and People Unite
1974 is widely regarded as the peak for Malaysian students
activism. It was this year that their slogan "Students
and People Unite" became a reality.
National Front - comprising a coalition of political parties,
including some which had previously been in the opposition,
i.e. PAS, Gerakan and the PPP - won the 1974 General Elections,
many of the former opposition parties were now on the side
of the government, the ranks of the opposition in Malaysia
dwindled. The various student organisations filled this vacuum
that had been created by the decline of the parliamentary
opposition. Student organisations emerged as a pressure group
and were highly critical of government policies.
because of their non-partisan approach towards issues, they
were able to draw the attention and gain support of the population
was also a year of great hardship for the people of Malaysia.
Inflation had increased rapidly from 1973 and the price of
rubber had fallen to record lows. The livelihood of rubber
smallholders was seriously threatened. The people faced many
difficulties as the prices of basic necessities soared. Shortages
in housing and jobs further exacerbated the situation.
Tasik Utara incident occurred in September 1974. It involved
poor, predominantly Malay squatters who openly opposed the
government. As in the case of Teluk Gong, the Tasik Utara
incident virtually invited student involvement.
Utara is situated about three miles from the centre of Johor
Baru where housing is a serious problem. The houses in the
town are expensive to rent, which workers cannot afford. As
the government had not taken any steps to provide low-cost
housing for the urban poor, many of them were forced to become
long before the general elections of 1974, several poor families
set up squatter houses in Tasik Utara. They were not stopped,
even by land office officials. News of this spread and not
long afterwards, more poor families, including factory workers,
government labourers, hawkers, taxi and lorry drivers, moved
in. Barisan Nasional leaders canvassing votes at Tasik Utara
assured the squatters that their homes would be protected.
134 families who set up their homes in Tasik Utara called
their village, Kampung Barisan Nasional. However, after the
Barisan Nasional emerged victorious in the general elections,
the leaders appeared to forget the promises they made to the
squatters. The residents of Kampung Barisan Nasional got a
rude shock when they received eviction notices from the Land
Office warning them that their homes were to be demolished.
residents appealed to the government against the demolition.
They called upon the government to provide them with an alternative
site on which they could build their homes. Their appeals
fell on deaf ears. In despair, the squatters got in touch
with the University of Malaya Students' Union (UMSU) hoping
that the UMSU would come to their aid.
hopes of the squatters were not in vain. As soon as UMSU received
the telegram from the squatters, several students, including
UMSU students, made their way to Johor Bahru. On the morning
of Sept 15, several police trucks arrived at Tasik Utara.
The squatters homes were demolished. Students of the University
of Malaya led by Hishamuddin Rais pleaded with the authorities
to call off the demolition, but their protests were in vain.
people, including Syed Hamid Ali, the Secretary General of
the People's Socialist Party of Malaya (PSRM), were arrested.
They were released the following day after interrogation.
the Federal Reserve Unit (FRU) personnel and the demolition
teams had departed, the squatters rebuilt their homes. However,
on Sept 16, the FRU and the demolition squad descended once
again on the kampung and demolished the rebuilt homes. They
carried out their work with brutal efficiency. Planks and
posts were split so that they could not be used again as building
destroyed the attap (roofing material) and were rude to the
squatters, who included women and children. The students personally
witnessed these brutal actions with their own eyes.
Sept 16, after their homes had been demolished for the second
time, the squatters - 60 families and about 300 people consisting
of men, women and children and a baby - camped outside the
Johor Secretariat Building, where they picketed day and night.
put up banners, one of which read: "We demand justice.
We want land."
