Saturday, 16 January 2010

Students' political agendas remaininflaming issue

NST Online 15/01/10

There have been a few changes in the way a campus election is conducted, but one thing remains certain: the perceived political affiliations.
Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia Institute of Ethnic Studies director Prof Datuk Dr Shamsul Amri Baharuddin said that during his time, there were less restrictions.

"It was more open and localised. It was very interesting as we had communal, issue-based and ideological groups.

"The rules of the game then were different. Thing changed when the Universities and University Colleges Act 1971 was tightened after the Baling demonstration."

These days, Shamsul said, the perception was that university elections were a proxy battle between the government and the opposition.

Machang member of parliament Saifuddin Nasution Ismail said that back in the eighties -- he was involved in student politics between 1982 and 1987 -- students were allowed to form a political party and they campaigned openly.

"We could go to residential areas and give talks at parking lots, cafeterias as well as distribute leaflets. We never touched on sensitive issues like race and religion.

"Voter turnout was never a problem as the 'election commission', which comprised the student affairs department provided a conducive environment.

"But these days, everything is the opposite."

Saifuddin, who continues to observe the varsity elections, said these days, the elections were too rigid with many rules that "oppressed" students.

Former UiTM student union member Anuar Ali, 21, agreed that the electoral process was governed by rules and regulations he described as "strenuous".

"The candidates must produce good academic results and be active in extracurricular activities. They cannot have a record for indiscipline.

"And there are still groups labelled as 'pro-government' and 'pro-opposition'.

"Those who are 'pro-government' usually favour issues relating to the university's welfare rather than the students'. The 'pro-opposition' focuses more on student welfare," he said.

In 1993, the Education Ministry investigated a report alleging that Pas had infiltrated campuses to sow its political ideology and influence the student bodies to oppose the government. The claim was made by then Dr Senator Ahmad Zahid Hamidi.

In 2001, the Federation of Peninsular Malay Students refuted the statement by then Pas deputy president Abdul Hadi Awang that a majority of students in public universities supported the opposition.

Later that year, it was decided that all public universities would hold elections of student representatives simultaneously to reduce outside interference.

The then Education Ministry Higher Education Department director Prof Dr Hassan Said said the decision was aimed at curbing "certain parties" from propagating their political ideologies on campuses.

In 2003, then Education Minister Tan Sri Musa Mohamad branded university students as immature when it was revealed that local university elections were based on political inclinations instead on proper issues such as student welfare.

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