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"STUDENT INVOLVEMENT IN DEMOCRACY IN MALAYSIA"
Malaysia Youth and Student Democratic Movement (DEMA)

 

Participation and the Models of Democracy

Elections are institutional mechanisms that implement democracy by allowing citizens to choose among candidates or issues. But elections also serve several other important purposes.

Campus Democracy

The Universities and University Colleges Act 1971 (UUCA)
UUCA was enacted in 1971primarily to provide an administrative basis for the establishment of new universities. However, in 1975, the government introduced a range of amendments imposing stringent restrictions on student's rights to freedom of association and freedom of expression.

Under the act, s15

(1) 'No person, while he is a student of the University, shall be a member of, or shall in any manner associate with, any society, political party, trade union or any other organisation…whatsoever…whether it is in the University or outside the University… in Malaysia or outside Malaysia…except as may be approved…by the Vice-Chancellor.
(2) No organisation, body or group of students of the University…shall have any affiliation, association or other dealing whatsoever with any society, political party, trade union or any other organisation…whatsoever…whether it is in the University or outside the University…in Malaysia or outside the Malaysia…except as may be approved…by the Vice-Chancellor.
(3) No person, while he is a student of the University, shall express or do anything which may be construed as expressing support, sympathy or opposition to any political party or trade union or as expressing support or sympathy with any unlawful organisation, body or group of persons.
(4) No organisation, body or group of students of the University…shall express or do anything which may be construed as expressing support, sympathy or opposition to any political party or trade union or as expressing suport or sympathy with any unlawful organisation, body or group of persons.
(5) Any person who contravenes…subsection(1), (2), (3), or (4) shall be guilty of an offence and shall, on conviction, be liable to a fine not exceeding RM1000 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months or to both…'

Additionally, under the powers of the amended Act, the government gazetted Discipline of Staff Rules in 1979 which placed restrictions on university staff engaging in political activity. Although staff were permitted to be members of political parties, they were prohibited from holding any position in a party, or standing as candidates or campaingning in an election. The Staff Rules also prohibit staff from making any public statement seen to side with a political party, or from publishing any material relating to poliyical parties (unless such material was part of and based on their academic research). Political statements might only be made within academic seminars only with the permission of the Vice-Chancellor. The authorities would also periodically restrict publication of 'sensitive' material.

In addition the powers of hiring and firing of staff were concentrated in the hands of government appointed Vice-Chancellors and councils dominated by government appointees.

The Act's restrictions on students served an effective deterrent : from the mid-1970s student activity in national politics declined precipitously. By the 1990s the majority of students appeared to have disengaged from public debate of political and social issues that might be regarded as controversial or merely unapproved by the ruling party.

Nevertheless the university authorities tolerated limited forms of campus political activism within the student Representative Councils (the student unions) or other student welfare committess, whose elected officers might be tacitly recognised as being predominantly pro-UMNO or pro-PAS. In addition, campus elections for approved societies, such as the Persatuan Mahasiswa islam, would at times reflect national political agendas or party loyalties. During the 1980s Islamic revivalism within campuses was apparent as Islamic student groups, such as the Persatuan Mahasiswa Islam, took a leading role in campuspolitical and social life. However official parameters for such activism remained : in September 1989, when about 300 students at UM demonstrated against a campus concert given by pop singer Sheila Majid,police arrested 22 students and detained 2 (the secretary and the treasurer of PMI) under the ISA or questioning. They were released after a week.

In 1998 such 'tacit' campus political activity increasingly alarmed the authorities as, for the first time in decades, off-campus student activism re-emerged through the reformasi movement. The authorities responded by threatening use of the powers and sanctions of the Act and stressing that the role of students was to study, and not to be manipulated or misled by external political agents. Students were also reminded to be grateful for the scholarships and other advantages so many had received through affimative action programmes for Malays, and told that by participating in demonstrations they were given damaging Malaysia's reputation internationally. Such warnings were also given to Malaysian students studying abroad.

