KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 5 — Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah has said the government would lose “in moral terms” if it appeals a court ruling that declared a law barring students from politics is in breach of the Federal Constitution.
The deputy higher education minister likened the matter to Putrajaya’s clampdown on the July 9 Bersih rally for free and fair elections, saying it would become a “lost opportunity to prove our commitment to political transformation.”
“Whatever the decision of the appeal, we have lost in moral terms.
“I hope the public does not see this as another wrong move in addressing a current issue such as the Bersih rally,” the Umno supreme council member told The Malaysian Insider in an SMS yesterday.
Despite pleas from lawmakers across the political divide, the Cabinet has refused to offer an assurance that it would not appeal Monday’s Court of Appeal decision declaring the Universities and University Colleges Act (UUCA) 1971 unconstitutional.
Instead, Higher Education Minister Datuk Seri Mohamed Khaled Nordin said yesterday that the matter would be left in the hands of the Attorney-General’s Chambers.
The Malaysian Insider understands that until then BN ministers have been asked to refrain from commenting on the matter.
In a majority 2-1 judgment, a three-man panel of judges ruled on Monday that Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia breached Article 10 of the country’s highest law when it disciplined four students involved in a political campaign last year under section 15(5)(a) of the UUCA.
However, it is unclear whether the judgment allows all students in higher education centres to take part in political activities.
Section 15(5)(a) of the UUCA states: “No student of the University and no organisation, body or group of students of the University which is established by, under or in accordance with the Constitution, shall express or do anything which may reasonably be construed as expressing support for or sympathy with or opposition to any political party, whether in or outside Malaysia.”
The four students — Muhammad Hilman Idham, Woon King Chai, Muhammad Ismail Aminuddin and Azlin Shafina Mohamad Adza — were found campaigning for a political party during the Hulu Selangor parliamentary by-election in April 2010.
Political parties on both sides of the divide have welcomed the court decision, stating that student politics must be allowed in a healthy democracy.
Responding to Khaled’s statement today, DAP MP Tony Pua accused the government of “abdicating its responsibility” by throwing the ball in the A-G’s court.
“The BN government has instead chosen (to) burst the high hopes of the people and to abdicate its responsibility to the Attorney-General, purportedly to make a study of the ‘points of law’.
“The excuse could not be more lame as regardless of the Court decision, the Cabinet could have taken opportunity to announce a proposed amendment of the UUCA, particularly the controversial section 15,” he said in a statement.
Pua claimed that following Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s Malaysia Day eve announcements repealing and amending draconian security and press laws, Malaysians had expected the Cabinet to remove similar restrictions in academia.
International condemnation of his administration following his handling of the Bersih 2.0 July 9 rally saw the prime minister make major concessions by announcing a parliamentary select committee on electoral improvements and a raft of reforms including the repeal of the controversial Internal Security Act.
The BN government had cracked down on the tens of thousands who attended the outlawed July 9 march which saw over 1,500 arrested, scores injured and the death of an ex-soldier.