Home Civil Society Voices Election 2022: Students, a lone satirist, professors and Malaysian politics – Gerak

Election 2022: Students, a lone satirist, professors and Malaysian politics – Gerak

Campuses have become passionate battle grounds for politics in a test of freedom of expression

Fahmi Reza

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We are a couple of days away from yet another eventful general election.

The outdoor campaigning, by all accounts, has been rather subdued, at least from the Barisan Nasional-Perikatan Nasional side.

The weather, of course, has not been helpful, drenching many supporters of all sides and preventing them from attending the ceramah. For the BN, the relatively empty ceramah venues seem to now prove true that it was an ill-advised decision – despite the warnings and predictions – to dissolve Parliament and hold a general election at the heart of the monsoon season.

This decision was made probably out of desperation. After all, the court cases – for money laundering, fraud and, simply, blatant plundering – faced by their leaders needed to be halted, even if temporarily.

Former Prime Minister Najib Razak of BN is already serving a sentence for corruption, having exhausted all avenues in a trial process characterised by endless applications and excuses from the defence for delays.

There is also a sense of urgency on the side of the opposition and its supporters, as the nation has seldom seen the kind of crises that we are facing.

Having barely recovered from the pandemic, we are witnessing a resurgence of Covid due to a highly infectious new strain of the virus. The country is also facing spiralling inflation, shortages of certain essential food items, transportation crises and other national challenges.

There is also the global effect of climate change, an existential crisis to humanity that no country on earth can ignore.

It is within this serious context that we see some of the more enlightened segments of our society throwing themselves on the front lines, to either voice their support for a particular political coalition or educate the public on the seriousness of the issues facing Malaysia.

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It is no surprise, therefore, that campuses have become passionate battle grounds for politics in a test of freedom of expression.

Across Malaysia over the past week or so, several campuses have put up flip boards for students to freely tack on their coloured stickers indicating support for one of the three major coalitions contesting in the general election.

Several of these informal polls, like the more scientific ones done by professional pollsters, clearly show greater support for the opposition coalition Pakatan Harapan.

Next, an academic group, mainly retired public university professors and calling themselves Profesor Melayu G70 (G70 Malay Professors), met at a local hotel to release a press statement that sided with PH and its leader, Anwar Ibrahim. 

Then there is the one-man roadshow for political literacy by artist-social activist Fahmi Reza targeted at university students, many of them first-time voters after the PH government lowered the Malaysian minimum voting age to 18.

Fahmi is as prominent as any public figure in Malaysia through his satirical drawings of royalty, politicians and universities. His ongoing court cases and repeated run-ins with the police are a testimony to his willingness to put his personal liberty on the line for his democratic ideals.

His rudimentary ‘kelas demokrasi’ (democracy class) – fulfilling at best a Politics 101 course at tertiary level – has nevertheless been attended by hundreds of students at each venue.

The pushback, however, has been immediate and sometimes concerted, from the Ministry of Higher Education ministry, insipid university administrations, and academics having close relations with the political establishment.

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Students at one private university, for example, were told to take down the flip board they had put up. The ‘request’ originated from the Ministry of Higher Education.

Official circulars prohibiting academics from getting involved in politics – perhaps partially in response to the Profesor Melayu G70 press statement – are now appearing on various social media apps.

The composition of the G70 – some of them being retired, and allegedly no longer entitled to be called professors – has been the subject of criticism of a pro-establishment group of academics known as Majlis Profesor Negara (the National Professors Council or MPN).

This pushback might have seemed petty and would have been ignored had these administrations and academics involved in the pushback not been from teaching and learning centres. Indeed, some of them were in fact from the top five Malaysian universities.

All the public universities Fahmi visited evicted him before he could conduct his ‘Democracy class’. Only two, and these being non-public universities, have allowed him to speak on their campuses.

So where does Gerak stand in all of this? We condemn the official and mainstream reactions to what are essentially practices in democracy.

Indeed, instead of trying to find out why is it the students prefer Fahmi Reza’s ‘Kelas Democracy’ to say, a Malaysia studies-type compulsory course (and there are a number of them), we see attempts to swiftly prevent dissenting and non-pro-establishment views – even to the point of attempting to censor these views – from those who profess to be leaders, educators and administrators.

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This is the tragedy of contemporary Malaysian academia. We in Gerak stand with our colleagues, students and the activists who have been bold enough to speak their minds regardless of the risks.

We continue to hope that the outcome of the upcoming general election will see a reversal of these tendencies within Malaysia’s higher education environment. – Gerak

The views expressed in Aliran's media statements and the NGO statements we have endorsed reflect Aliran's official stand. Views and opinions expressed in other pieces published here do not necessarily reflect Aliran's official position.

AGENDA RAKYAT - Lima perkara utama
  1. Tegakkan maruah serta kualiti kehidupan rakyat
  2. Galakkan pembangunan saksama, lestari serta tangani krisis alam sekitar
  3. Raikan kerencaman dan keterangkuman
  4. Selamatkan demokrasi dan angkatkan keluhuran undang-undang
  5. Lawan rasuah dan kronisme
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