Pakatan stands to gain from campus polls

By Shannon Teoh, The Malaysian Insider

KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 26 — Pakatan Rakyat (PR) has emerged as the winner in this week’s campus elections after big gains by anti-establishment candidates.

Although the pro-Mahasiswa faction that won big insists it is not a front for Pakatan Rakyat (PR), it supports a reform agenda that gels with the coalition’s policies and rhetoric.

And the federal opposition pact will consider this a fillip in its battle with Barisan Nasional (BN) for the young vote in an impending general election.

A wave of political activism gripped university students during the recently-concluded campus polls, with the fracas in Universiti Putra Malaysia (UPM) that injured six people two days ago highlighting their disenchantment with university authorities.

Leaders of the anti-establishment pro-Mahasiswa group met by The Malaysian Insider yesterday said that the capture of seven of 20 varsities was its best performance since the Reformasi days of the late 1990s.

The government has had to step in and encourage discussion instead of discipline after the disqualification of 33 pro-Mahasiswa candidates by the varsity’s deputy vice-chancellor Fauzi Ramlan.

Although they were quickly reinstated, a determined group of 100 students had camped overnight in front of the student affairs department to demand an explanation.

It ended up in a scuffle with security guards when they tried to force their way up to Fauzi’s office, which resulted in a shattered glass door that wounded three guards and students each.

This led to Cabinet members, including Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, calling for university administrators to enter into civil discussion with student council leaders.

The tempered response was in stark contrast to last year when protests over alleged electoral fraud resulted in FRU trucks rolling into Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM).

The pro-Mahasiswa faction, which lobbies for student autonomy instead of government authority, made extensive gains in this year’s student elections, winning in seven universities, including the coveted Universiti Malaya, out of 20.

In 2010, they only held on to their stronghold of Universiti Islam Antarabangsa (UIA) and, even then, by a majority of one in the student council.

The situation seems to mirror the landscape of Election 2008, where opposition parties made record gains by denying Barisan Nasional (BN) its customary two-thirds majority in Parliament and five of 13 state governments.

The pro-Mahasiswa, just like PR, still finds the going tough in East Malaysia and Johor campuses, where the pro-Aspirasi faction, who support existing government policies, continue to dominate.

Pro-Mahasiswa leaders also told The Malaysian Insider that they campaigned for the devolving of power to student bodies and the abolition of “oppressive laws that restrict basic human rights” such as the University and University Colleges Act (UUCA), the Internal Security Act (ISA), Sedition Act and the Printing Presses and Publications Act (PPPA).

Although pro-Mahasiswa does not directly throw its support behind PR, it believes that the votes it gained among the collective student body of about 200,000 were a result of dissatisfaction with these laws and other establishment policies.

If left unchecked, the next general election may see young voters emulating the “anything but BN” wave that observers say the opposition pact rode on in 2008.