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How the youth have given us hope with Parlimen Digital

Photograph: Mohamed Hassan/Pixabay

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Driven by idealism, aspiring young ‘lawmakers’ brought refreshing ideas to the table during an online session of ‘parliament’. Mustafa K Anuar writes on a potential new force to be reckoned with.

An online ‘parliament’ session with youth delegates acting as MPs, dubbed Parlimen Digital, was convened on 4-5 July for the first time in Malaysian history amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

Organised by four youth groups – Undi 18, Challenger Malaysia, Liga Rakyat Demokratik and United Nations Association Malaysia (Unam) Youth – the initiative has proven wrong the Perikatan Nasional government’s contention that the real parliamentary session could not be held for its usual longer sitting during the lockdown nor could it be done online. The first real parliamentary meeting of the third term of the 14th Parliament was held on 18 May for barely two hours, only to accommodate the Yang di-Pertuan Agong’s royal address. No debate was allowed following the address.

More importantly, Parlimen Digital has shown that our youth can be politically robust and vibrant in their democratic engagement. The 222 youthful participants of Parlimen Digital were intelligent, articulate and forthright in making their arguments and counter-arguments during the online parliamentary sessions.

In doing so, these youths have confounded the popular perception that they are not interested in politics. Our national education system, particularly at the tertiary education level, might not have been a conducive environment for raising political awareness among our youths over the last few decades. However, avenues – although limited – are still available for them to harness their political acumen.

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Driven by idealism, these young “lawmakers” or Yang Berkhidmat (YB) brought ideas and suggestions to the table relevant to the demands of contemporary Malaysia, such as the post-Covid 19 education system, youth unemployment and social mobility for the younger generation. They showed they were capable of conceptualising ideas and articulating their arguments given the opportunity and a proper platform.

These young delegates were well prepared to deliberate on their ideas and arguments and engage in meaningful debate. They were committed to represent the concerns and interests of their respective constituencies – which, in the real world, might have required them to go against the wishes of party leaders.

These ‘lawmakers’ have set higher standards of performance in a parliamentary democracy. What was refreshing was their ideas were not tainted by the mantra of race and religion, which has been socially and politically divisive over the years. Neither did they indulge in sexist jokes, which are, shamefully, the occasional trademark of real-life proceedings.

The organisers were also commendably inclusive: 30% representation from women, while Sabahans, Sarawakians and minorities were well represented during the sessions.

Seasoned politicians from both sides of the political divide may want to take a leaf from this youthful initiative to try to reinvigorate Malaysian politics and democratic practices.

We must appreciate these young people’s political participation and encourage them to work for the common good and future of our nation. They could be a force to be reckoned with.

That is why the allegation of police questioning certain Parlimen Digital delegates is disturbing, as it has serious repercussions for democratic participation and freedom of expression. Such an allegation is cause for concern, especially for those who jealously guard democracy and human rights. Of late, we have witnessed a spate of police interrogation of dissenting voices, such as journalists and activists.

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The political awareness and participation of these young people will not stop with the end of the Parlimen Digital event. They want to be part of the national conversation regarding politics and the nation’s current affairs.

For instance, Challenger secretary-general Jean Vaneisha publicly expressed concern over the people’s economic hardship apparently playing second fiddle to the political struggle and survival of party leaders from both sides of the political divide. She called on these leaders to put aside their obsession with seizing power and to stay focused on crafting policies to fix the battered economy and to improve our healthcare system. The opposition, she said, should create a shadow cabinet.

The much-delayed parliamentary session also bothered her and her colleagues, as it has affected democratic practices in the country. The other thing that disturbed her was the replacement of qualified heads of government-linked companies, many of whom are women, with ruling politicians who might be clueless.

The youths have an important role to play in charting the future of this nation and they have put on notice the real MPs and politicians. Indeed, some older political leaders who have gone beyond their shelf-life may have to make way for younger politicians ready to step up.

Mustafa K Anuar
Co-editor, Aliran newsletter
13 July 2020
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