by Arveent Kathirtchelvan
The TN50 mechanism seems to be in full swing. Most recently, Khairy Jamaluddin has made rounds in the UK in a series of town hall meetings to gather input from students there on their ideas to build a better nation. This is a commendable act. For too long the important decisions to make policies were left to the older generation and those in power. This has led to policies that have gone further and further away from the needs on the ground, growing more polarised to attract votes in a nation gripped with increasing identity politics.
With this said, however, it is also important to note the timing of these meetings. The 14th General Election is just beyond the horizon and the cynical may believe that whatever seemingly progressive act done by politicians is only to entice more votes, especially from fence-sitters. Many times good policy changes are suggested to government officials but do not translate to good policies due to lack of political will. How, then, do we generate said political will that leads to proactive leadership?
Rather than running town halls and advocating for proper avenues to channel ideas to government officials what we should be focusing on is inculcating an open environment such that difficult conversations could be had by anybody at any time. This is because there’s always a fear of repercussions when addressing government officials face-to-face, what acts such as the Sedition Act and generally authoritarian policies. Even the sanctity of a neutral internet is challenged with the MCMC being more and more controlling. In such a restricted environment, what is engagement if not an empty showcase?
Do not get this twisted, this is not a diatribe against the government or the ruling party, all politicians in Malaysia are guilty of top-down politics. There are just more examples with the current government as there are actual laws that may be enforced against individuals breaking them.
This is why steps like the Declaration on Students’ Rights to Freedom of Speech, Assembly and Association are of utmost importance. In the UK, Malaysian students are coming together to establish a document that outlines the boundaries of these rights in a manner which will take into consideration the input of a large variety of Malaysian students in the UK. The first draft of this and its summary have just been published here and here respectively.