Malaysia moves to lift student politics ban

Malaysia will lift a decades-old ban on university students joining political parties under legal amendments introduced on Monday in parliament.

Changes to an act governing conduct on the nation's university campuses were first promised in November by Prime Minister Najib Razak, who has unveiled plans to scrap or amend tough laws amid pressure for greater political space.

The revision would allow students to join parties and participate in political rallies.

But student and opposition leaders complained the proposed changes did not go far enough.

They noted the amended act would still bar any political activity on the nation's college campuses and ban students who hold leadership positions in political parties from also holding posts in any on-campus groups or societies.

The amendments are expected to pass as Najib's ruling Barisan Nasional coalition government has enough parliament seats to approve laws without opposition support.

Student and opposition leaders called for the entire Universities and University Colleges Act (UUCA) to be abolished, calling the controls on students unconstitutional.

"It's very unfair to students. These amendments still restrict our participation in politics," student activist Muhammad Nasrul Alam said.

N. Surendran, vice president of the opposition People's Justice Party led by Anwar Ibrahim, said in a statement the amendments were "superficial" and maintained the government's "iron grip on students and universities".

Najib has moved in recent years to relax several decades-old restrictions on civil liberties in what he has called a drive to move away from the country's authoritarian past.

The government is expected this week to table a highly anticipated new law to replace the dreaded Internal Security Act, which allows for indefinite detention without trial and which rights groups say has long been abused to silence dissent.

Najib's critics call his reform drive an insincere ploy to win back voters who deserted the coalition during 2008 elections, when it suffered its worst results ever.

Fresh elections are due by next year but widely expected to be called within months.

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