Student activism, a norm in democracies

David Choo & Margaret Tan
21 July 2003

Allow me to comment on your news report: Police stop student march, one arrested but later released.

It is a shameful irony that while the police has proven to be incompetent in fighting serious crimes such as Canny Ong’s case and the allegations of triad infiltration into MCA, it is still obsessed with doing political jobs for the ruling parties with taxpayers’ money.

Students’ demonstrations and activism are part and parcel of any normal, open and democratic society. Only communist countries like China, North Korea and Cuba, or totalitarian regimes like those of Burmese junta and Saddam Hussein in the pre-war years, suppress peaceful demonstrations. [SDP note: The writers forgot Singapore.]

In normal, open and democratic societies like the US, UK, Australia, India and Europe (including ex-communist countries in Eastern Europe like Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic), peaceful demonstrations are not only allowed by law, but also protected by the police. Their police is people-friendly, but ours is people-hating.

The Foreign Minister of UK, Jack Straw, for example, was a vocal student activist in the 1970s. Now, he has become a prominent and responsible politician in a democracy.

The forefathers of our nation like Tunku Abdul Rahman and Tun Abdul Razak were also active in politics in London when they pursued their higher education there. So was Singapore’s Senior Minister, Lee Kuan Yew. [SDP note: Unfortunately, we all know what happened to Mr Lee.]

I myself was also a student activist in Australia in the early 1980s. I led mammoth demonstrations to oppose the rise of tuition fees. I remember Victoria state police men and women as civilised and law-abiding. They protected us even though we shouted anti-government slogans.

I (and my wife who was a fellow demonstrator) not only graduated with distinction but have become successful professionals in Malaysia. We think student activism, including peaceful demonstrations, were part and parcel of our personal growing up process. Our experiences in normal, open and democratic societies like Australia have certainly benefited us greatly.

We are more skilful in public speaking and debate. We are more knowledgeable about human and social relations. We are better organisers of human beings. These social skills we acquired as student activists in Australia can never be learnt from textbooks, academic seminars, training camps or motivation courses.

No wonder we now see graduates from local universities who are only good in rigidly quoting from textbooks and official newspapers to support their arguments and reasoning in workplaces, but utterly lacking in social skills and individual creativity, independence and originality in thinking.

It is time we have a paradigm shift in politics. As Malaysia strives to become a developed countries as envisioned in Vision 2020, our political system and the mentality of the police must not be frozen in 0202.

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