Khairunnisa’ Jamal – Does Malaysia Truly Needs Its Youth?

Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad once said “The fate of a united and prosperous Malaysia now lies with the young generation”, the country’s future rests on the shoulder of the nation’s youth, especially in the event that their contemporaries from the older generation are no longer around.

“My hope is on the young. A large number of my generation is gone. Whose hands would we leave the fate of this nation to, if not to the young generation?” 

“I plead with the young generation, please learn and grasp every kind of knowledge to transform Malaysia into a developed country.”

If I could describe the Malaysian Government and Politics now, the word “ridiculous” might be my choice. It was seen as a historic turning point, an election that overturned a party that had been in power for more than 60 years. In less than two years later, the new government is out, and the old ruling party back in power. So why did a coalition whose victory had ignited such hopes for change in Malaysia collapse so quickly? Malaysia has a new prime minister after a week of unprecedented political turmoil and uncertainty.

Muhyiddin Yassin is an unassuming career politician who was ejected from the then-government party UMNO in 2016. He joined forces with political heavyweights Mahathir Mohammad and Anwar Ibrahim to form a multi-party, multi-ethnic coalition called Pakatan Harapan (PH). Together they rode a wave of public anger over corruption to inflict the first-ever election defeat on the UMNO-led coalition Barisan Nasional (BN).

Malaysia’s constitutional monarch, King Abdullah, whose role it is to invite a candidate to form a new government, declared that Mr. Muhyiddin had the numbers, and would be sworn in as the country’s eighth Prime Minister, Tun Dr. Mahathir has challenged this and could try to bring the new government down once parliament meets again. But incumbency, and the blessing of a revered monarch, are powerful assets for Mr. Muhyiddin, which will certainly attract waverers to his side.

“The King cannot make political decisions,” says Mustafa Izzuddin at the National University of Singapore.

“But he can play the role of honest broker, bringing the warring sides together. Even then it is unprecedented for a king to do so in Malaysia.”

“But Malaysian politics are in uncharted waters, so revolutionary methods may have been necessary. And the King may have seen Muhyiddin as the most trustworthy and steady of the candidates.”

One question that is worth to be asked? “Is this the future of Malaysia that we are looking for?” — Definitely not. “After all the chaotic dramas and dirty scenes portrayed by the politicians, are they, youth should just be silent and wait for the next telenovela?”— Definitely not. However, “are they truly being given enough space to voice out and act?” Next, “Are the politicians and all the subjects in the political arena appreciating the existence of the youth?” Well, this is going to be an interesting discussion.

It cannot be denied that their movements and voices have been restricted, they are not free enough as in the 70s, the students were really active in reacting to the national issues. Sadly, it seems impossible to see such contributions by the students to happen again now. The students now are not really provided such chances and resources.

Since the enactment of AUKU in 1971 student activism has not been curbed, but instead has intensified significantly. Historically, student activism in the 1940s and 1950s was nationalistic in nature, aligning to the anti-colonial movement and fighting for the independence of the country. Well, they were contributing to the society, do we still get the same chance now? The year 1967 was argued to be the distinguishing year following the Teluk Gong incident, when student activism shifted from nationalistic concerns to local problems of rural poverty, landlessness, and land hunger.

The Teluk Gong incident was a dispute over land between the landless villagers of Teluk Gong and the Government. Mass protests by university students continued and intensified after AUKU with the Tasek Utara and Baling incidents. Specifically, in terms of the Baling incident, two student-led demonstrations were held involving more than 30,000 people in Baling and 5,000 in Kuala Lumpur on 1 and 3 December 1974 respectively, and for the first time police went onto the three university campuses and arrested 1,128 students (and a handful of academics). Why were they being arrested? Just because they defended the local people, and not the government?

This “disruptive” student activism was linked to Communism as the main enemy of the State and Islam at that time by the then Minister of Education at that time, Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad, in his parliamentary debates (Dewan Rakyat 8 April 1975). Student activism was equated to an act of sabotage and treachery against the nation, and therefore the Government felt it had a duty to protect society’s and the universities’ interests by amending AUKU.

The Minister of Education claimed that pockets of students were disrupting education through protests, instigating other students to become involved in their speeches, and indoctrinating new students through university orientation programs to instill a need to fight for perceived injustices in society.

More controversially, these disruptions to education were claimed to be a form of sabotage of the New Economic Policy (NEP). The NEP was the socio-economic policy introduced after the racial riots to address the imbalance between ethnic groups. The Minister argued that the most serious impact of these disruptions was on Bumiputera students, who were seen as the weakest academically, hindering them from making full use of the opportunity to improve their lives through university education.

It clearly can be seen that one of the most disrupting obstacles is the AUKU itself, where it restricts students from being too “activism”, however, the government forgot to address that activism is one of the strongest mechanisms to express the intellectual part of the students. The students might have opinions and ideas over various issues, however, are there any proper platforms for them to place their concerns? If it is not trained in the universities or any academic institutions, where should they start to sharpen their intellects? Back to the role of the university itself. How do the universities contribute back to the society if the movements of the students are being restricted by the act? No self-governing system.

The government and the students, both groups have a significant role in determining the future of Malaysia. It is not just about the government, and it is not just always about the youth who needs to be responsible to produce a better Malaysia. We are tired of listening to the same phrases, “the youth is our hope”, “the youth is the direction of our country”.

Do not say anything if the government cannot provide us those platforms, do not mention about direction if our ways are being blocked and restricted. This is not how the youth should be treated, if the youth is truly the hope for the future, full support should be shown. The law has changed the mentality and the motivation of the youth, they are going to the universities, they are learning, they understand what they learned but it is useless because they do not get to practice it and of course, no contributions to society.

University is the place where the students should be trained as humans who are capable of seeing the good and bad, brave enough to voice out their opinion, passionate enough to give and contribute to society and lastly well-aware of their environment and dare enough to react.

KHAIRUNNISA’ JAMAL,
President of WAWASAN Club IIUM,
Passionate Activist of VIRTUE IIUM.

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