Violations of the right to freedom of expression
-In 1990 Syed Husin Ali had to resign his post of Professor of Anthropology and Sociology at UM in order to become prsident of the renamed People's Party of Malaysia (PRM-Parti Rakyat Malaysia).
- In November 1997 the Cabinet, through the education Ministry, directed academics not to make public statements about their research on the incidence and nature of the 'haze' (smog caused by regional forest fires) affecting Malaysia, as this might confuse or alarm the public or deter tourism.
- In this context many Malaysians were sceptical about the reasons (mainly economic) given by the UM for their decision not to renew the contract of Professor Chandra Muzaffar in February 1999 after he had taken a vocal public stance in support of reformasi.

Violations of the right to freedom of association
Everyone has the rights to join or form any organization including political organizations of their choice and conduct peaceful activities. The right of the association has limited by laws such as the Universities and University Colleges Act, under which any student of the university are not allowed to be a member of, or shall in any manner associate with, any society, party party, trade union or any other organizations whether inside or outside the University except as may be approved by the Vice-Chancellor.

The Deputy Vice Chancellor (Students Affairs Department) who are appointed by the Vice-Chancellor may refuse to register a new society, impose conditions in registering or de-register a society. Once a society has been refused registration by the Deputy Vice Chancellor, it cannot challenge the decisions because the authority of the Student Affairs Department haven't any check and balance by the students themselves.

A society may also have to wait a long time or refuse before its registration is approved by the Deputy Vice Chancellor. For example, until today Persatuan Mahasiswa that are more on religion, language and culture are not allowed to register in UUM. The excuses like "This kind of society will affected the effort of government to unite the country"which given by the authority always cannot accepted by the students. The reason is the students has their rights to form a society by not to abuse or torture others rights.

Under Section 15 (3) of the Universities and University Colleges Act, students and faculty members are not allowed to express or do anything which may be construed as expressing support, sympathy or opposition to any political party or trade union. Students may not join political parties whilst on campus.

Violations of the right to freedom of activities
After the amendments to the Universities and University Colleges 1975, this was increase the power of the Vice Chancellor especially the Students Affair Department. At the same time, the government set up the Student Representative Council, student bodies which have little power, freedom and authority.

Actually students have their rights to freedom of activities like gathering, speaker corner, participate in policy making process, and have right to manage their own financial affairs, but the power of the Vice Chancellor is to weaken the student's rights. Students have to give the rights to learn, to manage and to build the culture campus.

The following incidents are some examples of such actions by the Student Affair Department which took place in Malaysia, including UTM Chinese New Year Exibition banned because the programme was too close to the Examination. Besides, HEP wanted to avoid the date crash with the National Culture Exibition and university also encourage the multi-racial activities and did not want to approve the mono-culture activities in University.

The excuses given by the university authority can't convince the public because the students were full of commitment to organised a activities. It should be encourage and not the oppress by the HEP. This was the main situation of the campus.Besides Chinese New Year Exibition, there are also University Malaya Moon Cake Festival and Chinese Language Class in University Technology Malaysia were been banned by the HEP. Currently, University Science Malaysia (USM) also meet the same problem that is HEP don't allowed the students to go for a Singapore-Malaysia Debate Competition.

Violations of the right to freedom of Assembly
The rights to freedom of assembly is provided for in Article 10 (1) of the Federal Constitution. As with other rights, significant restriction are permitted in "in the interest of security and public order".University and college students accused of participating in illegal assemblies faced suspension or expulsion under legislation prohibiting students from participating in any political activity without permission. One student of the University Technology of Mara (UiTM), Ahmad Zaki who was participating a assemblies after Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim sacked by the government. That time was "reformasi"period and many students go out to show their support to reform the corrupt system. Unfortunately Ahmad Zaki expulse by the HEP without any trial. This example show that student rights always abuse by HEP.

Violation of the right to freedom of academic
Academics are also threatened when found to be sympathetic to opposition parties. In February 1999, the University of Malaya declined to renew the contract of Professor Chandra Muzzafar because Chandra show support to the former Deputy Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim. Chandra claimed the university had fired him for poltical reasons. Chandra has since field a lawsuit in the high court to overturn this decision.

