Media Statement by Dr. Ong Kian Ming on the 30th of June, 2014
I read with concern today’s news that Professor Datuk Dr Mohamad Redzuan’s term as the Director for the Universiti Malaya’s Center for Democracy and Elections (UMcedel) has not been renewed. This news report also speculates that this non-renewal was due to political pressure over Professor Redzuan’s survey research which showed the BN in a bad light and also programs which involved politicians, including Members of Parliament, from Pakatan Rakyat.
I was invited to be part of a forum just after the 13th General Election in 2013 by UMCedel to share my analytical findings. This forum was chaired by Professor Redzuan and other invited panellists included Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah, the former MP for Temerloh and Shamsul Iskandar, the newly elected MP for Bukit Katil. Nurul Izzah was also invited to this forum but did not participate as a panellist. This kind of engagement with BN as well as Pakatan Rakyat politicians should be part and parcel of the research agenda of any institute or center that examines and does research on elections in Malaysia.
In addition, the survey research work done by UMcedel, under the leadership of Professor Redzuan, should be applauded for pushing the agenda on elections survey research which is still in its infancy in Malaysia. It should be noted that UMCedel was accurate in predicting a win in the popular vote for Pakatan Rakyat in GE13 but that the BN would win the majority of seats. While there is legitimate room to criticize the methodology used by UMcedel in arriving at its survey results, there is no legitimate reason to target Professor Redzuan just because the results are not seen as favourable to the BN.
It is unfortunate that this decision not to renew Professor Redzuan’s tenure as the Director of UMCedel comes on the back of the good news that 3 Malaysian Professors – Prof Dr Abdul Latif Ahmad from USM, Prof Dr Ishak Hashim from UKM and Prof Dr Saidur Rahman from UM – were listed in the World’s Most Influential Scientific Minds 2014. Academic freedom, especially in the social sciences which is interpreted by some as touching on more politically sensitive subjects, is an integral part of pushing the research agenda in any university setting.
If it is true that the Chief Secretary II of the Education Ministry, Datuk Dr. Zaini Ujang, is responsible for the decision not to renew Professor Redzuan’s tenure at the Director of UMCedel, then it is indeed a sad day for academic freedom in the country since Dr. Zaini as a former academic at UTM, of all people, should know the value of academic freedom.
I call upon the Minister of Education, Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin and Dato Seri Idris Jusoh, to give their full commitment towards upholding academic freedom in all our public and private institutions of higher learning and to make it clear to all civil servants and vice-chancellors that this academic freedom is a crucial part of improving our academic standards and rankings. Academics should not be punished for pursuing legitimate academic research including in the field of politics and political science even if the results do not seem favourable to the ruling party.