On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

Winds of change blowing at varsities

Although many analysts were surprised by the outcome of
the results, pro-Umno students had been making major inroads in campuses – a
domain for opposition parties over the past three years. At the last campus
polls, pro-Umno students were in the majority in only two student bodies.

Although university rules forbid students from contesting under the same
banner, the contest in the public universities has long been a proxy fight
between Umno and PAS.

The campus election rules are strict. Candidates are forbidden from even
adopting similar poster design to prevent students from contesting under the
same faction.

At Universiti Utara Malaysia, where voting is compulsory, contenders are
required to put on a jacket and tie for their election posters.

But the campus fight has long been a feud between contenders wearing the
trademark PAS white skullcaps and goatees and the moderate Umno students in
long-sleeved shirts.

At universities controlled by PAS students, the authorities often had to deal
with attempts by students to bring PAS leaders to speak at forums.

In some cases, these pro-PAS leaders would block any form of entertainment in
campuses, including concerts by pop singers, claiming it was forbidden.

Several years ago, such extremist students staged a protest against a concert
by Sheila Majid at Universiti Malaya while in the 1980s, pro-PAS elements
attempted to stop a performance by the Alleycats at Universiti Kebangsaan

So sensitive were these pro-PAS students that I once found myself reprimanded
for wearing a pair of Bermuda shorts at the residential college while studying
at UKM.

The pro-PAS students have always been strong in UM and UKM because of the
active participation by students from the Islamic Faculty.

In UKM, some of the Islamic Faculty lecturers have been accused of taking
sides. PAS president Datuk Fadzil Noor and another leader, Datuk Dr Harun Din,
were once lecturers at the faculty.

At the IIU polls, the pro-government side was upset with student affairs dean
Sidek Baba, perceived as a supporter of Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, because of
allegations that he had made changes to the rules that helped the

These pro-opposition student groups became stronger when Anwar was sacked from
the Government, with even the Chinese students coming together with reformasi
and Islamist groups.

Previously, especially in UKM, the Chinese students had traditionally backed
the pro-Umno group, given the links between MCA Youth and Chinese students at
the varsity.

The pro-government students eventually lost their hold on Universiti Sains
Malaysia, long perceived as a more liberal institution.

But the recent showing by the pro-Umno students is a reflection of the
perception of the young towards the establishment.

Some academics even believe that the Sept 11 incident in the United States
played a major role as the Islamist groups appear to have lost their appeal.
They said students were now more appreciative of the political and economic
stability in the country.

If they had once been critical of Datuk Seri Dr Mahathir Mohamad's leadership,
they now salute him for his consistency and far-sightedness.

But it cannot be denied that former reformasi student leaders, who now back
Barisan Nasional, have played a crucial role in guiding the candidates in
election strategy.

These former leaders had maintained their links and enabled Barisan leaders to
touch base with students, who got to listen first-hand what the Government was
doing for the nation.

Puteri Umno activists, some said, helped with their links with student groups
and had swung the women votes in favour of the pro-Umno contenders.

But the battle isn't over. Both sides will want to keep their hold on the
campuses because at stake are the country's best and brightest students who
will one day head the leadership of both parties.