3.15am on Sept 19, the police and the FRU quietly entered
the camp site and arrested five people. Those who were detained
included Kaliman Jaya, a squatter leader, Hishamuddin Rais,
secretary-general of UMSU, Yunus Ali, an UMSU exco member,
Syed Hamid Ali, secretary of the PSRM, Johor.
just struggle of the squatters was supported by student organisations
in all campuses. The University of Singapore Students Union
also came in support. Students in Malaysia and Singapore collected
funds to aid the unfortunate squatters of Tasik Utara.
detention of several student leaders on Sept 19 provoked and
deepened the student's struggle, particularly in the University
of Malaya. On the Sept 20, more than 2,500 students from the
University of Malaya demonstrated outside the Prime Minister's
Department. They urged the authorities to release Hishamuddin
Rais, Yunus Ali and the others who had been detained in Johor
Bahru. The demonstration was indicative of widespread student
support for the struggle of the Tasik Utara squatters.
their demands fell on deaf ears, the students planned to demonstrate
again on Sept 21. More than 2,000 students took to the streets
peacefully, making their way to Kuala Lumpur. The FRU confronted
them on their journey and fired tear gas. They also fell upon
the students with batons, and many were injured. More than
10 students were detained, but they were released soon afterwards,
as the authorities were afraid of growing students agitation.
the brutal action of the police, UMSU called for an emergency
meeting. The meeting held on Sept 21 was attended by all the
Residential Colleges Committees and other component bodies
of UMSU. Following an in-depth discussion, it was unanimously
decided that to avoid further police aggression, demonstrations
would be held within the campus. The students also decided
to take over the administration of the University of Malaya.
students formed a co-ordinating body called the Majlis Tertinggi
Sementara (MTS) or Provisional Supreme Council. At 2.30am
on Sept 21, the MTS officially took over the UM administration
in a peaceful and organised manner.
the same afternoon, however, several self-proclaimed "patriotic"
students met at the Arts Faculty and formed a "Majlis
Tertinggi Nasionalis" (MTN) (Nationalist Supreme Council).
They opposed the UMSU decision to form the MTS to take over
8.30pm, members of the MTN advanced to strategic positions
held by the MTS, including the UMSU secretariat, the university
gates and the security office. Members of the MTS were forced
to leave the UMSU secretariat. They used iron rods, bicycle
chains and nailed sticks in their attack.
UMSU president and several other MTS members were kidnapped
and taken to the Dewan Tunku Chancellor. The MTN leaders tried
to divert the attention of the students from the real issue
at hand. Even the vice-chancellor of the university attempted
to break the unity of the students by playing up racial issues.
appeared that UMSU was to pay a high price for its involvement
in the Tasik Utara incident and their decision to take over
the university administration. The government which for a
long time had been trying to crush the student movement now
had an excuse to act against UMSU. Several days after UMSU
took over the campus, the government suspended it.
in Tasik Utara, even though the leaders of the squatters and
the students had been detained, the squatters continued to
picket in front of the Johor State Secretariat building. At
5.30pm on Sept 22, the FRU surrounded the picket site and
arrested 41 squatters and seven students. The squatters and
students demonstrated in front of the Johor courthouse to
protest the arrests. At this demonstration, three more students
the Tasik Utara incident was the prelude, the Baling incident
was surely the climax of the student struggle in the post-1969
period. While Tasik Utara is in Johor, in the south, Baling
is up north, in Kedah.
Baling events began on Nov 19, 1974, when more 1,000 peasants
demonstrated. Their demonstrations continued on Nov 20 and
21. On the 21st, more than 13,000 people from Baling and the
surrounding areas of Weng, Bangar, Lanai, Pulai, Kupang, Tawar,
Parit Panjang, Kuala Pegang, Siong and Sungai Lalang staged
mass demonstrations, which converged on Baling.
did the farmers in Baling demonstrate? The answer lies in
the misery and suffering they were facing.
from 1973 had caused the prices of food and other necessities
to soar. Sugar, which had cost only 30 cents a kati, cost
60 cents: the price of flour rose fron 20 cents to 50 cents.
As these prices increased, the price of rubber was falling,
affecting a majority of the residents of Baling district,
who were mostly rubber smallholders. The price of a kati of
rubber could not purchase half a kati of sugar or flour.
a result of their hardships, the peasants were forced to voice
their sufferings. They bravely took to the street to protest
and urge the government to raise the price of rubber and lower
the price of food and other necessities within 10 days.
it became clear that the government was not going to act positively
on the demands within te given period, 30,000 people demonstrated
in Baling on Dec 1. The people were angry indeed.
