Students speak out on the issue of the UUCA

By Zakiah Koya, The Sun

IN A landmark decision, the Court of Appeal declared on Oct 31 that a provision in the Universities and University Colleges Act (UUCA) 1971 which restricts students from expressing in support of, or opposing, any political party, is unconstitutional.

The three-man panel held that Section 15(5)(A)of the UUCA was unreasonable and violated freedom of speech.

Replying to the chorus of calls for repeal or amendment of the act, Education Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin last Friday was reported to have questioned the readiness of our students to be able to juggle their studies and student activism.

He had asked, “Let me pose a question… are you ready? If so, why not. Maybe the government no longer needs the Act (UUCA) or we could amend it to provide space so that students could make decisions without being hoodwinked by any legislative power.”

Muhyiddin had also questioned whether the students were ready and mature enough to make wise decisions without being influenced by others. He surmised that as they said they do not need anyone to safeguard them, they might do something unbeneficial to them.

“This is a cause for concern as the campus will eventually be turned into a political arena that will be detrimental to efforts to produce knowledgeable human,” he said.

The Malaysian student movement, once vocal and visible in the 1960s, was effectively curbed after the enactment of the Universities and University Colleges Act (UUCA) in 1971. Despite that, student activism has regained traction among undergraduates participating at the risk of expulsion, especially if they are assumed to favour non-ruling political parties.

“The need for an amendment is evident. Muhyiddin should tackle the issue of UUCA with more honesty, in tandem with the aspirations of reform mooted by his superior,” said Muhammad Muhammad Hilman Idham, one of the four Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM) political science students who were apprehended by police on April 25, 2010, during the Hulu Selangor by-election.

He pointed out that even the dissenting judge Datuk Wira Low Hop Bing in obiter dicta suggested that the act be amended.

Muhammad Hilman is also Kumpulan Aktivis Mahasiswa Independen founder, president of the Political Science Undergraduate Association and a council member of the Malaysian Undergraduate Solidarity Front.

His counterpart Haziq Abdul Aziz of the University of Malaya said students have always been ready and the government should be more positive when it questions the students’ readiness to be active participants of politics in the country.

“As a matter of fact, students involved in politics are applying what they have learnt in in the classroom. Involvement in politics helps in the maturity of students. It also produces fresh ideas from students themselves,” said Haziq, a first-year law student.

He pointed out many of the top Malaysian leaders of yesteryear and today, be they from the ruling parties or opposition front, started being active in politics during their college and university days.

One second-year undergraduate from Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) named former prime ministers such as Tunku Abdul Rahman and Tun Mahathir Mohamed who were vocal during their college and university days.

“Till today, they remain models for us to emulate and Umno still holds on to the ideas of these two,” said the student, who declined to be named.

Muhammad Hilman further said that Section 15(5)(A) which referred to expressing support or opposition or sympathising with political parties is vague.

“How do we interpret ‘menyatakan sokongan atau bangkangan atau menyatakan simpati kepada parti politik?’ (state support or objection or to state sympathy to political parties) Is it by wearing the party logos? Is it by sitting as a panellist with a member of a political party? Is it by criticising government policies?

“This is why UUCA does not only limit our right to participate in political parties but also our right to voice opinions, to be vocal, to hold associations, to discuss academic issues and such,” he said.

The students also questioned the double standard practised as local students attending foreign varsities are allowed to form mini political parties supporting the ruling party.

Referring to the Umno clubs overseas such as the London Umno club, the students ask why students overseas are considered able to juggle their studies and participation in politics.

Umno Clubs overseas have defended themselves on their website by saying they are “apolitical in management and organisation despite the name being derived from the political party in Malaysia”.

The local students, however, are not convinced.

“Are they cleverer than us here? This questioning of our readiness is indirectly telling us that,” said Haziq.

Muhammad Hilman said students should be allowed to express support, opposition or sympathise with political parties, be they local or overseas.

He said the leaders who insist on “shackling” undergraduates should stop thinking of their own backs and worry that the vocal voices of the undergraduates would drown them.

“As true leaders who are responsible for the future of the country, the government should think of moulding and upgrading the quality of the future leaders of the country. Let the political process and the principles of democracy be ingrained in our younger generation from primary school level,” said the anonymous student.

Haziq said the UUCA would not stop the voices of the students.

“Student activism has become more alive despite the barriers and this shows that the student force wanting to participate actively in the nation’s political process is stronger than ever.”

He contends that the UUCA remains the only line holding back students.

“Yes, the UUCA is definitely counting its days. Lets do away with it,” said Muhammad Hilman.