“TOO many dos and don'ts.”
That seems to be the main complaint about the campaign leading up to the campus polls.
Undergraduates in public universities all over the country will elect the student councils for the 2006-2007 session tomorrow in what is seen as increasingly stiff rules.
The rules range from the colour of campaign posters to a ban on candidates forming coalitions or camps.
For instance, only the colours black and white were allowed for posters in one university because the tendency among some students to use blue or green in the past had been associated with Barisan Nasional and PAS.
At Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM), candidates are not allowed individual posters. Instead, the university administration has issued a standard-type poster with names and photographs of all candidates.
At the International Islamic University, candidates are required to take an English proficiency test while at Universiti Malaya (UM), one had to have a 3.0 grade point average to qualify.
But such administration-sanctioned tests do not necessarily favour the pro-establishment candidates because a large number of them reportedly flunked their tests.
The campaign period, shortened from five to three days a few years ago, is also still a major sore point.
Some pointed out that there were only “two days and five hours” to campaign because nominations took up most of the first day.
“It's impossible to reach out to thousands of students over two days,” said USM graduate Lee Huat Seng, who is also secretary of the Malaysia Youth and Student Democratic Movement.
There are so many dos and don’ts that the Election Procedures handbook issued by Universiti Putra Malaysia (UPM) runs into a wordy 29 pages.
Some say the rules are reminiscent of school, that “the only thing missing are the school uniforms” and that it will stifle creativity and critical thinking among students.
“It's like asking students to run for a contest, but you tie up their hands and feet,” said former Malaysian Youth Council president Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah.
Still, there is no shortage of candidates and contests, with only UPM reporting a boycott of sorts by the anti-establishment group.
This is in contrast to last year, when the anti-establishment camp boycotted the polls in some five universities, resulting in a clean sweep by the pro-establishment candidates.
And despite the ban on groupings, candidates showed their alignment by marching with their respective groups to the nomination centres with banners and chanting slogans.
For instance, in UM, the pro-establishment group is known as Aspirasi while the opposing side is known as Gagasan.
Underhanded tactics of mainstream politics has also crept into student campaigns with anonymous booklets being distributed in USM, labelling those not with the Aspirasi candidates as “illegal” and even associating them with socialism and communism.
Abim or the Muslim Youth League Malaysia, which used to be a third force on campus, seems to have disappeared.
PAS politicians have complained about dinners and luncheons hosted for students the last few weeks by Puteri Umno and Umno Youth figures although they were also moving among the students in a less open manner.
“Universities are still important fishing grounds for political parties. Many top politicians today used to be student leaders,” said Saifuddin.
Still, the student elections are not without some real issues, which range from “bread-and-butter” concerns like scholarships being paid on time and hostel conditions, to big picture matters like the Universities and Universities-Colleges Act.
Meanwhile, the campuses to watch will be UIA, UM and Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, where the contests are most intense and which the political parties consider their premier fishing grounds.
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