KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 1 - Datuk Mukhriz Mahathir said today the government should put an end to vernacular schools so that Chinese and Tamil schools can be streamlined into one "Malaysian education system," in remarks which are sure to spark controversy and stir up debate over race relations.
"We are one nation but we have so many systems. There is a need to induce unity," he told reporters today.
In a press conference in Parliament, the Jerlun MP said that all schools should teach subjects in Bahasa Malaysia except for language subjects which should be thought in their own languages.
Additionally, it should be compulsory for Chinese and Indians to learn their mother tongue while other races including Malays can take up these languages optionally, he said.
He said the proposal to have only national schools could help address the problem of non-Malays misunderstanding the concept of "Ketuanan Melayu," or Malay Supremacy, which has become a source of tension between Malays and non-Malays.
Mukhriz argued that such misunderstandings were a result of a lack of national unity, which he blamed on the existence of vernacular shools.
The son of former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamed, who is running for the post of Umno Youth chief in the March party polls, was speaking to reporters on the roiling debate over the concept of Ketuanan Melayu and asked component leaders not to exaggerate the meaning of the phrase.
Deputy MCA President Datuk Seri Dr Chua Soi Lek said last week that he accepted Malay leadership but not Malay supremacy.
Saying that the term "ketuanan" was interpreted differently by different communities, Mukhriz said that it was not a term used to denote a relationship of "master and slave," as suggested by Dr Chua.
"I do not feel like a Tuan," he quipped.
He said a single school system would help check racial polarisation.
"Of course pupils should have the option to study their mother tongues. With a single system, Malays will also have the option of studying other languages like Mandarin and Tamil and this will boost unity," he said.
Mukhriz said most countries practiced a single school system and as such it was time to do away with the vernacular school system.
The Umno Youth chief candidate said he hoped other Barisan Nasional (BN) leaders would not react negatively to his suggestion.
"If they reject this suggestion, then they should say why they are against it.
"How can they talk about unity and question Malay rights, while they still insist on having a different school system for their race?
"If you want equal rights then you cannot have a different school system. You cannot have your cake and eat it too," he said.
Mukhriz added that if non-Malays continue making statements about Malay supremacy, they should not be surpirsed if the Malays started talking about the economic supremacy of the non-Malays.
"Malays do not feel in any way superior or the master when it comes to the country's economy," he said.
His remarks appear designed to tap the support of the Umno grassroots but is likely to add fuel to the debate on race relations.