Can university students and academics in Malaysia participate in the general election?

They can vote but they can’t be involved in any other way. Public universities in Malaysia are bound by the Universities and University Colleges Act (UUCA) 1971, which stipulates that students cannot participate or be involved in any society, political party, trade union or any other organisation unless provided for by the university’s constitution or as may be approved in advance in writing by the vice-chancellor.

The sub-clauses in Section 15 of the UUCA restricts students and student bodies established under the university from joining, associating or dealing with, expressing or doing anything which may be construed as support, sympathy or opposition towards any party, trade union, group or organisation. The restriction is regardless of whether an organisation is lawful or not, inside or outside the university, or inside or outside Malaysia.

Students who contravene Section 15 are guilty of an offence and upon conviction can be fined not more than RM1,000 or imprisoned not more than six months or be penalised with both.

This effectively means that university students cannot be a political party member or supporter nor participate in any campaigning for any political party or candidate. University students presumably also cannot contest in an election by virtue of their inability to be involved in any political activity.

Additionally, public university students are all compelled to sign an Aku Janji pledge to uphold the established line.

At least one public university – Universiti Malaya – has already issued a reminder to all students that disciplinary and legal action will be taken against anyone who violates the UUCA and the Aku Janji pledge by getting involved in any political activities. “The enforcement against students being involved in any political activity will be stepped up especially during the period of the 12th general election,” a circular to students said.

While private universities are not automatically subjected to the UUCA, several private colleges in Malaysia, for example Monash University in Sunway, have opted to place themselves under the Act’s jurisdiction. This means that Monash University students in Malaysia are also prohibited from contesting or campaigning in the elections, or supporting an election candidate or political party in any way.

Malaysian students studying abroad are not bound by such laws and are free to associate with any political party or candidate and be involved in any political activities.

Academic staff
Staff of public universities in Malaysia are bound by the Statutory Bodies (Discipline and Surcharge) Act 2000, which prohibits lecturers from taking an active part in political activities or wearing any emblem of any political party.

Specifically, lecturers cannot make or publish or circulate any statements that would convey “a partisan view on any matter which is an issue between political parties”; cannot canvass for any election candidate; cannot be an election or polling agent for any candidate; and cannot stand for or hold any posts in a political party.

The penalty for contravening these regulations includes a warning, fine, forfeiture of emolument, a freeze in pay rise, reduction in salary or rank, or dismissal.

Admin staff, however, after obtaining the university board’s written approval, may stand for election or hold office or be appointed to any post in a political party.

The regulations, however, do not prevent any university employee from being a member of a political party.