Saturday 27 June 2015

WATTOPERS Turn 50s: Celebrating 38 Years of Brotherhood - Part 6 (Politics and Representation)

One of the experiences which provided me with the confidence in my later life was the student representation system or Badan Wakil Pelajar (BWP). This system replaced an earlier version known as Majlis Perwakilan Pelajar or student representative council. I can only recall that the BWP system has less number of representatives compared to its predecessor. There was no prefect system when I was at the college, interesting.

The representative systems were based on the view that students should be allowed to stand based on what they belief were right, free from any influence or intervention of our teachers. This liberal approach towards truth was certainly different from our main stream culture nowadays where truth tends to be forced by the dominant groups who have power to do so.

My dorm leader when I was in form one, Abang Amin, was one of the pioneer members of BWP. One has to offer oneself as a candidate and the rest of the students community would be voting for those who they felt suitable to represent them. Some form groupings or parties and the campaign period would very interesting. Not only posters were allowed to be hanged but there would be a session where each candidate would be allowed to address the public with his or her manifesto. As there was no direct election for the presidency, we did not have presidential debate. It would have been allowed if there were one since those who want to be leaders cannot have the hearts of chicken, always finding excuses from taking on questions and be publicly accountable.

The BWP was headed by a President and assisted by the Vice-President. There were number of portfolios such as sports, welfare, publication, culture and religious affairs, more or less reflecting areas which were important to the students those days.

I was brought up by my grandparents (the sister of my grandmother and her husband) who were fairly involved in politics in the 60s. As Kelantanese took their politics seriously, they were living in a house in Pasir Mas with few other family members who had differing political ideologies. Somehow, their stories and conversations had provided me with political consciousness. In 1977, when the Asri led PAS state government was toppled, I went to observe few gatherings including the one which led to the emergency be declared in Kelantan. Playing hide and seek with the Federal Reserve Unit who were patrolling Kota Bharu to enforce the curfew was fun and cool back then.

My first attempt for a BWP seat was when I was in form two. A number of my friends decided to participate in the election and we formed the "Saint" party. One of the tradition those days was a private session with the seniors who will ask you questions of what would you do if elected. They will then decide amongst themselves who to support. 

Reflecting on what we experienced, the BWP elections those days were more free than the student elections at our universities nowadays. Maybe there was no stake to anybody, therefore nobody bothered to interfere. 

There was no money politics and we need not worry about have millions to finance our campaign. Our party workers were our classmates and dorm mates who assisted on the basis of friendship. One of the campaign speeches that I still remember until today for the one made by Jeff. He started by saying "I am here to tell you not to elect me, if I am not good enough. However, if you feel I can be your good representative, throw me your support".

Candidates for the Saint. From left to right: Kamarudin, Yeoh, Jeff, Mazni, Hasni and me.
I did not win the election as the number of votes that I got was just below the cut off point. Kamarudin, Jeff and Mazni managed to be elected. I did not feel disappointed at all.

At the end of our Sijil Rendah Pelajaran (SPR) examinations, we were expecting to be sent home as what the tradition had been before. However, the teachers had a different idea. We were asked to stay back and participated in a number of activities. Many were furious and some, including me, went to the teachers to protest against their plan. I remember in one meeting chaired by Cikgu Zin, our principle, where I stood and asked for the programme to be scrapped. The answer by one of them was "You will not understand why we do what we are proposing until you have grown up".

So we had no choice but to stay and endured the activities that was arranged. One of them was a competition to build landscapes using sawdust. Under protest, my team built something beautiful, applying knowledge we attained through our geography lessons. However, a few days before the results was to be announced, somebody destroyed all our work which were left unguarded at the academic building. Interestingly, our efforts were noticed by our teachers and my team was judged to win the first prize in our category. So, we were not rebel without cause after all.

I participated in the BWP election again when I was in form four and got the second highest votes after Mazlan Musa who was elected as the President. Other members from my batch was Fikri, Sam, Mat Zin, Mohamed Ismail and Suhairi. The only representative from my junior batch was Haslan, who was a sportsperson and a player for the college hockey team. It was an all-male cabinet.

BWP 1981-1982. From left to right: Sam, Haslan, myself, Mazlan, Cikgu Zin, Fikri, Mat Zin, Mohamad Ismail and Suhairi.
The college certainly empowered us, the students, to stand on our own feet. This provided us with the confidence in leading ourselves and others as well as exposing us to the risks of our decisions. We were accountable to the community and were expected to deliver all the promises made during the campaign period. I believe we did not disappoint our constituency. The sense of being able to be truth to yourselves was really liberating and fulfilling.

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