This article was originally written and published in bahasa Indonesia on 17 January 2022.
With the intellectual privilege they possess, the students were a moral force when Indonesia just became independent. To accommodate all these intellectual contributions, student government was formed. However, as time goes by, student government is considered by several sides becoming irrelevant. It leads to the question, do we still need this so-called student government?
The birth of Student Government in UGM was marked by the establishment of Dewan Mahasiswa (Dema) UGM in 1950. Luthfi Hamzah, Former President of BEM KM UGM 2011, explained that the formulation of Dema aims to unite all the activism by the student of UGM, which is polarized by political ideology, to become one under the university’s flag. Luthfi described that the students of UGM build Dema to utilize their education privilege for the benefit of Indonesia. “They aim to be a moral force through their intellectual contribution when Indonesia just became independent,” said Luthfi.
Luthfi also explained that the student government in UGM has already adopted a state-like form of governance since its establishment. This is proven by the running of the executive function by Dema and the legislative function by Majelis Mahasiswa. “Because they are using the university’s name, the student needs to have mechanism control so there would be no abuse of power,” said Luthfi. Although student government resembles the state, Luthfi said that the basic philosophy of the student government is to become a melting pot, a gathering place for moral movement and different ideologies.
Regarding that, Syahdan Husein, a student from the Faculty of Cultural Sciences, explained that Dema as a moral movement is not merely philosophical. He said Dema was actively involved in building bridges in several areas. Additionally, Syahdan explained that Dema once raided pers office that narrated pro-colonial content. “It proves Dema as a moral movement and the student’s political struggle to protect the sovereignty of Indonesia,” Said Syahdan.
Joko Susilo, Activist in Magister Administrasi Publik Corner UGM, explained the form of Dema lasted until 1978. Subsequently, Dema was frozen because of NKK/BKK at that time. The man who is familiarly called Josu said that NKK/BKK aims to protect political stability for Soeharto. “The implication of that policy is the prohibition of student activism on campus,” said Josu.
Citing Balairung’s archive, the student government in UGM after NKK/BKK experienced plenty of changes until Keluarga Mahasiswa (KM) UGM was formed in 1992. KM UGM is the result of the student agreement on facing SK Mendikbud No. 0475/U/1990 which give birth to the Senat Mahasiswa Perguruan Tinggi. In the end, the vacuum of executive function leads to the appearance of BEM KM UGM to complete KM UGM.
Josu explained that BEM KM UGM and Senat KM UGM were the two main forces of student government post-Soeharto era. Later on, Pemilihan Mahasiswa (Pemilwa) with the base of student parties was initiated. “At the same time, the term ‘presiden mahasiswa’ is often used,” said Josu.
Luthfi explained that the presidential form used by BEM KM UGM is an expression of satire for Soeharto’s Government. He argued that it is inseparable from the euphoria of the new order and the sacred image of President Soeharto, which was extended to the campus at that time. The student wanted to show that there also can be a president and parties beside Golkar in the Campus,” said Luthfi.
Weakened by External Intervention
Nowadays, Josu explained that neoliberalisation is one of the main challenges for student government. He argued that the agenda of neoliberalisation forces students to focus on academic achievement and fit themselves to the standard of market demands. It reduces the critical mind of the student and pushes organizations and student movement toward “an apolitical machine”. “After PTN-BH in 2013, the students are not demanded to do collective movement, but to upgrade individual skills,” said Josu.
Besides neoliberalisation, in his thesis, Josu also highlights policy in Peraturan Rektor UGM Nomor 1 Tahun 2017, which substantially contain administrative aspects about student activities. That policy politically changed BEM as part of the Student Activity Unit (UKM Bakat Minat) Leadership. Josu explained making BEM as part of UKM is opposite to the concept of student government and the democratic right of the student. Josu said that it also leads to the decrease of strategic agenda by the student movement organizations.
Similar to Josu, Luthfi said that Peraturan Rektor UGM Nomor 1 Tahun 2017 delegitimate student government. Luthfi rejected that policy because he thought BEM and UKM have differences. UKM is only joined by people who are interested in that UKM. Meanwhile, the members of KM UGM, which BEM manages, are all the students of UGM. “This is straying away from the initial philosophy which should be practiced by the student government,” he said.
Dzaki Aribawa, one of the members of Aliansi Mahasiswa UGM, said that campus intervention occurs easier in formal organizations such as student government. According to him, a movement platform that is not fixated on the structural form is needed so the movement could be free-for-all. “With non-structural organization, the movement would be more inclusive and could oversee an issue maximally,” said Dzaki.
