Vince Tan shares with us his experience running in his university’s student elections.
When I first decided to run for the office of Student Representative Council for the Faculty of Law, University of Malaya (UM), I knew it was going to be a battle against the status quo. In order to challenge status quo, we needed to send a strong message to the “Conservative” groups that change was going to happen. It has been many years since the faculty last had a partisan elected representative from either the pro-establishment camp or the anti-establishment camp. What we were fighting against was the one-party system practiced in the faculty, portraying that only independent candidates should be entitled to represent the faculty and not candidates coming from student parties, so that law students can maintain their impartiality and promote the “holier-than-thou” concept. However, we had other thoughts in mind and with it we sought to challenge this status quo in the form of Progressive, University of Malaya (PROGRESSIVE), a newly-formed student party challenging the hegemony of the independent candidates.
We started off our campaign by marching to Parliament to give a memorandum to Parliamentarians to protest the use of the e-voting system in our campus election. The e-voting system is prone to fraud and vote manipulation, as well as discrepancies as has happened at Universiti Islam Antarabangsa Malaysia (UIAM), where the Vice-Chancelor had to announce a manual re-election due to discrepancies in the e-voting system. A Member of Parliament (MP) from Pakatan Rakyat received our memorandum and highlighted the issue in a press conference. Together with us was the President of Solidariti Mahasiswa Malaysia, Mohamed Bukhairy and a representative from Pro-Mahasiswa Universiti Malaysia Sabah Kampus Labuan (UMSKAL). The memorandum highlighted issues of vulnerability to fraud in the system, as well as the lack of voter secrecy, as a voter’s full particulars are displayed on the computer screen once his log in information is keyed in. We believe bringing issues faced by the mahasiswa to the highest level of forum in the country would be the best way to get our voices heard.
As a new student party it was best that people be clear about our party’s ideology. PROGRESSIVE is based on the fight for social justice, progressivism and moderation. We want to promote a new brand of politics in campus based on ideas and not on race. The main idea that brings PROGRESSIVE together is the fact that it is multi-racial by nature, consisting of members who are Malay, Chinese, Indian, Bidayuh, Iban and others, coming together for a common cause. This is probably the core principle of PROGRESSIVE. The advocacy of the multi-racial agenda is relevant in the context of the divide-and-rule policy which has long been enshrined in our nation’s history, separating its people based on race and religion, and the only way to fight such a policy is to show that multi-racial politics can work in a modern society. I believe that someone has to champion this cause and who else better to do it than my partner, Nadeem Rafiq and me. In our team, there is Haziq Abdul Aziz, the President of Mahasiswa Keadilan Malaysia, which is a Party Keadilan Rakyat (PKR)-endorsed student group, as our campaign manager and Richtyne Yusof, Secretary General of Mahasiswa Keadilan Malaysia as our assistant campaign manager.
In our study of voting trends, we found that most public universities would face voting trends of this sort:
1) People voting for candidates based on their own race, for example, Malays voting for Malay and Chinese voting for Chinese.
2) A guy would vote for a girl with a pretty face or a girl would vote for the guy with a handsome face.
3) Voting candidates who are their friends.
4) Those with political awareness who vote for the party of their choice.
The list goes on, but these are a few points which I wish to highlight. We think that it is wrong to vote based on the colour of a person’s skin, the look of his face, or just because a person is your friend. Students should vote for candidates based on their ideas, manifesto, credibility and track record, and not on issues like race, religion, or status. PROGRESSIVE is all about ideas, student-friendly policies, and advocating student rights. We seek to change the mindset of the students by leading them by example, to show that what is in a person’s heart and mind is more important than a person’s appearance or the colour of his skin. PROGRESSIVE challenges the legitimacy of the university’s administration where its officials are political appointees, which enjoy wide discretionary powers, as compared to elected student representatives who truly represent the voices of the students playing only a minor role in advisory terms. These are the most fundamental principles of PROGRESSIVE.
Unity is among races in this country is indeed a problem, much less to mention it in local public universities. Only a fool would say that of the university students are united as one and not divided based on race and religion. The same goes for those who actually believe there is unity among races in our faculty because “Unity cannot be deemed to be there, it must be seen to be there”. This would probably be the effect of the divide-and-rule policy of the UMNO/BN regime, which was implemented through discriminatory treatment and intolerance towards differences due to diversity. Everywhere you go, you can see one corner of Malay students seating together and speaking in their native tongue, while at another corner you can see Chinese students doing the same thing, not to mention the Indian students as well. National integration indeed remains a distant possibility with the current situation in this country. The voting trend shows that students still vote for candidates based on their race, and not their ideas and the stance of a candidate. This goes to say our society remains today divided by our differences and not united by our common grounds, despite what we have in common being more than what we have in difference. That is why PROGRESSIVE is fighting against the divide-and-rule policy as well as advocating for multi-racial unity.
My friends and I decided that if we are to go into this election with a chance of stealing away those two seats from the independent candidates, we had better be ready to campaign the best ever election the faculty has seen in years. So we underwent to talk to as many voters and attend as many faculty events as possible, in the hopes of interacting in a more inclusive manner in politics, as well as to devise the most creative campaign the faculty had ever seen. From t-shirts to buttons, posters to banners, colour-printed manifestoes to public speeches as well as round-the-clock social media campaigning, we probably hit them with everything we had. No other candidate put in as many hours and as much effort as we did. The best thing about this campaign was being able to create opportunities for other students who had never before participates in campus politics. Not only did we create a strong machinery during the campaign period, but you can still see the “UBAH” spirit that we have been advocating even after the elections, with many people still wearing our t-shirts believing that one day CHANGE will come. Believe it or not, the way we campaigned managed to inspire a lot of people. It was the first time in many years that the Faculty of Law had seen such competition, which was so intense with all candidates giving everything they had to win. One of the eventual winners actually cried in front of the whole class just to get sympathy votes, based on what I heard. Talk about being desperate!
I actually realise that I am quite lucky to have friends who stood by me through thick and thin, staying till late at night preparing posters and banners and folding manifestoes. These are beautiful memories which I will carry with me for the rest of my life, and if I ever venture into big politics as a candidate in the future, I would gladly take all these people along with me in my campaign, together along with the experience I had. They are people you cannot buy with money and they would certainly not compromise their principles just for their own benefit. These are the people who I hold dearly and close to my heart and have my upmost respect towards them.
In the end, I realise that being in the Opposition does not mean you will win and that you should expect a political tsunami to happen in your favour. Being in the Opposition means you will taste defeat and only win if you are lucky enough. So why do we still stand as Opposition or Anti-Establishment candidates? The answer is simple: because we have principles. We are not going to lie to everyone saying that we are independent to the core, but eventually selling out the people who voted for us by siding with either the Pro-Establishment or Anti-Establishment parties, neither are we to associate ourselves with the establishment which oppresses the people we seek to liberate. The results was of course not in our favour, as many still opted for the status quo, but my partner and I managed to get 142 and 136 votes out of the 371 voters who turn out to vote, losing out to the183 and 150 votes the eventual winners had. This shows that we indeed have strong support from the grassroot members of the faculty, and just as we seen in Malaysian politics, being shaped by how the young generation will cast their votes, I believe that one day CHANGE will happen when the “new blood” kicks out the old “conservatives” who advocate “KETUANAN CALON BEBAS”.