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18-08-2010 11:31

In youth we trust or not

IN Malaysia, we have many restrictive laws worth amending or repealing. There’s the dreaded Internal Security Act which allows for detention without trial. Then there’s the Official Secrets Act which is the opposite of the Freedom of Information Act (found in many countries but not in Malaysia). And there’s the Printing Presses and Publications Act which hangs like a guillotine above editors and publishers of newspapers and magazines.

Former Prime Minister Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi might not have done much to change these laws but he was right in saying that we can’t become a truly developed nation by having first world infrastructure and third world mentality. Such acts are common in third world, not first world, societies.

Another law that’s out of place in today’s world is the Universities and University Colleges Act (UUCA) which has been in the news lately. Despite calls by Deputy Higher Education Minister Saifuddin Abdullah to allow students to take part in politics, the cabinet has refused to change the government’s policy on this matter.

Not surprisingly, the man who introduced the ban, former Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, is against any changes to the Act. He says students should focus on studies and not be distracted by politics.

But is politics really a distraction? What about partying or clubbing? How about competitive sports? Or any extra-curricular activities for that matter. All these take time away from reading textbooks. Should we ban them too?

The reality is young people come of age during their university and college years. It’s during this time that they are most curious about things happening in the country that are affecting their lives.

You can ban them from taking part in political activities but you can’t stop them from reading online news and blogs relating to politics. Neither can you prevent them from thinking and chatting with their friends about politics. Their political awakening is going to happen whether you like it or not.

So, what do you do? You can let them explore their political curiosities or you can try to suppress them. As it is, young people are generally instinctively anti-establishment. Banning them from political activities will only make it worse.

This is something youth leaders in the government understand even if their seniors in the cabinet don’t. Youth chiefs from Umno, MCA and Gerakan have all been calling for an easing of the UUCA.

When it was announced earlier this month that there will be no changes to the UUCA, Umno Youth chief Khairy Jamaluddin did not mince his words when tweeting his reaction: "Cabinet decision not allowing university students to be involved in political parties is gutless and indicates outdated thinking."

He followed that up by tweeting: "Here’s a hint for the cabinet: You want the youth vote, start by trusting them."

In some ways it’s like giving your children access to the Internet for the first time. In Malaysia, the Internet is not censored so young people can access all kinds of content that might be unsuitable for them.

You can install software to filter content. You can also stand over their shoulders to monitor every site they visit. But do you think such actions will stop them from visiting sites you don’t approve of? They can go to cybercafes or visit a friend’s house where the Internet is not filtered. One way or another they will find loopholes.

Similarly, you can ban political activity but if a student is interested enough in politics, he or she will find ways to be politically engaged. Why not just allow them to do so? It’s time to repeal the UUCA.

Oon Yeoh is a new media consultant. Comments: letters@thesundaily.com

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