Student Government Within Student Movement
In the context of the student movement, Syahdan explained that student governments are too bureaucratic when overseeing an issue. What he meant are the meetings, division’s responsibility, and the consideration of campus politics. Meanwhile, issues overseen by non-student governments are fluider. “They do not need to consider the process of campus politics which has a lot of interests,” added Syahdan.
Similar to Syahdan, Luthfi also criticized the bureaucrating trend of student government in the last ten years. According to him, it made student government stray away from the nature of student government as a melting pot between moralities. Luthfi continued to compare with the situation in his time. The attenuation of internal conflicts in keluarga mahasiswa at his time was carried out in a family manner. Correspondence, interpellation, and issuance of decrees are making student government more bureaucratic. “Student government should hold the moral and intellectual principles with finishing internal problems in a family manner,” said Luthfi.
Syahdan explained that the presence of student parties and student senate will lessen the interest of the students in joining the student movement. “In the several times I join the demonstration with BEM KM UGM, the people are all the same and the issues raised are limited,” he said. He argued that it will make the student movement perceived as dominated by the student government.
Hence, Syahdan argued that the student movement could run without the student government. Syahdan referred to his personal experience participating in the student movement without joining organizations and not having any structural positions. “There is a vacuum of participation by the student government that made it possible,” said Syahdan.
Similar to Syahdan, Dzaki argued that the student movement could function without the student government. There are two things that cause this to happen. First, the student government has a high moral responsibility, but they only have limited resources. Second, student institutions would never fully represent the whole student. “Everyone should be able to express their opinion through available platforms, not limited through student government only,” added Dzaki.
There is No Family in Keluarga Mahasiswa
Responding to the problems of BEM KM UGM in his period, Farhan, the Head of BEM KM UGM 2021, admitted that the BEM KM UGM still couldn’t represent KM UGM. According to him, press releases issued by BEM KM UGM are perceived just as the stance of the staff of BEM KM, not students of UGM overall. Meanwhile, parties outside UGM would think that it represents the whole KM UGM. “We need to have an agreement, so there could be the final result and we could form better regulations for KM UGM,” said Farhan.
Farhan recognized that there’s a deficiency of precondition and the legitimacy of student government in management that leads to the problem of representation. According to him, student government must have political legitimacy, social legitimacy, and economic legitimacy. But, student government only has a fragile political legitimacy. “Nowadays, we only depend on cultural closeness, about who has the most masses,” said Farhan
The irrelevance of student government also could be seen in Pemilwa. Ahmad Rifqi, one of the members of Koalisi Reformasi KM UGM, explained that the low number of voters in the last Pemilwa, which only touched 27 percent, proves the irrelevance of student government. He argued that number shows the failure of the representation concept used by the student government. “If the people don’t recognize the government, the government doesn’t have the object to be governed,” said Rifqi.
Not only last year, Josu said that the low number of voters had been a trend in Pemilwa. The number of voters frequently only touches 6-7 thousand, whereas active students in UGM are around 40 thousand. Josu believed that was one of the reasons the problem about student government kept reappearing. “The low number of voters bring up questions regarding representation of BEM and Senat,” said Josu.
Rifqi also highlighted the low number of participants at the end of year congress of KM UGM last year. According to Rifqi’s explanation, that forum is only participated by half of the supposed participants. Based on that phenomenon, he argued that the student of UGM are not concerned anymore with KM UGM. “So, the pronouncing of keluarga mahasiswa should be questioned again, is it really a family?” said Rifqi.
Problems Keep Appearing, What is Next?
Regarding the relevancy of student government, Syahdan said that we can see that from the purpose and the measure of success of the student government. According to him, student government is not relevant anymore because it does not have a vivid purpose. Besides that, Syahdan also argued that student government brings time-consuming conflict. “It would lead to the lack of contribution from student government in student movement,” said Syahdan.
According to Luthfi, all the problems faced by the student government showed that the student government is getting further from the initial philosophy. Despite all of that, Luthfi explained that the problems are caused by incompetent actors in the student government. Facing that, he advised the entire student to work together and support each other. “Reformation of a more inclusive student government could be done by collaboration,” added Luthfi.
Similar to Luthfi, Josu said that the critics that continue to emerge indicate that student government is becoming irrelevant and contextual. To overcome that problem, Josu argued that the student needs to make research to form a better governance of student government. Ideas that appear from the research must be the empirical foundation to make the change. “The main job of students is to create a more contextual form of student government,” said Josu.
Authors: Cahya Saputra, Dhestia Arrizqi, and M. Fahrul Muharman
Editor: Aldyth Nelwan Airlangga
Photographer: Fransiskus Asisi Anggito Enggarjati
Translator: Aldyth Nelwan Airlangga