On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

Right way to handle campus politics

Right way to handle campus politicIT would have been hushed up by Universiti Putra Malaysia if it hadn't been captured on video and circulated on the Internet.  

Without the visual impact, the scuffle involving a group of UPM students reported in the newspapers would not have stirred so much interest and unhappiness. 

It would have been dismissed as a minor incident unworthy of national interest but the circulation of the video clip, recorded on a video camera, kept the issue alive. 

Last week, gangsterism reared its ugly head when about 50 "pro-establishment" students intimidated and manhandled seven students belonging to the Gerakan Mahasiswa Maju UPM (UPM Student Progressive Front) said to be linked to Keadilan. 

The pro-government students, who call themselves Kumpulan Aspirasi, were said to be unhappy with the presence of the students who had set up a help counter for new students at the campus canteen. 

The Kumpulan Aspirasi group, led by an elected student council leader, wanted the SPF to leave because it was not a registered body. 

When the SPF students refused, the situation turned rowdy with the Kumpulan Aspirasi students seen pushing, shouting and intimidating the SPF group. Luckily, the ugly spat did not turn physical. 

A police report has been lodged but the police have left the case to be handled by the university authorities. 

Although students are not allowed to group themselves, whether along political, racial or religious line under the University and University Colleges Act, the fact is that they do. Sometimes, with the support of outside political help. 

The Umno and PAS influence is particularly strong on students, especially those from Kelantan, who are the most active in campus politics. 

For the minorities – the Chinese and Indians – who are keen to be involved, they are either pro-government backers, as in the MCA and MIC, or they are with the opposition. 

In the case of the UPM SPF students, they are perceived to be Keadilan supporters, and thus found themselves in a tight spot because the student council is controlled by the pro-government group. It is, in a way, a territorial squabble. 

For Chinese students in predominantly Malay universities, it has never been easy getting elected into the student council because the sad reality is that voting is on racial lines. 

It may be easier in Universiti Malaya and Universiti Sains Malaysia but not in UPM or Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia. Thus, the setting up of unregistered student bodies like the SPF and the Chinese Consultative Council (CCC) in UKM. 

Unlike the SPF, the CCC enjoyed much influence in UKM in the 1980s until the then Education Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim banned it, saying it was communal. 

But the CCC was accepted by the PAS and Umno-inclined groups, with both sides attempting to woo the crucial Chinese vote in student polls. 

They were regarded as the "kingmakers" and the CCC cleverly played that role and gained acceptance as a group. Although it was unregistered, it came under the ambit of the student council. 

I know because I was involved in the formation of the CCC together with several others, including now MCA Youth chief Datuk Liow Tiong Lai, Kelana Jaya MP Loh Seng Kok and Kulim state assemblyman Boey Chin Gan. 

We did not hide the fact that we were supportive of the MCA. The 2,000 Chinese students in the campus knew where we stood and came out in full force to vote for the CCC in a separate election.  

It was illegal but the student council turned up to endorse the poll, which must have given the university authorities a headache. 

In functions organised by the CCC, such as the mooncake festival, the CCC even managed to get MCA leaders and UKM officials to attend, thus giving these activities the seal of approval although it was an unregistered body. 

We could even secure the setting up of a pork-free Chinese food section at the canteen. Armed with written support from the Malay students, the CCC met UKM officials who approved it. 

Although it was hardly an ideal situation, it was an exercise in the sharing of political power and how the different races needed to work together. 

The then Malay student leaders, including many now holding key positions in politics and business, worked well with us. 

In the case of the Kumpulan Aspirasi students, it is obvious that maturity and political finesse is missing. The student leader, seen on video, behaved in an outrageous manner and certainly unbecoming of an elected student leader. 

The SPF students, on the other hand, failed to realise their potential as a decisive factor, and had chosen, instead, to limit their role. Their affiliation to the opposition, if correct, has surely not endeared them in a place where they are a minority. 

But the Higher Education Ministry and UPM must never allow those involved in the bullying to be left unpunished, no matter what their political inclination may be. 

It is not for the student council to take the law into their own hands. An inquiry must be conducted and the culprits involved, particularly the elected student leader, must be suspended. If no action is taken, UPM would be sending the wrong signal. 

The university is a place for students to study and broaden their knowledge. It is also a place for students, who are interested in politics, to sharpen their interaction skills, especially with the other races. 

It is also a place for them to cultivate relationships with their fellow students, regardless of race, which would help in their network, when they graduate. 

Differences in opinion and political inclination must be accepted as a fact of life. The immaturity of the UPM students has not helped those pushing for the repeal of the UCCA but may even push the Government to rethink its earlier plan to relax the rules.