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Malaysian minister warns action against teachers who support Opposition

A teacher attends to a Malaysian primary school student during first day of school 2018 in Putrajaya. Source: Shutterstock

MALAYSIA’S education minister courted controversy recently after warning the country’s teachers against supporting Opposition.

Last week, Mahdzir Khalid reportedly told teachers and officers that they risk disciplinary action if they backed the Opposition, the Kwong Wah (as translated by The Malaysian Insight) reported.

Mahdzir reportedly said as civil servants, teachers were barred from joining any Opposition party or criticising the government. He said this amounted to “sabotaging” and “tarnishing” the government’s image.

The minister also said teachers who showed strong support for the Opposition should resign before the ministry asked them to do so.

“We won’t allow any of our officers to join any Opposition party or hold any party post. But it’s okay if they were to join the government,” he was quoted as saying.

Mahdzir said previously, the government took action against a state education department officer who criticised the government on Facebook.

“We had to take swift action in that case although he was not suspended. The way he criticised showed the amount of contempt he had for the government,” he said.

“I also found out that one of the school principals was a (People’s Justice Party) PKR leader and another officer held a position in (Pan-Islamic Party) PAS. This is not allowed.”

Mahdzir’s remarks come ahead of the country’s general elections expected before the end of August this year. Politics in Malaysia is often a contentious issue as the federal government has never changed hands since the country’s independence in 1957.

The minister’s comments earned brickbats from the country’s legal fraternity for its seemingly unconstitutional and undemocratic overtones.

“The minister should not even touch on whether or not a civil servant should support the Opposition or otherwise,” lawyer Siti Kasim said, as quoted by the Malaysian Insight.

“That is the constitutional right of all citizens, including civil servants. He should know better,” she said.

After coming under fire for the remarks, Mahadzir later said his comments were taken out of context by the reporter who interviewed him.

“I only reminded them of their positions and that they must ‘fine tune’ and put a ‘buffer zone’ between their career and political ideology. They cannot be going on the same stage with Opposition leaders since they are civil servants who are meant to carry out government policies. I have never made any threats or asked them to quit if they support the Opposition,” he said, as quoted by The Star.

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