KUALA LUMPUR: After 47 years, university and college students can now participate in on-campus political activities without fear of repercussion.
This is after the Dewan Rakyat, tonight, in a historic unanimous vote cutting across the political divide, voted to pass amendments to the Universities and University Colleges Act 1971 (UUCA), and the Private Higher Educational Institutions Act 1996 (PHEIA), and the Educational Institutions (Discipline) Act 1976 (EIDA).
The first amendment was to remove subsection (c) of Section 15 (2) of UUCA, which previously banned students from taking part in political party activities within the grounds of universities and colleges.
The second amendment is to remove subsection (c) Section 47 (2) of PHEIA, which previously banned students from partaking in political activities on private higher educational institutions campus.
The third amendment was to remove subsection (c) of Section 10 (2) of EIDA, in order to give students the right to be involved in political activities on campus.
The amendment to these Acts also state that any ongoing disciplinary action against students for participation in on-campus political activities under the Acts will be discontinued when the amendments take effect tonight.
Twenty lawmakers took part in the debate on the bills, among them Datuk Seri Shahidan Kassim (BN-Umno-Arau), RSN Rayer (PH-DAP-Jelutong), Maria Chin Abdullah (PH-PKR-Petaling Jaya), Ahmad Fadhli Shaari (Pas-Pasir Mas), and Lukanisman Awang Sauni (GPS-PBB-Sibuti).
All unanimously voiced support for the amendment when the Bills went for second reading and later for third reading in the Dewan Rakyat.
In the wrapping-up speech on debate on the UUCA bill before it was passed, Education Minister Dr Maszlee Malik said the amendments was merely the start of widening the democratic space for students of institutes of higher learning to create future democratic leaders out of students today.
"Tonight's amendment (to Section 15 (2) (c) of UUCA) is only the first step and not the last. UUCA will be abolished by 2020," he said, adding that a technical committee formed by the ministry is looking into the matter.
Maszlee said that the amendment would destroy the culture of fear that have besieged students all these while. It signals to them that they are now free from this chain that burdened them.
"This is the culmination of the promise made by the government. However, the freedom comes with responsibility," he said.
On Dec 4, Dr Maszlee Malik tabled the three bills for first reading.
In the run-up to the 14th General Election, the Pakatan Harapan Manifesto promised to repeal UUCA and other laws.
The UUCA was tightened to curtail student activism following the Baling protests in December 1974.
Thousands of university students had demonstrated in Baling, Kedah, to show support to rubber tappers struggling to earn a living after the collapse of global rubber prices.
After 1975, amendments were not only made to UUCA but also other laws to widen the restrictions to students at both public and private institutes of higher learning, among others.
Prior to today, UUCA had its last amendment back in 2012.