Students to Own Campus Election Commission


by Marcus Lee, Law Student of University of Malaya

Annually, the University Student Election (Campus election) is organized in every single Malaysia public university concurrently, or around the same time. The elected students will form a body, namely Student Representative Council, representing the students and channel their opinions to the university level, somehow it is just like the Members of Parliament elected by the people to lead, care and defend the rights of the people. However, is that so in reality?

Allow me to share my experience and some humble opinion on the campus election of the University of Malaya (UM), top university in Malaysia (I hope UM is still in the “Top 200” list in QS ranking). Well, the election in UM was organized by the university authorities, by forming a committee similar to the “Election Commission” to handle the campus election. The students from Pro-Mahasiswa party (anti-establishment) were skeptical towards the independence of the “election commission”, whether the organizer was biased towards the Pro-HEP party (pro-establishment). E-voting system was used by the university, and the students casted their votes online using the computers prepared beforehand by the authority in the residential colleges and faculties. Compared to manual voting method, the E-voting is not flawless, and its reliability is often questioned by the students. For instance, the International Islamic University Malaysia (IIUM), a public university, experienced a glitch following an emergence of phantom voters during its campus election in 2012, and a re-election was held.

Some of the students were reluctant to vote for the anti-establishment candidates, because they believed that their votes can be traced in the system. One said: “If the system can identify who has casted their vote and who hasn’t, then the system might be able to trace which candidate we have voted”. Especially to the students who were staying in the residential colleges in UM, they were afraid that if they vote for the anti-establishment, they will not be able to renew their tenancy. Apparently, rumours were spreading like wildfire; some of them chose to believe the “hidden meaning” behind the placing the voting centres in their residential colleges. Mind that, students’ matrik numbers were used to generate a code for the students to log in and cast their votes, so they are not convinced even the authorities assured the secrecy of the election. Whether the data in the system can be captured when it was sent to be kept in the database due to the advancement of technology remains another question.

Apart from the voting method, let’s look at the Student Representative Council, the elected members of the council, are they involved directly in the development of the university? The answer is NO. The name of the council explains it well, they are merely representatives, they have no power and thus their positions as students’ representatives are very much ceremonial. Look at the top western universities, they have Students’ Union (University of Malaya once had a Students’ Union too) that fight for the rights of the university students. For example, the Cambridge University Students’ Union fought against tuition fees and fee rises, they fought for equality and diversity as well as environmental sustainability. In UM, the Student Representative Council organizes the graduation ceremony, giving multiple suggestions to the Students’ Affair Division of the university, and nothing more than that. The existence of University and University Colleges Act 1971 (AUKU) and the rules of UM have very much restricted the freedom of assembly and expression of the students. Recently, some of the representatives fought for hidden fees (every students staying in the residential colleges are compulsory to pay RM120 for the colleges’ dinner at the end of the year), suggestion made to the university for making the event to optional instead of compulsory because the rising of living cost burdened the students’ family. The suggestions were ignored, no solution has been decided, and nothing else is heard after that meeting. Thus, compared to the Students’ Union that we once had, the current council is only ceremonial, and helping the students only at a very minimal level.

The education aimed to produce students who can think out of the box and of most important, empowering students. The question here is why the campus elections are not in the hand of the students? Let the students grow by allowing them to organize the election, allow them to form their own “election commission” and carry out the election with integrity and full maturity. The committee will be more independent, and they can bring in improvements to the campus election, such as changing the election from E-voting to manual voting. Besides, this can raise the awareness of the students of their rights of voting as the major stakeholder of the university (at least the university and the residential colleges can save the money of buying free food for the voters). It is not stated in the AUKU that campus election must be organized by the university authority. Through organizing an election in UM, I believe the students can earn valuable experience without compromising the integrity of the organizing committee.

In conclusion, the university authorities or the Students Affair Division have no reason to take care of everything, they have to allow the students to be involved in the development of university and organizing committee for campus election will be a perfect platform for the students to grow.