UM paves the way for student-run campus polls

Suara Siswa supporters marching to the Student Affairs building.

PETALING JAYA: Elections for the Student Representative Council at the country’s oldest university this year will be fully organised by students, in a first for Malaysian public varsities.

At Universiti Malaya (UM), a Campus Election Committee (CEC), made up entirely of students, has been set up to organise and oversee the elections which will be held on March 4.

This follows the government’s announcement in September that campus elections at public universities will be free from interference by university administrations.

“This is the first time in the history of UM, and also Malaysia, that we’re allowing students to conduct elections on their own,” deputy vice-chancellor for UM’s Student Affairs and Alumni Division, Abdul Aziz Abdul Rahman, told FMT.

He added that UM wanted to empower the students and prove that they are capable of managing their own affairs.

“We believe this can develop them into well-rounded students. When they finish their studies, they will carry these leadership values along with them.

“This is good for Malaysia. This is our contribution,” he said.

Students appeared to be taking the development in stride, with about 300 of them marching to the Student Affairs and Alumni Division building to show their support for student parties during the recent nominations.

Spirits high, they chanted party slogans as they marched, waving colourful flags.

In a break from previous practice, student parties now enjoy greater freedom in what they can put up on their banners, flyers and posters.

Voting stations will be placed at every faculty instead of only the Tunku Chancellor Hall, while the student political parties contesting will be allowed a longer campaign period.

They have been given the freedom to nominate any of their members without the need for prior approval from their faculty deans.

CEC president Vanessa Scully said the main challenge now was to win the students’ trust after promising them a fair and transparent election.

“This is a situation where students handle students,” she said. “It’s something no one has experienced since the 1960s.”

Student candidates registering to take part in the elections, to be held on March 4.

Scully, a law student, said the CEC had managed to organise the elections in just four months, with efforts beginning in November.

This year’s elections will see a five-cornered fight among Suara Siswa, Penggerak Mahasiswa, Neo-Siswa, Harmoni and Pewaris.

FMT spoke to the three biggest groups – Suara Siswa, Penggerak Mahasiswa and Neo-Siswa – about their causes.

Besides calling for direct participation in UM’s decision-making on policies, Suara Siswa has pledged to improve student autonomy by reintroducing the student union.

The establishment of student unions has been restricted since the enactment of the Universities and University Colleges Act 1971 (UUCA).

Their manifesto has also pledged to enhance campus safety and guarantee students’ freedom of association.

Wong Yan Ke, the leader of component party, Umany, one of the three associated with Suara Siswa, said allowing the students to organise elections on their own was a step in the right direction.

Penggerak Mahasiswa, meanwhile, has won campus elections over the past three years and is confident it will win again.

Its representative, Muhammad Saidul Husaini, 22, said they were striving for better student welfare this time instead of just student autonomy.

“We have been working with the university administration to improve students’ lives all this while,” he added.

Over the past three years, he said they had given out free laptops for students in need, started funds for the poorer students and improved the efficiency of campus buses.

“If we win this year, we want to work on issues regarding national education policies, like the National Higher Education Fund (PTPTN) student loans.”

Meanwhile, Islamic party Neo-Siswa has pledged to encourage more forward-thinking, intellectual students through its programmes and initiatives.

“We want to see students using their knowledge to contribute to society,” its representative, Mohamad Syafiq Mohd Adabi, 22, said.

They also want to use Islam as a solution to tackle the common woes faced by students.

“We have student welfare issues such as a lack of campus buses, bad WiFi reception and a shortage of food. We propose a ‘wakaf’ system for the students, so the funds can go towards upgrading university facilities,” he said.

They also want to encourage more “dakwah”, or spread of Islamic knowledge, within the university.