The student, student politics and politics

Speech by DAP Secretary-General and Member of Parliament for Bandar Melaka, Mr. Lim Kit Siang, at a forum on “The student, student politics and politics” organised by the University of Malaya Law Society on Tuesday, 5th November 1973 at 8 p.m.

The student, student politics and politics

Last month, the Thai students gave the world another demonstration of the ability of student power to bring about changes in society, and in this case, it was to bring down the corrupt and inept government of Thanom Kittikachorn.

Seven years ago, the Indonesian students led by KAMI played a major role in toppling the Sukarno regime. There are many other such examples of students-induced changes in other parts of Asia and the world.

It must be this awareness and realisation of the potential power of student idealism to challenge and expose the forces of corruption, injustice and reaction which motivated our Alliance government to enact a particularly obnoxious Act in the form of Universities and Colleges Act prohibiting university students from any form of political participation.

This is all the more unacceptable when we note that the government-appointed committee into the racial polarization and campus life of the students of the University of Malaya reported in 1970 that there was no reason to deny the right of political participation to the university students.

The Alliance Government has a host of reasons for wanting to prohibit student political activity, for the government leaders do not want the students, from their standpoint of youthful idealism, to examine the whole spectrum of unjust, undemocratic and even oppressive political, economic, social and educational policies of the Alliance.

The justification for the ban on student political activity is that the country has invested heavily on each student, and in return, each student should concentrate on his studies, acquire a profession or learn a skill, so that they can be useful citizens on graduation. After graduation, they are at liberty to plunge into politics.

This is a narrow view of the real aim of education and learning, which should be more than just preparing a student for a vocation. The real aim of education must be to produce a liberated individual, a wholesome personality and a responsible citizen.

It has been said that the youths of today are the leaders of tomorrow, and that the schools, colleges and universities are the training grounds for the citizens and leaders of tomorrow.

It is all the more important that in schools, and especially in colleges and universities, our students should be encouraged to develop a critical and inquiring mind, a passion for social justice and a lively social conscience.

In Malaysia, the reverse has happened. By the Universities and Colleges Act, and other more subtle but no less effective forms of pressure, the government seeks to impose mental uniformity and conformity.

Section 15 of the Universities and Colleges Act which bans university students from doing anything which can be construed as expressing support or sympathy or opposition to any political party or trade union is so wide that it could cover within its ambit any critical student view concerning any contemporary national problem.

The effect of such an oppressive and omnibus ban is to dull or blunt student idealism, weed out our or stifle views at variance with the government, and permit only views and student political activities which are in conformity with Alliance policies.

We have recently an illustration of this. About three weeks ago, the university students demonstrated several times in Kuala Lumpur in support of the Arab cause and struggle in the Middle East conflict against Israel. The demonstrations were permitted because the Alliance government can also capitalise on it internationally to underline its support for the Arab cause.

I doubt however that the authorities would take so kindly to student demonstrations if, for instance, the issue had been over the rising food prices and galloping inflation in the country.

With our student population brought up in such a milieu of intolerance of dissent, we are nurturing not a concerned citizenry, but a nation of sheep.

In enacting the Universities and Colleges Act, the Alliance authorities are working on the premise that so long as they can suppress the student idealism in the university, it will cease to be a problem once the students leave the portals of the university and enter the larger world, for they will be then be too preoccupied with more mundane problem of making a living, catching up with the Joneses, or bringing up a family.

In fact, many student leaders melted into conformity and infirmity on graduation, and become cogs in the system which they so fervently and evangelically denounced during their campus days.

Such a state of affairs is eminently advantageous to the Alliance government, to buttress its power base, but not so to the nation.

For we are losing the leavening influence of idealism to temper the governance of the national affairs, to attune government policies more in step with the social needs and the claims of justice.

It is true that student idealism, without responsibility, has its defects but these drawbacks are much less than the dangers of intolerance and authoritarianism fostered by the suppression of student idealism altogether, emasculating independence of mind and spirit, and the habit of standing up against all forms of injustice from whatever quarter.

The Minister of Education, Incik Mohamad Yaacob, said last week that the Universities and Colleges Act has not been used against any student. But this is no justification for the Act, for so long as the Act remains on the statute book, it is a Damocles’ Sword hanging over the head of every student of dissent.

I am glad that despite the passage of the Universities and Colleges Act, the university students have not yet been completely cowed, and have not ceased their agitation for its repeal. There are welcome indications that a new campaign for the repeal of the University and Colleges Act is being mounted.
I firmly believe that the students in the Malaysian institutions of higher learning should be restored their full right to political participation. I do not believe that there will be chaos or anarchy in the campuses if the UCA is repealed.

In more and more countries, votes are being given to the eighteen-year-olds. We in Malaysia are not about to do so; in fact, we have gone further back in denying our students the right to political participation.

It is indeed ironic that our students can get married, or sent to the war front or the jungles to risk their lives and die for the country, or enter into full legal relationships, but cannot take part in politics.

Student bodies and the student population must not submit to such unreasonable man-made laws as the Universities and Colleges Act, and should continue to organise and mobilise public opinion for its abolition.

Furthermore, the student bodies should not abdicate their responsibility as the embodiment of youthful idealism and the conscience of the next generation of Malaysians by giving up their duty to speak up and act against all forms of social and economic injustices and wrongs, and the diminution of civil rights and democratic freedoms.

I have spoken up to now only concerning the student and politics, without reference to the other limb of tonight’s subject, student politics, for the simple reason that I do not feel competent to deal with it.

It is my hope however that in the student politics in the campus, full regard will be given by all concerned to the fact that Malaysia is a multi- racial country and that energetic steps should be taken to end the racial polarisation in the campus.

Although the government has established a committee to look into the racial polarisation in the campus, and it has submitted its report, it does not appear to have made much progress in this field.

The demonstration and counter-demonstrations by the different student organisations in the University of Malaya in August this year is a reminder to us all of the gravity of the problem.

There must be an open dialogue and discussion of all aspects of this problem, for if the undergraduates in the institutions of higher learning cannot deal with this grave problem openly, rationally, then it augurs ill for the Malaysian nation.