Reality check: Anwar’s matriculation reform falls short

Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim

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Lawyers for Liberty (LFL) refers to Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim’s statement on Sunday that the government will be lifting the racial barrier for matriculation for ethnic minority SPM top-scorers who get 10 As to further their studies in matriculation programmes.

This was announced as if a great concession had been made to ethnic minority students. In fact, it is nothing of the sort.

The big question that was unaddressed by Anwar is the obvious disproportionate quota for matriculation enrolment, between bumiputra and ethnic minority students.

That disproportion is unconstitutional and contrary to Article 153 of the Constitution, as has been repeatedly pointed out by legal experts and ignored by successive Malaysian governments.

The current quota that allocates 90% of matriculation spots only for bumiputras can never be constitutionally justified, as it massively favours the bumiputras over the ethnic minorities.

This cannot be deemed as a “reasonable proportion”, as clearly provided in Article 153; it unreasonably disregards the rights of the ethnic minorities to education.

Sunday’s announcement, though sold as something new and progressive, is decidedly not so.

The current matriculation programme only allocates 10% of its enrolment to the ethnic minorities. As it stands, considering the small number of spots open for the minorities, this would of course have already included those who got 10 As for their SPM.

This then begs the question of how this announcement remedies or ameliorates the unjust quota system that is now existing.

It is greatly disappointing that the ‘reformist’ PM has shown no concern for the structural racism embedded into the matriculation programme, as a result of the current racial quota for the matriculation programme.

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Stating that ethnic minority students who excel are eligible for matriculation is not novel; that is the status quo.

Further, saying that only those who achieve 10 As and above for SPM will be given the opportunity to join the matriculation programmes ignores the fact that only a handful of students actually take 10 subjects to begin with. It merely creates yet another barrier of entry for the ethnic minorities into tertiary education.

And what about outstanding ethnic minority students who get nine As, eight As or seven As? Anwar’s announcement leaves them out in the cold. Do they not deserve to get a place in matriculation? Should they be punished and denied places in matriculation because of their skin colour?

Though this announcement was purportedly made to ease racial tensions on this issue, it is not only meaningless since the current racial quota is maintained but also deceitful, as the constitutionality of the current quota is unaddressed.

There is nothing bold about this decision by the “Madani” (civil and compassionate) government as it cowers in fear of ethnic Malay conservatives, to the detriment of ethnic minorities. The government perpetuates the same violation of Article 153 of the Constitution as its predecessor governments.

If the Madani government truly strives for fairness in enrolment for the matriculation programme, it must acknowledge that the current quota is unreasonable, disproportionate and thus unconstitutional.

Any announcement by the government that pledges a fairer share of educational places for the ethnic minorities would only have meaning if the current quota is reviewed.

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This must be done by Anwar and his government, as the current quota system is unfair and unlawful and will draw comparisons with the apartheid system.

Zaid Malek is director of Lawyers for Liberty.

The views expressed in Aliran's media statements and the NGO statements we have endorsed reflect Aliran's official stand. Views and opinions expressed in other pieces published here do not necessarily reflect Aliran's official position.
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