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COMMENT | I am not saying this because of the result in Tanjung Piai, but because I see this country sliding further back and directionless at the same time.

When academician Wong Chin Huat was barred from entering Sarawak, it is clear that such abuse of power is still alive in the country. Any federal government worth its salt must not be powerless to set the right policies and advise the state governments to act accordingly.

Barring west Malaysians from entering Sabah and Sarawak must be for a legitimate purpose, and political differences are not a legitimate purpose. No country in the world bars citizens from travelling within the country, except Malaysia. This Pakatan Harapan government could not even get this right.

There was a lot of talk about defending Malay rights and dignity in Tanjung Piai, from both sides. None, however, spoke about the sufferings of the students in tahfiz schools. There has been a galore of sad and unfortunate stories about students in tahfiz schools, but none of our leaders took up the matter with some seriousness.

A seven-year-old child pupil died because of physical beating and abuse by his seniors, and no one campaigning in Tanjung Piai raised the matter. No leader had asked for a government inquiry; or some accountability on the part of the school owners. As if the life of a seven-year-old is not important to them.

Getting tahfiz schools registered means very little. The government must be willing to have a commission to deliberate and recommend what kind of tahfiz schools we need, and who enforces these regulations.

In 2017, some 21 students and two teachers died when fire razed the tahfiz school in Keramat. There was no public inquiry as to the cause of the fire and all we had was some explanation from the Fire Department as to the cause of the deaths. Apparently, the students were locked in, and unable to open the windows of the dormitory from inside.

Many students from tahfiz schools died in road accidents, which suggest they do a lot of travelling. Does the government know of the activities of tahfiz schools, and does it care about the welfare and safety of the students? Or is it too sensitive to ask these questions during the Tanjung Piai campaign?

If this government and the ministers care about the Malays; they can do better than just indulge in empty slogans about Malay "rights" or dignity for political gain. They must ask why is it that a seven-year-old is in a tahfiz school and not in a normal school.

Ministers should know the law, that primary education is mandatory under the Education Act. Young Malays must attend "normal education", as defined under the Act, but we see so many young Malays in tahfiz schools.

Parents must be given the choice to send their children to religious or tahfiz schools; but only after the children have completed a mandatory period of primary education.

If we do not enforce strictly the need to have a normal education for the young Malays; then very soon Malays will be left further and further back in this new world. They will be lost and left behind in the pursuit of knowledge and skills, which they need to survive. They will be prone to self destruct when life is full of despair

Malaysia needs a new leader who can keep the country on the right path. We need leaders who are willing to do the right thing for the young people of this country, even at their own peril.

Political leaders who are clever at keeping them "safe" by breaking up opponents do not serve anyone except themselves. That's why I don't care much about the result in Tanjung Piai.

ZAID IBRAHIM is a former law minister.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

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