Appealing to baser instincts in Kuala Kubu Baharu

Mustafa K. Anuar

Are Chinese vernacular students less patriotic than their counterparts in government schools? – The Malaysian Insight file pic, May 3, 2024.

IT is distasteful that the political campaigns in the run-up to the Kuala Kubu Baharu by-election kicked off with a racial undertone. This despite the government’s warning against the use of the 3R’s (race, religion, and royalty) in mainstream politics.

This means that some politicians are more than comfortable playing the race card, displaying a penchant for gutter politics to score brownie points.

Kuala Kubu Baharu is a mixed state constituency comprising 49.3% Malay voters, 30.6% Chinese, 17.9% Indians, and 2.1% others.

The fact that the composition of the constituency is split down the middle between Malays and non-Malays seemed to have spurred the politicians to play the race game.

What’s worse, the issue raised was not only divisive but also rehashed.

The conversation among the politicians at the beginning of the 14-day campaign period centres on the matter of Chinese vernacular schools.

A salvo was fired by PAS information chief Ahmad Fadhli Shaari, who made an issue out of the fact that Pakatan Harapan (PH) candidate Pang Sock Tao received her primary and secondary education in Chinese vernacular schools.

That came on the heels of a query raised by a TikTok user about the academic qualifications of Perikatan Nasional (PN) candidate Khairul Azhari Saut, particularly regarding his master of business management that he supposedly received from Universiti Malaysia Pahang in 2021.

Fadhli reportedly expressed his desire to keep the issue about Pang’s education alive throughout his election campaign, presumably with the aim to dissuade Malay voters from voting PH.

As a result, Pang spent much time showing her excellent academic credentials. A Chinese school headmaster was required to show up to assure sceptics that the students of these schools are just as patriotic.

The tiring conversation was extended to the point of informing the public that there are capable ministers who were also educated at the vernacular Chinese schools.

Not only was the legal status of the vernacular schools being questioned; the loyalty of their students (which would now include Chinese as well as Malays) to the country was also examined.

The political exchange came to a climax when PH Youth chief Ammar Atan said that PAS president Abdul Hadi Awang – as well as a few other PAS members – sent his grandchild to a Chinese vernacular school.

If that isn’t hypocrisy, we don’t know what is.

At this juncture, the conversation should have instead focused on the preference for the Chinese vernacular schools by such Malays as Hadi.

Could it be true, as claimed by critics, that the quality of education in these schools is better than that of the national schools? If so, why?

Still on the important subject of education, the candidates and their supporters should also show deep concern about the vital issues raised by the World Bank in its recent report titled “Bending Bamboo Shoots: Strengthening Foundation Skills”.

It found that Malaysian students spend an average of 12.5 years in school but learn the equivalent of only 8.9 years.

The report, among other things, also said 42% of Malaysian students have failed to achieve reading proficiency by the end of Standard 5, which is higher than other countries with similar gross national income per capita (34%).

Equally concerning is that 15-year-old Malaysians are “far behind” in reading, science, and mathematics compared to their peers in Hong Kong, China, Japan, and Singapore.

To be sure, this educational issue has relevance to the local communities in Kuala Kubu Baharu.

But are we asking too much of our politicians to not resort to their race-and-religion playbook?

There are other issues of concern for the Kuala Kubu Baharu community that the candidates should attend to, such as the economy, living costs, job opportunities, and public facilities.

The conversations on the campaign trail must move beyond race and religion if this country is to progress with the rest of the world.

Otherwise, Malaysians may be led to believe that certain candidates and their supporters suffer from intellectual laziness, a bankruptcy of ideas, denseness, stubborn bigotry, or all of the above. – May 3, 2024.

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