Malaysia's Cabinet approves legal changes allowing students to engage in politics

PETALING JAYA (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) – Malaysia’s Cabinet has approved legal amendments that will allow college and university students to participate in political activities on campus.

The amendments to the Universities and University Colleges Act (UUCA) 1971 will involve abolishing sections which curtail students’ questioning of politicians and prevent students from engaging in party events where they study, said Education Minister Dr Maszlee Malik in a media statement on Saturday (Nov 10).

He said this move is in line with the political transformation brought by the government in strengthening democracy and to provide more room for university students to speak up and engage in political activities on campus.

This move will also produce graduates who are “balanced” and able to “express opinions” on current issues, he said.

The government has also announced plans to lower the voting age to 18 years old, from 21 years old currently.

The UUCA provisions were tightened up to restrict student activism in 1975, after the landmark Baling protests of Dec 1974.

That was when thousands of university students demonstrated in the small town of Baling, Kedah, in solidarity with rubber tappers who were struggling to make ends meet after global rubber prices collapsed.

They were led by then-prominent student activists like current prime minister-in-waiting Anwar Ibrahim and social activist Hishamuddin Rais.

Since 1975, the restrictions have applied to students not only at public universities, but also at private higher education institutions, polytechnics, community colleges and teacher institutes.

Dr Maszlee said that the draft bill on the proposed amendment of several UUCA provisions is expected to be tabled at the current Parliament session, which will end in mid-December.

The amendments also involve the Private Higher Education Institutions Act 1996 (Act 555) and the Education Institutions (Discipline) Act 1976 (Act 174).

Dr Maszlee said the approved amendments are a positive development as some provisions in the current UUCA need to be changed to suit the new government’s transformation plans.

He added that this is just the first step in transforming higher education in line with the advancements of technology and information, as the Ministry wants a new higher education law to replace the UUCA by 2020.

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