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Student politics under siege

Susan Loone, Malaysiakini
6:43pm Fri Nov 23rd, 2001

news analysis It would appear that it is not enough to ban local undergraduates from active participation in the nation’s politics for there is now a concerted effort by campus authorities to have even student politics curtailed.

Tighter rules on the election for student representatives have been imposed this year to stop opposition politics from rearing its ‘ugly’ head in campuses, students say.

Campaigning, which used to be permitted for a week in the past, has now been limited to two days in most campuses, they add.

In Universiti Malaya, for example, candidates are allowed to campaign only through videotape recordings or speak at a designated spot for 10 minutes.

In Universiti Teknologi Malaysia, Johor, students were banned from putting up posters of their candidates as a means of preventing ‘groupings’ or camps. The task is now relegated solely to the Student Affairs Department.

There was also a directive to limit the number of posters from 500 previously to only 50. This directive defies logic, students say, as pamphlets are allowed to be distributed freely.

Last week, deputy vice-chancellor Dr Mohamad Mansor told students at a briefing that only candidates with 3.0 Cumulative Grade Point Average (CGPA) were qualified to stand for elections when before it was 2.5. The rationale for the change, he said, was to ensure only students who were able to balance their studies and extra-curricular activities should hold office.

Students protested, claiming that the campus authorities were using this as an excuse to put in candidates of their choice as some candidates were allowed to submit their nominations and photos after the closing date.

Mohamad’s reply to all these allegations was simple. “If you do not want to adhere to these guidelines, then we nullify the election results,” he told the students.

Dissatisfied students

Undergraduates of almost all local universities were originally supposed to go to the polls today but due to the King’s demise on Nov 20, polling had to be postponed to Monday, Nov 26.

The students’ dissatisfaction came to a boil a few days ago, resulting in authorities from at least two universities receiving memorandums from student bodies protesting the change of rules.

On Wednesday, UM students from various societies and groups handed in a memo to vice-chancellor Prof Dr Anuar Zaini Zain, demanding for a postponement of the elections and for the replacement of deputy VC Prof Dr Hashim Yaakob as head of the elections committee.

Hashim was alleged to have acted in a biased and irresponsible manner by favouring certain candidates in the elections.

The UM students also want a university-level independent investigation committee to look into their complaints.

Anuar told the students that the elections will not be postponed as this was to enable students to concentrate on their studies again as soon as possible.

However, he assured them that those found guilty of committing election offences would be stripped of their positions even if elected.

Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia students are expected to hand in their memorandum today. The students claim that pro-government students are campaigning under the banner of ‘Kelab Wawasan’ (Vision Club) and ‘Tindakan Siswa Bersatu’ (United Undergraduates Movement).

Meanwhile, UTM student are planning to hand in a similar memorandum to their vice-chancellor on Monday although polling is scheduled for that day.

We-mean-business measures

Since the controversial sacking of ex-deputy premier Anwar Ibrahim and his subsequent 15-year jail sentence for sodomy and corruption, the government has been wary of opposition politics creeping into campuses.

These so-called fears led to student activists Mohd Fuad Mohd Ikwan (picture far left) and Khairul Anwar Ahmad Zainuddin, popularly known as Jonah, to be arrested under the Internal Security Act for 10 and 53 days respectively, for what the authorities have called ‘underground militant activities’.

It is also an open secret that PAS has infiltrated their influence into campuses for some years now. Some students have openly supported positions taken by PAS on Islam and were part of the Islamic party's election machinery at the last general election in 1999.

Since then, Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad has threatened to enforce the Universities and University Colleges Act against students involved in anti-government activities.

Under a plan to be implemented soon, undergraduates will also be expected to sign good-conduct forms.

Alongside these we-mean-business measures has been a quiet campaign by Umno Youth to get closer to student representatives and identify pro-government undergraduates.

PAS has challenged the government openly on this, saying it was unfair that Puteri Umno, the party’s fledgling young women’s wing, has been allowed to reach out to university students by conducting motivational camps and educational talks for them.

The Education Ministry has repeatedly denied the allegations and reiterated that no political parties are allowed to campaign in educational institutions.

Students neutral

Meanwhile, Mohamad Musriff, president of the UTM Student Representative Council, said students were no longer intensely involved in opposition politics compared with the situation after Anwar was sacked in September 1998.

“A lot of us are neutral. Just because we criticise government or university policies does not make us ‘opposition’,” he told malaysiakini when contacted today.

“We have attended all programmes organised by the university whether they are organised by pro-government or pro-opposition groups,” he added.

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