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As crunch polls loom, Malaysia’s youth could drive reform agenda

Fresh ideas and energy will undoubtedly boost the Malaysian democratic process


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Last year was a challenging one for many.

We faced the pandemic and devastating floods in various states. This double whammy has put so many groups in a vulnerable situation. To make matters worse, our political situation continues to slide.  

This year, we face even more uncertainty, as we march towards a much-anticipated general election, which must be held by July 2023.

We have had several turning points in our electoral history, including the political tsunami in the 2008 general election and the first change of government in the 2018 general election.

The coming general election is set to be another critical point in the country’s history, as it will set the tone for the administration of the country for years to come. 

A groundswell appears to be brewing: many, whether old or young, seem to support the idea that we need a fresh mandate to ensure political stability in the country.

Political stability here does not mean maintaining the status quo. Instead, stability here means we must have a government that functions effectively to deal with the pandemic and rehabilitate the country. It means prioritising the people’s interests with transparency and high integrity to point the country in the right direction.  

Many of us are tired of the seat negotiations among the various parties, whether from Perikatan Nasional, Barisan Nasional or Pakatan Harapan.  

Even worse are the frequent cases of elected representatives crossing the aisle. Political parties that entice elected representatives to cross over do not seem to take the voters’ concerns into account. Instead, the defections are more for the political survival and self-preservation of the defectors and their new parties.

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As usual, each time we are close to a general election, many will indulge in predictions on the best time to hold it. Political parties are divided, with some saying they are ready and others feeling the time is not right.

More concerning is that we have suffered the negative effects of this system of not having a fixed date for the general election.

Based on media reports, politicians from different parties would like a date that optimises the chances of victory for their own party or alliance. In short, the decision is almost entirely left to the people in power, without considering voters’ views.

As the general election looms, many are talking about the role of the youth, given the progress made in gazetting the lowering of the minimum voting age to 18 and automatic voter registration. The registration of the youth-oriented Malaysian United Democratic Alliance (Muda) party on 23 December 2021 has added to the buzz.

The youth certainly pose challenges to our ageing political elite. The question is, what impact will they have on the political scene?

From Malaysian election history, we note a new party often needs to be affiliated with a seasoned political party or an experienced politician. The big question is, will the lowering of the minimum voting age to 18 or Muda have an impact on the general election?  

What is certain is we can no longer ignore the voices of the youth. At the very least, this pushes all political parties to adopt new campaign methods, especially when reaching out to young voters.

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We can also expect a more colourful general election with the involvement of civil society actors. For instance, Siti Kasim, KJ John and Tawfik Ismail are likely to be among the Gerak Independent movement’s election candidates. 

Many will agree the youth are more politically aware these days. They have grown more interested in current affairs and are getting themselves involved as much as possible.

The political scene in Malaysia has become so fragmented that no one political party is dominant enough to rule. This presents an opportunity for a fresh youth-led political movement to lead platforms that can attract young people and give them space to express themselves.

Young politicians will have to prove how they will move away from the unhealthy existing political culture mired in corruption and political patronage.

Challenges abound. The youths need to find the right tune to achieve their objectives. Their mission and vision must be clear for them to survive the present dominant political environment.

The low voter turnouts in the recent Malacca and Sarawak state elections are worrying. Many observers have detected a decrease in public trust in the system, amid political fatigue and the pandemic. So can we still achieve a high enough voter turnout to match the turnouts in recent general elections?

Fresh ideas and energy will undoubtedly boost the Malaysian democratic process. The youth must be ready to take on the role of being the driving force for reforms, and they should be ready to face criticisms and mixed reactions from voters.

In short, the youth have to be as relevant as possible to the different walks of life in society. The old adage “the future of the country lies in the hands of the youth” has never been more relevant.

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Khoo Ying Hooi
Co-editor, Aliran newsletter
12 January 2022
The views expressed in Aliran's media statements and the NGO statements we have endorsed reflect Aliran's official stand. Views and opinions expressed in other pieces published here do not necessarily reflect Aliran's official position.

AGENDA RAKYAT - Lima perkara utama
  1. Tegakkan maruah serta kualiti kehidupan rakyat
  2. Galakkan pembangunan saksama, lestari serta tangani krisis alam sekitar
  3. Raikan kerencaman dan keterangkuman
  4. Selamatkan demokrasi dan angkatkan keluhuran undang-undang
  5. Lawan rasuah dan kronisme
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