MALAYSIA’S youth can be a viable political force without relying on political parties in spite of their historically low turnout at the polling booth.
A youth movement made this claim amid concerns that young adults are either not registered to vote or will opt not to cast their ballots in the 14th general election.
“Politicians on both sides fail to provide a narrative. Youth feel we need to create a new Malaysia that is just. We want marginalised voices to be heard,” Fadiah Nadwa Fikri, a 34-year-old lawyer told a forum in Petaling Jaya last night.
“Nobody cares when we talk about voting, for example. Voting can be a means to change something but we cannot (limit) our humanity to the voting status,” she said at the forum, entitled ‘Dear Political Dinosaurs, Why You Still Around?’ which was organised by Malaysia Muda.
Fadiah spoke of disillusionment with leaders from both sides of the political aisle.
“If there’s no alternative, you can’t force people to vote for you. The people out there (should) listen to what people here want,” she said.
Fadiah, who is a leader with Malaysia Muda, said the political narrative in the country was limited to certain issues, such as race.
“We are so polarised, we are so segregated that the only way is to depend on political leaders… Then, we are limited to the political structure that keeps giving the same result.
“Do we change just the leaders? When we refuse to move forward, when we refuse to change the narrative, then we will have politics that’s divisive.”
The forum comes as political observers and activists express concern over the youth vote ahead of the 14th general election next year, where some 2.43 million people aged between 21 and 30 are eligible to vote but have not registered as voters. Malaysia has 14.31 million registered voters.
Also speaking at the forum was Teo Lee Ken, a writer, who said youth needed to “mobilise” to effect change.
“We need to reduce our dependece on others to fight our battles. We always talk about change, about fighting corruption but no one talks about what it means to be Malaysian?”
Teo, who holds a doctorate in Malay Studies from the National University of Singapore, mentioned the plight of the Rohingya, the migrant workers “who stand eight hours a day” in restaurants and students who now “eat once a day, with Maggi for dinner.”
“No one talks about these people,” said the former activist with the Diskopi Group.
The former lecturer with New Era College said Malaysians had “lost our sensitivity to culture, literature and the arts”.
“I don’t think we have one politician who can cite paragraph from any particular poem. They only talk about change but they have poor understanding of our culture. I doubt any politician can recite four stanzas from Usman Awang,” he said.
“If we stay within our comfort zone, if we continue to do that, then nothing changes… No one wants to mobilise and talk to other groups, about what programmes and agendas that we want to bring.”
“We are trying to say that if things have to change, you have to mobilise, you have to fight the fight, and we have enough resources and friends, what we need is to consolidate, organise and mobilise.”
When asked during the question-and-answer session on the movement by certain youth groups to spoil their votes as a form of protest against the government and the opposition, Teo replied: “We think it’s premature to think whether we should vote or not vote or spoil our votes.
“One week is a long time in politics, I think it’s better we keep our minds open.
“We should go out and mobilise again and encourage everyone (not to focus on) only political leaders or figures but on a political narrative. If there’s enough of us do that, it will change the political landscape.”
Teo said the youth of today believed in equality and were bolder in their actions.
“Why must I address you as Datuk or Tun? The truth is, I don’t give a damn. I don’t care about your titles. I believe in a very egalitarian, a very equal playing field, sitting at the table together.
“I always like to work with students… old people tend to be conservative, while with the younger generation, there’s a certain bravado. They just do it and they don’t care. Sometimes that’s needed to break through barriers,” Teo said.
Fadiah said voting is not the only way to effect change.
“It’s ridiculous to say if you don’t vote you don’t have a voice. This has to change, even if you don’t vote, you have to teach people that you have every right to exist to be who you want to be.
“These are the things that the politicians will never talk about,” she said.
Seven out of 10 young Malaysians polled said they found politicians to be untrustworthy and the main cause of Malaysia’s problems, according to the results of a survey released in September. More than half believe politicians do not care about the people.
Of the 604 young people polled recently by Merdeka Center for Opinion Research, 70% said they did not care for politics. A same number felt they had no influence over government policymaking.
Meanwhile, James Chin, executive director of the University of Tasmania’s Asia Institute, said any vote spoiling would be to the advantage of the government.
“The (vote-spoiling) movement is real. They’re very active among the Chinese-educated group, with many working via Facebook and social media. If they abstain, the major beneficiary will be Barisan Nasional.”
“They are angry with Pakatan Harapan, especially with Dr Mahathir Mohamad given the leadership position and that the opposition cannot come together.
“It is possible that such a movement may affect the majorities in urban seats.”
“I think they are just angry that PH, under Lim Kit Siang and Anwar Ibrahim, are going to throw (concede) the general elections to Prime Minister Najib Razak because they cannot join forces with PAS.
“But I also believe that many of these young people are disappointed that the opposition must rely on Dr Mahathir for the fight even though he is the cause of many of today’s problems”
Chin said vote-spoilers had appeared in past elections: “They always come up among Chinese educated urban voters when DAP cannot meet their political needs.” – December 17, 2017.