He had to drop the idea as members of the public pointed out that his coalition’s manifesto had pledged that there would be no double portfolios for the prime minister.

Maszlee is a lightning rod for controversy. Many hoped that he would be dropped or his portfolio changed in the event of a Cabinet reshuffle. The reshuffle did not happen, and we are still stuck with this minister.

People were disappointed when the education ministry failed to reprimand Malay academics for their display of bigotry at the congress.

According to a debate in Pearson College London, the purpose of a university is to be the guardian of reason, inquiry and philosophical openness, preserving pure inquiry from dominant public opinions. This is a difficult stretch for our public universities, going by the display at the Malay Dignity Congress.

The language used at the congress defiled what a university is supposed to be. The government has forgotten that people are taxpayers and they have the right to protest when their contributions are used for an education system plagued by academic misfits who do not uphold the ideals of an excellent education institution.

Maszlee started his work as the education minister with questions about his religious leanings. Muslim activist Dr Ahmad Farouk Musa said one of the main concerns about Maszlee was his purported Salafist leanings and his support for Dr Zakir Naik.

In another incident, Maszlee said his remarks in Parliament that religious teachers should use Sabah and Sarawak for “dakwah” (propagation) were misconstrued to mean promoting Islam to non-Muslims.

This call for proselytisation received a lot of flak from East Malaysian leaders who feared that the preoccupations of race and religious of Muslims in West Malaysia would come to the Borneo states.

In May, a petition calling for Maszlee to be replaced garnered more than 110,000 signatures as he continued to face pressure over controversial remarks linking pre-university entry to job discrimination against Bumiputeras.

Mahathir defended Maszlee for linking the matriculation quota intake issue with that of language requirements for jobs.

The khat issue, which was not well thought out, created a raging debate and heightened racial emotions. It was a waste of time and energy which could have been used for nation-building.

The proposed scrapping of vernacular schools and non-recognition of the UEC despite PH’s promises have created more disenchantment within the Chinese community.

All these issues could have added to the resounding rejection of the PH government by Chinese voters in Tanjung Piai.

We have to remember, sometimes change must be transactional and not transformational as we would like.

PH inherited the ills and failures of BN to build a fair society. But patience is a virtue, and we have another three years before we can see the fruits of our labour.

In the meantime, we hope people like Maszlee will make amends and not make the same mistakes that will push people further away from the PH government.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.