The struggle of the peasants was supported by students from
the universities and others institutions of higher learning
throughout the country. A big demonstration was held on Dec
the rally held on the same day at the Selangor Club padang
in Kuala Lumpur, the students made several demands on the
the government must solve the problem of inflation immediately;
2) the price of rubber must be raised to reasonable levels;
3) all corrupt ministers and chief ministers must be exposed
authorities ignored the demands of the students. The authorities
used the police to disperse the demonstration, and students
who had gathered peacefully at the Selangor Club field were
attacked with tear gas. The students retreated to the National
Mosque, but the FRU even fired tear gas into the mosque and
entered it. Altogether, the FRU arrested 1,128 students.
arrest of the students reignited the students struggle. On
the campuses, students continued to demonstrate, and this
went on for a couple of days until the police entered the
campuses early in the morning of Dec 9. Many of the student
leaders were arrested.
the same time, the government also apprehended university
lecturers who supported the struggle of the students and the
peasants. Among those detained were Prof Syed Husin Ali from
the University of Malaya, Anwar Ibrahim, a youth leader; Kamarulzaman
Yacob, UMSU president, Ahmad Kamal Selamat, president of PMUSM
(University of Science Malaysia Students' Union), Ibrahim
Ali, president of KSITM (Institute of Technology Mara Students'
Union), Rahman Rukhaini, president of PMUKM (Universiti Kebangsaan
Malaysia Students' Union) and Adi Satria, UMSU's assistant
resistance did not even end even with the arrest of so many
of its leaders. However, pressure from the government in the
form of threats and manipulations and the use of racial issues
to undermine students unity resulted in the weakening of the
student movement. The government capitalised on these weaknesses
and vulnerability to table draconian laws in Parliament.
1975 amendments to the UUCA 1971 were passed by Parliament.
Despite protests from students and opposition parties, the
amendments were bulldozed through Parliament.
enforcement of the Act, all student organisations were dissolved.
This marked the end of an era when the student movement in
Malaysia grew to become an important social and political
force. As a substitute, the government set up Student Representative
Councils, student bodies which have little power, freedom
movement has its weaknesses; the following were some of the
weaknesses of the Malaysian student movement which was crushed
in the mid-1970s:
problem: The race problem has always been a factor weakening
the Malaysian student movement. This particularly evident
in the case of the universities which have a large multiracial
student population, like the University of Malaya. Despite
this, there were many issues on which students from the various
races united. Such issues included the struggle for university
autonomy, opposition to US imperialism and popular struggles
such Teluk Gong, Tasik Utara and Baling.
The tradition of students struggle in Malaya is still young.
Hence, students have lacked experience in facing challenges
that have come their way.
the length of courses of study (over three or four years),
limited student involvement. When good leaders graduated on
completion of their studies, continuity and experience were
often lost and not easily replaced.
tower: Although the student's movement championed peoples'
issues from 1967 to 1974, a close study would reveal that
the contact between students and the people, particularly
those in the rural areas was far from being close or intimate.
It was only in 1967, 1973 and 1974 that efforts to bridge
this gap were given more serious attention.
issue-oriented: A clear weakness of the Malaysian students
movement was its heavy issue-orientation, such that activities
were only organised as issues came up. Thus much student activity
was spontaneous in nature and not well-planned. Leaders seldom
planned activities with a long term perspective.
students and their leaders were prone to complacency and many
developed a care-free, and sometimes even irresponsible attitude.
This may be due to the fact that the student movements are,
by nature, not well-disciplined organisations. This lack of
discipline contributed to this negative feature of the student
support from intellectuals: The students movements seldom
got support from academics and intellectuals who supported
the students' struggles, their numbers were small. The majority
of intellectuals were silent and were usually unwilling to
be vocal. Because of this lack of involvement by the intellectual
community, the student movement was unable to analyse issue
with issues with sufficient depth.
of the people
extent of the contribution of the student movement to society
at large is a difficult question. Despite this, the importance
of a strong student movement must be recognised, especially
in a young country like ours, where a large proportion of
the people are poorly-educated and poor, and where political
consciousness is rather confused.
cannot deny that Malaysian students have a social responsibility.
At the zenith of the strength, they emerged as champions of
the people. The present curbs on the student movement also
stand in the way of the development of an independent, progressive
intelligentsia in our country which can contribute to solving
some of our fundamental problems.