Vernacular schools lawsuit: MCA, MIC, Gerakan, three groups seek to be made parties

Those seeking to intervene include Parti Gerakan Rakyat Malaysia, Malaysian Chinese Association, Malaysian Indian Congress, Maljis Bahasa Cina Malaysia, Persatuan Tamil Neri Malaysia, and Gabungan Persatuan Bekas Pelajar Sekolah Tamil Malaysia. — Reuters pic
Those seeking to intervene include Parti Gerakan Rakyat Malaysia, Malaysian Chinese Association, Malaysian Indian Congress, Maljis Bahasa Cina Malaysia, Persatuan Tamil Neri Malaysia, and Gabungan Persatuan Bekas Pelajar Sekolah Tamil Malaysia. — Reuters pic

KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 16 — Political parties MCA, MIC, Gerakan and three other groups have all applied to be party to a lawsuit asking the courts to declare vernacular schools unconstitutional.

This was confirmed today by the two groups — Gabungan Pelajar Melayu Semenanjung (GPMS) and Majlis Pembangunan Pendidikan Islam Malaysia (Mappim) — that filed the lawsuit on December 16, 2019.

In a joint statement by GPMS president Mohd Alif Anas Md Noor and Mappim secretary Mohd Zai Mustafa, they said the two groups' lawsuit against the education minister and the Malaysian government came up today for case management at the High Court in Kuala Lumpur.

According to them, those seeking to intervene are Parti Gerakan Rakyat Malaysia, Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA), Malaysian Indian Congress (MIC), Maljis Bahasa Cina Malaysia, Persatuan Tamil Neri Malaysia, and Gabungan Persatuan Bekas Pelajar Sekolah Tamil Malaysia.

The two noted that Persatuan Bekas Pesara Guru Tamil did not seek to intervene but has appointed a lawyer to hold a watching brief in the lawsuit.

They said the court has asked the education minister and Malaysian government to file the statement of defence by February 17, while GPMS and Mappim have been asked to file their reply to the statement of defence by March 3.

The court has also fixed February 18 for the next case management.

Both said that the GPMS and Mappim were represented by lawyers Aidil Khalid and Abi Mursyidin Awal, while senior federal counsel Kogilambigai Muthusamy represented the education minister and Malaysian government.

In the lawsuit by GPMS and Mappim, they are seeking for several orders, including a declaration that Section 2, 17 and 28 of the Education Act — which provides for the formation of national-type Chinese and Tamil (SJKC and SJKT) schools with the Chinese and Tamil languages as their respective medium of instruction — as breaching Article 152(1) of the Federal Constitution.

They are also seeking a court declaration that the existence of SJKC and SJKT schools was inconsistent with Article 5, 8, 10, 11 and 12 of the Federal Constitution, as well as an order to have the education minister and Malaysian government take all steps to ensure that the existence of SJKC and SJKT schools are brought in line with Article 152(1) within six years from the date of the order.

Under the Education Act, Section 17 states that the national language shall be the main medium of instruction in all educational institutions in the National Education System, except for national-type schools created under Section 28 or others given exemption by the education minister.

Also, under Section 17, educational institutions that do not use the national language as the main medium of instruction have to teach it as a compulsory subject.

Section 28 enables the education minister to establish both national schools and national-type schools.

National-type schools are defined in the Education Act as primary schools using Chinese or Tamil as the main medium of instruction, and where the national language and English are compulsory subjects.

Among other things, Article 152(1) states that the national language shall be the Malay language and that no person shall be prohibited or prevented from using (except for official purposes) or teaching or learning any other language, and that nothing in this provision shall prejudice the right of the federal government or state government to preserve and sustain the use and study of the language of any other community in the country.

There is also currently a separate but similar lawsuit by lawyer Mohd Khairul Azam Abdul Aziz to challenge the constitutionality of vernacular schools, where he is claiming Sections 28 and 17 of the Education Act to be invalid due to alleged inconsistencies with Act 152 of the Federal Constitution.

In the lawsuit filed by Mohd Khairul Azam on December 17, 2019 also against the education minister and Malaysian government, four groups — the MCA, the Chinese Language Council, the Tamil Language Association and the Confederation of Former Tamil School Pupils — had reportedly filed on January 14 to be intervener in the lawsuit.

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