Friday, September 15, 2006

Campus Elections: Why Bother?

I have not written much about campus elections in our local universities to date. I wanted to do so last year but never got around to do it. But I thought I should make it a point to pen something down this year, before it passes by once again.

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.

“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.”
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?

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.

[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.
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.


Anonymous said...

Universities traditionally are the bastions for pro-opposition support, and that's why BN is doing its utmost to kill off democracy there.

Many political and civil movements have originated from student movements, from the Tiananmen Square movement, to the French student protests, and so supressing the student movement in Malaysia is just another way that BN can ensure that it remains in power.

Lol, not letting people do something only makes them wanna do it more. Nobody really pays much attention to the elections at my university (in Australia), since its so free, common, and open.

BN should try reverse psychology to encourage political apathy for a change ;)

Anonymous said...

The power and greed right from the top to the ground bottom have eluded the truth and light in the tunnel. The dark age has befallen on Malaysian public institutions of higher learning. The golden age of the glorious UM during the 60s has long flitted away in a glimpse of the blinking eyes.

Anonymous said...

campus elections...just a waste of time! Better for students to spend time studying. Too much politics and interference of political powers trying to harness the students!

Anonymous said...

Dear all, it will take Malaysia approximately another 100 years before we are able to see any positive progress in the area of politics. Sad but true, you will only have to look to the history of democracy around the world.
Democracy is susceptible to political articulation by parties who have vested interests in a country's economy & cultural psyche. Global history has shown that it takes the will power of people who are able to think & analyse the rethorics of parties & the current political climate to judge for themselves through thier votes. It is unfortunate that even in '1st world' Democratic countries the populus can often make mistakes in thier selection of leaders thus unintentionally embarassing thier countries. If Malaysia wants to make a positive mark in the world, it has to show its critics that a religious & ethno centric country can be a fair & equitible state for its margnalised citizens by improving transparency & opening opportunities for all without prejudice. It will be a celebratory defiance when equal opportunity leads to social & economic prosperity is achieved, making Malaysia a respectable country to contend with 1st world nations.
Until leaders are able to show humility & integrity, the general public will only accept the status quo of 'If the leaders are like that, so should I'. It will continue to breed injustice & choas in an otherwise already pecarious state of affairs.
Let us forge a better Malaysia than it is now, we have so much potential that is yet to be achieved. Let us prove to those who want Malaysia to fail because of this internal infirmary otherwise instigated by external forces than we can overcome this quagmire.
Malaysians, the future is in your hands & minds. Do not let this opportunity pass us by.


Anonymous said...

Hi, I am currently a 2nd year undergrad in a local university and I am quite troubled with the campus elections. Last session, my friends and I faced a number of problems concerning the campus elections - of which you have mentioned here. We were threatened into voting for the 'government' party because we were told that if didn't, we could be traced and we would lose all priviledges in the residential colleges. We were also herded around in the residential colleges to listen to the candidates' supposedly spirited campaign promises. The day before the elections, slips of paper were pushed under the doors of our rooms (in the residential colleges) whereby the name of the 9 candidates we were supposed to vote for were listed.

I remember thinking to myself that after all that has been done to us - the voters - where has the so-called democracy gone? We were forced into voting for only a selective number of people and faced with all sorts of threats should we go against 'orders'.

I agree with one of the comments that campus elections is just a waste of time and that we should be concentrating more on our studies and leave politics alone. What's more, the 'Aku Janji' oath that we took actually prohibits us from getting involved in politics - so why then are we allowed to run something like the campus elections? Albeit I must agree that exposure to all sorts of things is healthy, I don't like the idea of student politics at all...

Oh, I have also been approached by an ex EXCO member to campaign. I have since declined.

Anonymous said...

Campus elections have always been a farce!
Every student knows it!

As I said its time and money wasting for this stupid charade being held yearly

Anonymous said...

maybe it is a waste of time...

that's not the issue...
the issue is why an unfair election is held and still no body cares?

i read news talking about pro-uni students went to 4-star hotel for a stay and meal... and the bills are from Selangor MB's office... in other word, from taxpayers...

this is how bad the situation is...
when gov is on the uni side and play all those tricks...

my previous Uni dont have this kind of problem...
there are neither pro-uni nor pro-student...
ALL are INDEPENDENT candidates...

Anonymous said...

Black Mojo thinks campus elections are "good examples" how people in certain offices interprete and implement what " democracy" really means.

Its synonymous with the story about how the crab wants to teach the young crabs how to walk straight!
I wonder what the University College Act think about this?