KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 31 — A petition urging the government to prohibit vernacular schools in Malaysia has surged to its 150,000 target after Perlis Mufti Datuk Mohd Asri Zainal Abidin called for his supporters to back this.

One Ashraf Luqman started the petition on Change.org about five months ago and it took that long for it to surpass the 100,000 mark.

Mohd Asri posted a simple “Jom sign (Let’s sign)” message on Facebook calling support yesterday, leading to a spike in signatories.

The petition described vernacular schools as a “cancer” to Malaysian unity, a view that the Perlis mufti shared, as evidenced by his message yesterday blaming these for communal friction in the country.

“Let us unite to pressure the Malaysian government into eliminating SJKC (Chinese schools) and SJKT (Tamil schools) with the mandatory introduction of a national education stream for students aged 7-12 for all Malaysians, in the interest of fostering national unity among races through national education,” the petition read.

The petition had 144,401 backers as of writing.

A similar petition in English also exists on the site, but is only halfway to its 150,000 target over seven months since it was launched.

Vernacular education is constitutionally guaranteed in Malaysia but has become increasingly contested with the resurgence of communal politics since the last general election, as it is seen as a touchstone of Chinese-based parties such as DAP.

It came under additional criticism after Chinese education coalition Dong Zong attempted to hold a congress on December 28 to object against the government’s plan to teach Jawi script in vernacular schools. Authorities barred this with a court order.

Challenges against vernacular schools include two ongoing lawsuits to declare them unconstitutional.