Although the date and the delegates’ list for a student congress in Malaysia were confirmed and finalized quite some time back, the one thing that kept changing until the last minute was the venue, something that we in Singapore are far too familiar with.
Within the space of a week, the organizers of the event have had to keep changing Malaysia’s National University Students Movement Congress 2010 no less than three times.
But braving through all the troubles and difficulties put on their way, the university students steeled themselves and finally conducted the event at Petaling Jaya Town Council Hall on 20 March.
The one-day congress, the first ever, was organized by the Malaysian University Students Solidarity Movement, known by its Malay acronym SMM. It consists of six student bodies.
The main objective of the congress was to re-organize the students and subsequently form their largest movement in Malaysia.
I was there to witness how committed and spirited Malaysian students are to the principles of their movement.
The hall was constantly filled with the chanting of slogans by the more than 500 students who had gathered for the occasion. Their most prominent slogan that kept reverberating was ‘Student Power’.
The opening address was given by Ms Nurul Izzah, MP for Lembah Pantai and daughter of Malaysia’s opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim. She spoke on the importance of the roles of the university students in the country and reminded the delegates that the future of Malaysia depended on the struggle of their present activism.
Saudara Hilman, leader of one of SMM’s component groups, the Independent Graduate Movement (KAMI), gave a rousing speech in which he criticized those who say students should not be involved in politics or any national issues.
He said, ‘Our movement is non-partisan. We do not support nor endorse any political group be it the opposition or the ruling BN coalition. But non-partisan does not mean non-participation. We are ready to support the ideas and principles that will benefit the people and the students.’
The congress ended with the delegates singing the SMM anthem with gusto. They plan to hold the congress annually to reaffirm the movement’s commitment to democratic principles as well as university autonomy and academic freedom.
After the congress came to a close, I began my discussions with all the student leaders present on the possibility of future cooperation.
The Malaysian student leaders extended their well wishes to SDP and its YD leadership and expressed their fond hopes for student activism to become alive once again in Singapore.
Student activism in Singapore was not always that quiet. In the 1970s, Mr Tan Wah Piow and other student leaders at the then University of Singapore fought for equality and workers’ welfare.
The PAP then cracked down on them, prosecuting and convicting Mr Tan for “rioting”. Mr Tan is currently in the UK practicing as a lawyer.
Let’s hope the fresh breeze of change blowing across the Causeway will reach Singapore’s shores as well in the near future.
Muhd Khalis is the Programme Director of the party’s youth wing, The Young Democrats (YD).