Yesterday, Deputy Prime Minister and Home Minister, Datuk Seri Abdullah Badawi won kudos when he walked up to student protestors after his speech at the University of Malaya on its 50th anniversary celebrations, accepted two memoranda from student leaders and promised to look into their demands.
Abdullah promised that he would read the memoranda and would invite student representatives to meet him for discussions.
He later described his encounter with the students as a "constructive engagement" and said it was "all right" for students to approach him in that manner to present their views.
Unfortunately, Abdullah’s new era of "constructive engagement" with the students was very short-lived, for immediately, his Cabinet colleague in charge of education announced a "destructive disengagement" policy.
The Education Minister, Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak, who was also present at the university, did not seem to agree with Abdullah and said that appropriate action would be taken against the students as they had contravened university students by demonstrating. He said he was unhappy and upset that the students had chosen to demonstrate, adding that they had gone overboard in conveying their demands.
The student protests and the Jekyll and Hyde reaction of Cabinet Ministers say more about the University of Malaya on its 50th anniversary than all the formal speeches and lectures for the occasion.
The 400 student peaceful protestors should be commended for showing that student idealism for justice, freedom, democracy and good governance is still alive despite the very stifling university conditions.