Appealing to baser instincts in Kuala Kubu Bharu

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It was distasteful that the political campaigns in the run-up to the Kuala Kubu Bharu by-election kicked off with a racial undertone.

This despite the government’s warning against the use of the three Rs (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 Bharu is a mixed state constituency comprising 49.3% ethnic 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 the ethnic minorities 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 centred 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 the 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 masters in business management that he supposedly received from the University of 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.

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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 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 wing chief Ammar Atan said that Pas president 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 Malays such 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 Five, which is higher than other countries with a similar gross national income per capita (34%).

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

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

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 Bharu community that the candidates should have attended to, such as the economy, living costs, job opportunities and public facilities.

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

Otherwise, people in Malaysia 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. – The Malaysian Insider

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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Mustafa K Anuar
Dr Mustafa K Anuar, a longtime executive committee member and former honorary secretary of Aliran, is, co-editor of our newsletter. He obtained his PhD from City, University of London and is particularly interested in press freedom and freedom of expression issues. These days, he is a a senior journalist with an online media portal
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