Moronic campus politics

Posted by Utm Today Friday, August 6, 2010

AUG 4 — A few years back while I was having lunch at the faculty canteen, a fellow student came up to me and asked me to vote for him. “Demi Perjuangan” — for a good cause, he said . To me it sounded fancy, so I asked him what he was fighting for. Was it worth my vote?

“For the enlightenment of the Ummah,” he answered like a true reformist.

“Ummah? You’re going to fight for that with the seat in the student council body?”

“Yes, what’s wrong with that, is that not the aspiration of every Muslim. Don’t you as a Muslim aspire to that as well, the era of enlightenment and true reform, back to the glory days of a student movement?”

“Oh yes, indeed I do aspire to that. It’s just that I prefer that you fight for a water cooler instead, I always get thirsty during afternoon class, you see.”

Indeed this happened during my second year as a student of the Faculty of Electrical Engineering, Universiti Teknologi Malaysia, Skudai, Johor. To really understand the background or mood with regards to campus politics back then, let me point out some facts (if I can recall them correctly).

During my second year, the voter turnout was about 28 per cent, the following year there was an increase up to 38 per cent after the faculty announced that all voters would be given some goodies and there would be a lucky draw. I remember vividly my first ever vote; I gave all 10 votes of mine to female candidates for I believe that women should lead the student body, especially the cute ones, and I won a box of biscuits from the lucky draw. Quite a pleasant experience.

The thing is, all this hoopla about “Kuasa Mahasiswa” or “Kebangkitan Mahasiswa” never touched me, nor the majority of the campus dwellers at that time. Maybe because UTM is mainly an engineering institution, hence students have got much more pressing concerns like solving triple integral calculus. Occasionally there would be rallies and some slogan shouting but it’s mostly by the students from the Education Faculty. My batch was more concerned about issues like downloading the latest Naruto episode and why we couldn’t have a faster Internet line.

But I think that the main reason why students shy away from campus politics, apart from being technical students, is that they can’t seem to relate to it.

Now the general scenario in UTM back then was this: There would be two opposing groups vying for the student body positions. One was called the Pro Aspirasi while the other was usually headed by the Persatuan Mahasiswa Islam group which would have alliances with other non-Muslim candidates; they called themselves “Ikatan” something.

The Pro Aspirasi group were usually a bunch of high-scoring students who were very much aligned with the campus administration, i.e. “the government”, so the usual scenario was that the anti-Pro Aspirasi group would be made up of freedom fighters against the establishment, against the candidates who would be stooges, spineless leaders committed to the establishment.

They faced an uphill battle in realising the Student Power movement (Kebangkitan Mahasiswa) back in the Seventies. Me being me, I don’t take things at face value. I accepted the fact that the Pro Aspirasi candidates were spineless proxies of the establishment but were their opponent truly independent? A form of idealistic independent thinkers from the student movement?

Now let’s get back to the part where I said to the campaigning candidate that I’d rather have him fight for a water cooler. You see, he was a friend of mine and a candidate from the PMI Alliance group. Once they ran a campaign protesting a move by the student body to bring in KRU (yes, Yusri, Edry and Norman) to perform at our convocation fair. They said KRU was too decadent and did not aspire to the Islamic scholar’s spirit that UTM was promoting.

KRU, the group that sang “AWAS”, was too decadent. This was 2002 or 2003 if I’m not mistaken. To me and many of the students back then, we too weren’t that happy with the move to bring in KRU. No, not because they were decadent but mainly because they’re old, it’s like having Vanilla Ice at your convocation. Talk about keeping in touch with the times. Then this one time they ran a campaign to ban female pillion riders, i.e. a guy riding a bike must not have a female passenger. They also campaigned for a separation of seats in the library because too many students were using it as a dating spot.

To me the only difference between them and the Pro Aspirasi group is that they were actually proxies of various opposition political parties instead of the government. Back then when students shouted at me about “Kebangkitan Mahasiswa” or “Mengembalikan Kuasa Mahasiswa”, I tended to view them as a bunch of posers. How in the world could you have a student power movement when all of the candidates couldn’t think for themselves and their campaigns were based on their alignment to some political party outside? Both groups were merely cows being herded by their masters.

Maybe this thing is unique to my batch and that these days student leaders are more independent. Maybe it was just a UTM thing, I don’t know. Recently Saifuddin Abdullah, the deputy minister of higher education, called for an amendment to the Universities and University Colleges Act to allow students to actively participate in politics.

I don’t feel strongly about it. Nonetheless, I’m not against it. It’s just that I hope that with this new found freedom, if indeed it does happen, it will break that closed, moronic campus politics scenario that I once saw. To me what’s the point of calling yourself a true student movement when you have to check with a certain group each time you make a statement so that it would correlate with the party line.

So here’s some advice to future candidates, don’t be a tool for some political party. Be independent, be critical and most importantly fight for something that your peers can relate to and not what some politician tells you to.

It doesn’t matter if it’s not as idealistic or romantic as you would like it to be — to fight for a water cooler is as just if not an even more noble cause, because your peers can truly benefit from it.

Because if indeed you have these ridiculous manifestos, that is way off from what the students aspire to, you might get to see satirical posters popping up around campus like this one.


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