Disallowing student involvement in politics regressive

Press Statement
by John Chung

(Petaling Jaya, Monday): The assertion made by Education Minister Tan Sri Musa Mohamad at the undergraduates' congress in University Sains Malaysia, Penang on Saturday that university students should not get involved in politics for fear that this could distract them from their studies is a regressive one.

At a time when many students had themselves expressed their interest and desire to play a part in the nation's political development - as evidenced by the positive response at the congress' session on "Students and Politics" - Musa's statement only serves to pour cold water on their healthy enthusiasm.

Even if we think that students should not involved themselves in party politics, there is no reason why they should be disallowed to concerned themselves with the affairs of the nation and issues of nation building which should be what politics is rightly all about, namely the science of government.

Hence, to say that education must be free from all political influence, as Musa had remarked, is not only unfortunate but also unrealistic, since politics affect all and sundry regardless of whether one is studying or otherwise. To argue that students who get involved in politics would have their studies affected is too presumptuous. On the contrary, if we want our students to develop themselves holistically and not merely academic wise, then space must be given to them to fully express themselves in all areas; political issues being no exception.

Indeed, it is vital that political awareness be instilled amongst our youth, not just university students, from a young age. Could failure to do this be the reason why the Election Commission is finding it difficult to persuade the 1.7 million eligible Malaysians (of which more than half are in the 21-30 age group) to register as voters?

This is also why the continued existence of the Universities and University Colleges Act (UUCA) which has a stifling effect on the freedom of expression of students should be open to review. Considering that Suhakam had recently proposed that the Internal Security Act be reviewed, there should also be nothing to stop the contentious UUCA from being subjected to review as well.

In this regard, the suggestion for the setting up of a student parliament as a forum for students to contribute to nation building is a constructive one and should be seriously considered by the government as this will encourage open debate and critical thinking amongst students. Unless more is done to encourage instead of dampen the political enthusiasm of students, we may find more and more of them sliding into political apathy.


* John Chung, DAP National Publicity Bureau Assistant Secretary and DAP Socialist Youth (DAPSY) International Secretary