KUALA LUMPUR, May 23 — The ongoing public furore over Maszlee Malik as education minister after a year is not happenstance but shows his inexperience in balancing party politics and ministerial work, several political observers have suggested.
An academic before winning his electoral debut in GE14, the pundits noted the first-time minister remains a magnet for controversy, especially following his recent matriculation remarks because he is still jumbling up his role as a member of the Malay-centric Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (PPBM) and his ministerial duties.
“So that’s where he’s getting caught and is in a dilemma. So as a result of that, he’s always making statements which are divisive and not in line with the aspirations of Pakatan Harapan,” Jeniri Amir told Malay Mail.
“Education should be free from politics because once you mix the two, then I think that is one reason why our education system and also quality are as they are now,” he added.
The associate professor from Universiti Malaysia Sarawak said Maszlee must learn to strike a balance between his party agenda that caters to the Malay-Muslim majority and doing what is right for the country.
“So Maszlee needs to really bite the bullet, and I think the best is to really take into serious consideration the aspirations of the people and also the promises of the manifesto of Pakatan Harapan.
“Otherwise, it’s going to be very difficult for him to improve the education system and also the education quality in Malaysia,” he added.
Meanwhile, political analyst Azmi Hassan noted that the education portfolio is challenging and needs an overhaul, but said Maszlee needs to consider the views of others before making changes.
Right now, he said the political greenhorn appeared to be keener to score brownie points with only one demographic group.
“I truly believe that education is meant for all,” the professor told Malay Mail.
He believes Maszlee likely thought he was working for the greater good when he announced an increase in the matriculation intake to boost the chances for Malaysians to enter universities, but had “misread the situation” and as a result, missed the opportunity to do the right thing.
“When Maszlee increased the matriculation intake, he is of the opinion that all sides will be happy, but it seems that he misread the situation,” he said.
Azmi said it was not only up to Maszlee to ensure Malaysian students are competitive, but that it was more of a collective responsibility of the ruling coalition and its component leaders to push for educational excellence.
“Of late, PPBM is under attack since it has been accused of not protecting Malay rights, but in fact, Maszlee’s solution on the increased matriculation intake should be supported by all, but DAP sees this differently,” said Azmi.
Two blogposts published in websites Daily News 24h and Ku Lihat Langit Biru — alleging that DAP lobbied for Maszlee’s removal as education minister in favour of his deputy Teo Nie Ching because the former promotes only the Malay agenda in education instead of education for all — have contributed to heated public debate.
DAP adviser Lim Kit Siang has since denied the allegation, saying it was a tactic employed by embattled former prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak and fugitive businessman Low Taek Jho to divert public attention from the 1Malaysia Development Berhad scandal.
Azmi suggested that the latest uproar over Maszlee’s matriculation remarks could have been avoided if DAP had raised its grievances to the minister internally through Teo.
Another political scientist Ooi Kok Hin said the public backlash was not over Maszlee’s statement on the matriculation quota per se, but his sweeping remarks about Mandarin being a hiring requirement by some employers.
“What was the cost of that? Deliberately or not, just by that three- to four-line statement, the education minister was viewed as denigrating the efforts and denying the difficulties faced by the one-third of Malaysians, and many others who voted for a new government, hoping that this time, it may be different,” the academic said.
Mazlee also drew brickbats over remarks made during a university forum in which he defended the matriculation quota with a sweeping claim that non-Malay students in public universities came from wealthy families compared to many Bumiputera students, especially in Sabah and Sarawak, who were from low-income backgrounds.
Ooi said Maszlee has to be seen as fair and impartial when carrying out his Cabinet duties and not make remarks that would make him popular only with his party or the ethnic group they are championing.
“In one stroke, Maszlee exploded the emotions of the one-third of Malaysians who are poor, middle-class and rich; old and young,” the Monbusho scholar at Waseda University, Japan added.