Yes to campus parties but no to race and religion in politics

The news about the freedom to set up political parties on campus, recently announced by Education Minister Maszlee Malik, is most welcome indeed to someone like me who has been writing aggressively about the academic culture at public universities. However, this bit of news must be tempered with an important cautionary understanding.

My message is very simple: I do not welcome a Barisan Nasional 2.0 or Pakatan Harapan 2.0 based on racial or religious issues. We must build a new nation devoid of undergraduates who are mired in these two hindrances to real progress and civilising efforts.

Firstly, I would like to advise the education ministry to set up a policy about student politics with respect to the membership of any political party on campus. The policy is that all parties must show that they have at least 20% student membership comprising those of another race or religion. There should not be any party that is all Malay, all Chinese or all Indian. For that matter, there should not be any party that consists of all Muslims or Christians under this 20% rule.

If the membership of a party falls below the 20% rule, it should be put on hold for two years, and if its membership drive to obtain 20% interracial or inter-religious membership fails, the party should be dissolved. If we are ever to stamp out the politics of race and religion in Malaysia, now is the time.

Secondly, the ministry should consider a policy prohibiting any political party that is based on racial or religious ideology to be set up on campus. There should not be a Parti Mahasiswa Melayu, Parti Mahasiswa Cina or Parti Mahasiswa Kadazan. Neither should there be a Parti Mahasiswa Islam, Parti Mahasiswa Kristian or Parti Mahasiswa Hindu. Parties can have any ideology except that which is based on the superiority of race or religion.

However, political parties that have satisfied the 20% rule of interracial membership can align themselves with any of the race- or religion-based national parties in existence. This is inevitable because if we want students to understand real politics, they must be concerned about or even part of a larger parent party.

We must understand that national parties such as Umno, MCA and MIC were born in the early years of independence when there was mistrust and uncertainty between the races. The three race-based parties were a product of historical expedience and cultural cohesion. But after 60 years of Merdeka, we should no longer accept these kinds of parties. They have already outlived their purpose.

The three parties have succeeded in bringing their agendas to the table, and the present economic stability is testament to that historical formulation. But all things must evolve. A decade ago, MCA and MIC were on their last legs. Now Umno is in its death throes. These parties are no longer relevant.

We must also address the fact that PPBM and Amanah were formed out of racial and religious expedience. PPBM was set up to woo the Malay votes away from Umno. Now, it is set to become Umno 2.0 – worse luck for Malaysians!

Amanah was set up to woo traditional PAS supporters after the split between conservatives and progressive leaders. PPBM has no ideology whatsoever except to eventually become another Umno. Amanah may become a truly progressive Muslim party, but I am still nervous about religion being its core ideology and its 99% Muslim membership.

In my idea of an ideal Malaysia, neither of these parties should exist by the next election. But that is wishful thinking. The only parties of worth, to my mind, are DAP and PKR. I was not sure about PKR when it was a “free-Anwar-from-prison” party. It did not seem to have a strong ideology although why the party never took Anwar’s Asian Renaissance book as its Bible, I will never know. But the party has grown to be a serious “Malaysia Baru” party as shown in the recent party election, where droves of people from all ethnic backgrounds came out to vote for the party leadership.

DAP has been a solid socialist-economic party from day one. It is a pity that the party is still viewed as racist by ignorant Malays. Its strong line against receiving titles or honorifics speaks volumes of its commitment to be a servant to the simple citizens of Malaysia. It’s a pity that there are some ignorant Malays who claim such a noble stand is a sign of “kurang ajar” towards those who award the titles. To me, it is those Malays who possess the “ajaran yang kurang”.

Thirdly, the education ministry should consider prohibiting political parties on campus from being funded by any external sources. All campus political parties must find their own financial sources through membership fees, educational activities like tutoring, and seminar events or professional consultancy services. Campus political parties can invite any of the leaders of national parties as advisers, but must not accept any form of financial or promissory backing.

Fourthly, campus political parties can propose their own candidates for the general election on their own ticket or that of any national party. I have no issue with that because campaigning requires a lot of effort and resources as well as machinery. It would be a great day to see young, fresh faces from universities instead of the tired old faces of MPs hurling nasty words in Parliament.

Fifthly, all political parties should be encouraged to take up one or more of the 17 sustainable development goals as their party ideology so that we can change the race, religion and longkang tersumbat narrative. We need new blood, new ideas and a new narrative to move forward. Let us allow Bung Moktar, Tajuddin Abdul Rahman and Noh Omar to retire from Parliament. I hope they will no longer be in Parliament to shout their verbal abuse, racial sentiments and bad pantuns.

Finally, I wish to say that the education ministry under Maszlee has made a bold and powerful move. However, I advise caution so that such a move does not perpetuate the cancer of race, religion and petty politics that we have been stuck with for more than half a century.

The future of this country lies with our children, and who better to govern and steer it than our own university graduates.