Malaysia’s education minister opens a can of worms but he is getting Malay support

Education Minister's remarks on lack of job opportunities to Malays in the private sector because of 'mandarin' sparks a riot against him but he got the Malays in support

Facebook screengrab/ Dr Maszlee Malik

Maszlee Malik, Malaysia’s Education Minister, a somewhat of a polarising figure since Pakatan Harapan came to power after the May 2018 elections, is the most controversial figure in PM Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s cabinet.

And Malaysians are sorely divided over his stance on various issues affecting the education industry in the country. From the black shoes idea — to replace the traditional white shoes — and his latest comments on the university matriculation system, he is no stranger to controversies.

To give an example of how divided Malaysians are about Maszlee, there are two petitions on change.org about him—one calling for Dr Mahathir Mohamad to replace him, and another calling for support for the embattled minister.

Maszlee, stirred the pot once again recently when he talked about two issues: university matriculation quotas and job opportunities. He tried to silence criticism of the new government’s matriculation policy, but it blew out of proportion.

In a forum at the Universiti Sains Malaysia on May 16, the minister was asked why the quota system for the matriculation program, which, for many, is key to attending university was maintained.

In Malaysia, students are selected for matriculation via a race-based quota system, with 90 percent of the slots given to Bumiputera students, and the remaining 10 percent to non-bumis.

“At a time when we need to lower the political temperature, it is unnecessary to issue statements that can heighten sentiments,” says CENBET Co-President Gan Ping Sieu 

Malaysiakini quoted Maszlee as saying, “The matriculation programme gives the chance for the poor to advance for studies at the pre-university level.

“If we want to change, if we say in ‘Malaysia Baru’ there is no need for a quota system and so on, then we must also make ensure job opportunities are not denied to Bumiputeras or Malays just because they don’t speak Mandarin.

He was referring to job advertisements from Chinese based companies that require the applicants to speak mandarin.

He further says such issues can’t be looked at in isolation – “We harp on (the quota system in) matriculation without considering that people are being denied jobs because they don’t know Mandarin, for instance. Without that, there will be equal opportunities, then we can talk about being fair to all.”

The Education Minister reportedly received a round of applause from the students for these remarks, but it was met with angry reactions from the several Chinese community leaders who condemned Maszlee for ‘racist’ remarks or for trying to stir racial tension.

The underlying issue is that Maszlee got the support of a large segment of the Malays on the limited job opportunity offered to Bumiputeras in the private sector.

While those outside the ruling coalition are calling Maszlee a divisionist, or sparking the political temperature others some members of the Pakatan called on the minister to withdraw his remarks.

The opposition Malaysian Chinese Association called on Maszlee to resign, and some begged Dr Mahathir to fire him. But it does not seem he is going anywhere as the Prime Minister made it clear he has intentions to reshuffle the cabinet.

Observers are saying Maszlee managed to get the attention of the Malay-Muslims at a critical period when surveys showed the largest community in the country was shying away from the ruling coalition. /TISG

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