Another lecturer in the university of Malaya, Professor Jomo K.Sundram, was personally attacked by Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammad, after he filed a lawsuit to postpone the general elections. The lawsuit was based on the fact that more than 600 000 registered voters were prevented from voting in the coming elections. The PM told Jomo to resign, but no further action was taken against him.

The Education Minister kept a close watch for teachers who allegedly display 'anti-government' attitudes. In August 1999, a disciplinary panel of the ministry was said to have received reports concerning teachers who had "incited" their students against the Government. In September 1999, it was reported that the ministry had "acted against" several teachers allegedly involved in 'anti-government activities.

Bureaucratic of Administration
All the university HEP in our nation always has the absolute power to the student role and activities. The main leadership in this department always is the Vice Deputy Chancellor but he controls the reward and punishment system. He also be the player and the same time also be the refree. Though, every policy and the implementation have to agree by him. If not, there will be a punishment on the person who is not follow his instruction.

May be some of us will ask: why Deputy Vice Chancellor has this kind of absolute power? Who give Deputy Vice Chancellor this absolute power? Answer is Universities and University College! The problems create by bureaucracy of administration will be happen again if the UUCA still remain the same. Therefore, students have to unite together to abolish UUCA!

If the system of the universities do not have a totally reform, student will become in the situation of a slave, continue to serve the corrupt system. Student just drag out an ignoble existence, can not be the real student.

Student Rights
Getting an education isn't just about books and grades - we're also learning how to participate fully in the life of this nation. (Because the future's up to us!)
But in order to really participate, we need to know our rights - otherwise we may lose them. The highest law in our land is the Malaysia Constitution, which has some amendments, known as the

Right to Education
- We demanded the government to ensure that the students enjoy the right to free education and stop the on-going commercialization of Higher Learning Education such as corporatisation of Universities. The students are now facing the problems of increasing tuition fees, lack of facilities and financial support as well as unrecognized academic qualification.

Right to freedom of expression
- Freedom of expression is protected under Article 10(1)(a) of the Federal Constitution and under Article 19 of UDHR. However, this right was restricted by UUCA. Students are not allow to express their view( especially the critical view point) to the publics.

Right to freedom of association
- The Federal Constitution provides for the right of association yet restrictions exist in the form of legislation -the UUCA. Under the UUCA, vice-chancellor have the extreme authority to prove or band the registration of student's organization. For example, the administration of Universiti Utara Malaysia(UUM) has not allowed an religion society set up in campus.

What is the current state of democracy in Malaysia?
Malaysia is only a democracy in name. There are no democratic processes here. The judiciary and the police are totally controlled by the government, as was demonstrated by the sacking and beating of formal deputy Prime Minister Dato Sri Anwar Ibrahim in police custody. The role of the government and the police is very disheartening. The media is completely controlled by the government.( e.g NST, Utusan and Star) Opposition parties have no rights. Everything is totally under the clamps of the government. It is not democracy when the right to dissent; when corruption and nepotism exist, and there is no attempt by the ruling elite to try and abolish it.

Strategies and Recommendations

As a pro-democracy student group, we would like to share a number of practical ideals and strategies on a range of issues- from how to encourage young students to participate in campus democracy to how to support youth democracy in our country.
We have outlined a range of ideals below, some of which may relevant for established campus democracies and others more specific to country undergoing democratic transition.

On how to encourage students' democratic participation

One of the challenges that young people pointed out is that they are not taught the skills and lessons in campuses to actually practice democracy. There need to be mechanisms by which young people can learn how to make decisions and implement ideas. The university systems itself also needs to be structured and organized in a democratic way. There should be student bodies and campus election so students have a voice in how their campus is run.
Education
Across the board, education is fundamental to understanding why and how to participant in a democracy.
Develop communication and education strategies.
Which demonstrate to young people that their participation can affect the issues that are relevant to them.

On how student groups can better impact in campuses and society

On how to support Struggles for democracy

Our resolution

We believe that to make democracy work we have to actively step out from campus. To empower students and citizens through the process of participation, realizing our rights through direct action and solidarity with other progressive organization.We believe that true democracy involves more than just releasing press statements and electioneering. It is about rebuilding society by developing basic values of autonomy, solidarity and responsibility for life and for future generation.