Lawyers urge Mahdzir to focus on improving education system

Bede Hong

Mahdzir Khalid has denied threatening teachers who support the opposition, saying his recent remarks have been misinterpreted. – The Malaysian Insight file pic, January 21, 2018.

EDUCATION Minister Mahdzir Khalid came under more fire today for his warning to teachers not to support the opposition, with lawyers urging him to work harder to improve the education system.

Mahdzir was today quoted by English daily The Star as denying that he had threatened teachers who supported the opposition and that his remarks were misinterpreted.

His defence today, however, was quickly shunned by the legal fraternity.

“The minister should not even touch on whether or not a civil servant should support the opposition or otherwise,” said lawyer Siti Kasim.

“That is the constitutional right of all citizens, including civil servants. He should know better,” she said. 

Siti, who is also a human rights activist, said Mahdzir should instead focus on “uplifting our education system”. 

He should decry the chronic Islamisation that is happening in our schools today, where young girls are mandated and harassed to wear headscarves and schoolchildren are forced to perform prayers in school.

“School is for learning, not to indoctrinate children with a person’s version of Islam,” she said. 

Chinese daily Kwong Wah had, on Friday, reported Mahdzir as saying teachers who held office in opposition parties should quit as their criticisms would tarnish the government’s image.

Mahdzir later denied making any threats or asking teachers to quit if they supported the opposition.

“I only reminded them of their positions and that they must fine-tune and put a buffer zone between their career and political ideology,” he told The Star. 

“They cannot go on the same stage with opposition leaders since they are civil servants who are meant to carry out government policies.”

Lawyer Mohamed Haniff Khatri Abdulla said Mahdzir’s explanation still amounted to a form of intimidation.

If the law allows teachers the right to choose their political allegiances and activities, then who is this minister to ask them to fine-tune or put a buffer zone between their career and political ideology? 

“This in itself is a sort of threat,” said Haniff.

He said just because their job entailed carrying out public policies under the direction of the government, it did not necessarily mean they should support the government. 

“As long as the teachers do their jobs of teaching the syllabus provided by the ministry diligently, then what is the problem if, at night, the same teachers wish to go up on stage to talk about supporting an opposition party?

“It is only wrong if that same teacher fails to carry out his teaching responsibilities under the ministry’s directions, yet attends political activities of the opposition, more so during work hours.”

Lawyer Mohamed Haniff Khatri Abdulla says just because teachers' job entails carrying out public policies under the direction of the government, it does not necessarily mean they should support the government. – The Malaysian Insight file pic, January 21, 2018.

Universiti Malaya law professor Azmi Sharom said choosing political beliefs and affiliations was the right of every citizen, even civil servants. 

If you are not a member of Barisan Nasional, why is it wrong to join and be active in an opposition party? A civil servant is bound to do his or her duty. Political loyalty is not part of that,” he said. 

“There may be standing orders that prevent you from holding a position in a political party, although that could probably be challenged on constitutional grounds,” he said. 

Some lawyers went so far as to say Mahdzir’s statement was illegal.

Mahdzir’s statement could be considered criminal intimidation. He may also have committed an offence under the Election Offences Act 1954, which protects the rights of voters and the maintenance of secrecy at elections.

Yesterday, Mahdzir’s press team tweeted that his comments were merely “fatherly advice” to teachers not to “negatively affect” their careers by associating with the opposition.

Despite Mahdzir’s explanation today, election watchdog Bersih 2.0 said the minister should still be investigated.

“Under election offences law, (this could be considered) undue influence as he mentioned who to vote for or support, and who not to vote for or not support,” said Bersih chairman Maria Chin Abdullah.

Yesterday, Bersih called on the Election Commission to investigate Mahdzir to protect voters’ rights and maintain the secrecy of their votes.

“Civil servants are not the living property of the ruling coalition. They are citizens of the country, and their rights are enshrined in the federal constitution,” she said. – January 21, 2018.

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  • In a kleptocracy the ministers are only beholden to their leader. They say things only to please their leader no matter how foolish or even illegal it may sound.

    Posted 6 years ago by Xuz ZG · Reply

  • As an Education Minister, he's lost it! He's a big BS in saying this and speaks volumes of himself and his low mentality in a modern like today. He still thinks schools are built on roof tops, kot!

    Posted 6 years ago by Crishan Veera · Reply