It is clear that besides attempting to teach our students all the wrong things such as the art of flattery as well as the employable skills in thuggery, we are also training our 'future leaders' how to make a mockery of democracy and elections. Even the typically tame Suhakam, Malaysia's officially sanctioned human rights organisation claimed that the rules and regulations and practices governing campus elections are unfair and "cruel".
Some of the best reports on campus elections are found in Malaysiakini.
I won't go through the trouble of listing down all the curious democratic practices of our universities in detail here, but to highlight just some of the more eccentric ones.
Firstly, the Ministry of Higher Education announced that the students are only given up to 3 days to campaign after nomination to campaign before elections. Given the short period of time, it is not surprising that most students wouldn't know head or tail about who the heck they are actually voting for. It's clearly the same tactic for our typical general elections whereby the enlightened citizens are given only 10-12 days to hear out the candidates from nomination to election day. Hence, we start our training of future leaders young so that they are fully tuned to short-changing the electoral processes in the future.
Secondly, in the past, it was alleged and admitted by the university authorities in colleges such as Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, whereby names are taken down and related to serial numbers. The fear that students who voted for the non-endorsed candidates can be traced and threatened is further made worse by the introduction of electronic voting in several universities. The new system requires a student to key in his/her identity card and student card numbers.
And yet, the authorities can declare that voting remains secret with a straight face:
"All voting will be secret. We take down the names so we can use the information should any incident take place," said head of the Rahim Kajai Residential College Dr Mohd Hussein when contacted. However, he declined to specify on the type of ‘incident’ which would warrant the disclosure of voter information.And thirdly, there are so many cases of threats and abuse occurring in the public universities such that even government sanction human rights organisations such as Suhakam are forbidden from observing and monitoring the electoral process. Suhakam commissioner, N Siva Subramaniam, had earlier met with the Minister of Higher Education.
“We explained to him (Mustapa) the need to have a free and fair elections, where students can participate according to the principle of democracy... as far as the minister is concerned, he is unsupportive of the ideas (forwarded by Suhakam),” Siva said.And here, the students learn the lessons on how intimidation, the lack of transparency and unabashed rigging in the election process can bring about victory for the chosen parties. What I fail to understand and find hard to believe is that the university will expend such a large amount of resources to have its own preferred student (note: student(!)) leaders elected. I mean, what's the worse a non-endorsed student leader can do in a university? Threaten national security? Rape and pillage the university library?
“At times, electing a prefect (in schools) is more a more democratic (process) than campus polls. Anyone can contest. But when it comes to campus polls, we can see (that the regulations are) tight, cruel and strange.”
To quote our 'resident' academic, Dr Azmi Sharom in one of his earlier articles, entitled “Let's Be Fair To Our Youths” published in the Star last year:
[Students] should then be allowed to sort [their own activities] out themselves. After all, they are old enough to drive, get married, buy tobacco; surely they don’t need minders to hold their hand to find their faculty on campus.Frankly, given the state of affairs, I'm surprised that the Ministry do not just ban elections outright and just make appointment of the endorsed candidates into the student council. It won't be setting any precedents either for we all know that our local councils are all political appointees after all.
[The university administrators] must also not behave like gods on Olympus, brooking no dissent or disagreement with our divine knowledge. Instead, we must provide the necessary atmosphere for lively debate to take place. Whether the students are going to take part or not is not in our control, but we should provide that space for them to think. It’s up to them to use it.
If we are seriously going to achieve a “first-world mentality,” we need to have “first-world minds” – minds that are questioning, ethical, inquisitive, principled, critical, innovative and inventive.
The way our students are treated today does not encourage that. They are told to just obey, or face the consequences. They are witness to practices that fly in the face of good governance, integrity, democracy and human rights. They are faced with so many restrictions that a culture of fear has seeped into their consciousness, freezing the brain and stilling the tongue.