By K Anand
KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 15 – A protest by a group representing undergraduates in Kuala Lumpur yesterday seems to have riled up many Pakatan Harapan supporters.
The protest was against the Pakatan Harapan reneging on its promise made prior to the 14th General Election on the repayment terms for the National Higher Education Fund Corporation (PTPTN).
However, the protest being by a group of Malay-Muslim students took on an almost racist tone with mostly non-Muslim Malaysians taking to social media to voice their anger and disgust at these “entitled” youths.
The fact was that these students walked 9km from Universiti Malaya to the Parliament building in a show of unhappiness over the government’s about-turn on their student education loans.
They had demanded PH fulfil its election pledge to defer the repayment on PTPTN borrowers who earn under RM4,000 monthly.
In the recent Budget 2019 announcement, Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng said that the borrowers would only have to start repayment if their salary is at least RM1,000. With the minimum salary already declared as RM1,100, it therefore means that anyone who is employed will be required to start repaying the loan.
In other words, those who are unemployed are the only ones exempted from having to repay the loan.
Many of those who criticised the students instead falsely accused these students of not wanting to repay their loans. That may be an understandable conclusion because of the number of former students, over the past two decades having defaulted and not being bothered to repay the loans they took.
However, the issue was not about that. It was about the new government’s failure to keep its promises.
The students were clearly holding signs which said “tuntut janji PTPTN” from PH and not “mansuhkan” PTPTN.
PH version of “janji dicapati”
One cannot help but recall all the signs and social media memes and posts making fun of former prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak over his “janji dicapati”, mocking his “janji ditepati” slogan.
Let’s be fair to these students, this is no different.
Also, the clear fact remains that these students MUST repay their PTPTN loans. However, if one were to look back to the months before the general election, one will recall how the youth vote was being canvassed by PH parties and leaders.
A key issue used to attract these youths was on the promise that only those earning RM4,000 and above need to start paying back, should PH take over Putrajaya.
It cannot be ascertained how many youths voted based on the manifesto promise but it is certainly part of the democratic process to hold political parties to their word.
PH leaders, supporters backed “abolish PTPTN” protest
Let us not forget that many PH supporters were sympathetic towards a bunch of students camping out in Dataran Merdeka calling for the PTPTN to be abolished in April 2012.
The protest was led by Adam Adli. The same Adam Adli who was arrested, charged by the former BN govt over illegal assembly among other things.
The Dataran Merdeka protest in 2012 also drew then opposition leaders and MPs, including PKR vice-presidents Tian Chua and Nurul Izzah Anwar.
All these leaders, who are now part of the new Malaysian government, supported the protest and demanded that education be made free in the country. Where are they now?
This issue is something that could easily come back to bite the Pakatan Harapan government, if it is not eventually resolved. Because the power of the youth to change the tide was evident in GE14, and could easily be the same in the next general election.
More so, if the voting age is reduced to 18 as proposed.
PH accountable only after corruption trials are over?
The PTPTN minimum salary pledge is just one of the promises not fulfilled by PH. The other major one being tolls not been abolished.
These and other promises may be overlooked by PH supporters for now, with the focus being on justice to be served on the corrupt leaders of the previous government.
But in a year or two, after the trials and sentences are out of the way, hopefully these PH supporters will then realise the price of broken promises by politicians.