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Published: Wednesday November 12, 2014 MYT 9:20:00 AM
Updated: Wednesday November 12, 2014 MYT 9:30:15 AM

The voice of youth

Some of the "Member of Parliaments" reacting by hitting the table at the Youth Parliament Trial Session held at Palace of The Golden Horses.

Some of the "Member of Parliaments" reacting by hitting the table at the Youth Parliament Trial Session held at Palace of The Golden Horses.

The concept of a parliament of young people is more crucial than most of us recognise.

ABOUT two years ago, I was assigned to cover a trial run of Malaysia’s first ever Youth Parliament at the Palace of the Golden Horses in Serdang.

It was a very new concept at the time and I remember there were some hiccups and shortcomings that the Youth and Sports Ministry (KBS), as organisers, needed to contend with.

What was not lacking, however, were the number of constructive ideas and arguments which flowed from the 200 youth MPs selected to participate in the ‘beta phase’ of what would eventually mimic the country’s own parliamentary system.

Drawing on the youth parliament models in countries like the United Kingdom and Australia, the Malaysian youth seemed up to the task as they intensely but healthily debated a host of pressing issues, ranging from LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) to education policies.

Its full implementation has taken longer than expected, but with the recently completed election of 120 youth MPs, the Youth Parliament is finally ready to have its first official sitting early next year.

Organised by KBS in collaboration with the Malaysian Youth Council (MBM), the youth parliament is open to 18-30 year olds and is expected to sit for six days once a year.

"Members of parliament" seconding a motion during the youth parliament trial run today at Palace of The Golden Horses.
"Members of parliament" seconding a motion during the youth parliament trial run today at Palace of The Golden Horses.

Similar to requirements for parliamentary elections, candidates for the youth parliament must not be a bankrupt or convicted of any crime.

On top of that, they must also possess a wide range of knowledge on local and international issues, besides being competent debaters.

Granted, the setup is by no means perfect just yet - Youth and Sports Minister Khairy Jamaluddin recently admitted additional appointments needed to be made to balance out the composition of races and sexes in the Youth Parliament.

This was because 90% of the 120 elected representatives were male and Malay, an unfortunate by-product of conducting a nomination and voting process entirely online.

Provided the issue of equal representation is addressed, the Youth Parliament could be seen as a progressive move to make the voices of the youth count for something, instead of confining them to the streets and social media.

There are plenty of youth NGOs these days that seem to think that organising street protests and being online keyboard warriors are the best ways to make themselves heard.

Having covered many rallies as a journalist, whereby a majority of protesters consisted of youth, I often felt that their shouting and slogan-chanting was a waste of time and energy.

Worse still, in many instances I came across protesters who were not exactly aware of what they were protesting. They were present just to make up the numbers, or perhaps it was a means to feed their rebellious nature.

Streets protests are regarded as more of a nuisance to public order, whereas engaging in intellectual discourse and presenting your arguments via the right channels has a better chance of reaching your desired listeners.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t discount the influence of street demonstrations, and neither am I a proponent of stifling dissent in any form. However, I do share the belief that it isn’t the only way to propagate change and it certainly isn’t the best.

The youth parliament provides students and young graduates alike with a healthy and constructive avenue to make their thoughts and ideas known, regardless of whether it is in agreement or opposition to a certain issue.

At least that is what I hope the ministry intends to achieve from this project, lest it should become yet another platform dominated by pro-government ideologies and preventing any form of opposition towards its policies.

My hope is that the youth MPs will hit the ground running, and if the concept can be fine-tuned in the coming years, it could truly become a platform to empower and mould the nation’s youth into capable leaders.

Perhaps some of these youth MPs may even be encouraged to realise their ambition of contesting parliamentary seats in the future and taking over from our current crop of politicians, with the added benefit of experiencing a lower form of parliament.

For now, however, the requirement for elected youth MPs to be non-partisan can only be a good thing as it would ensure they don't debate along political lines.

At the same time, the issues and resolutions discussed at the Youth Parliament level must also be a reference point for the government to improve upon its existing policies.

Additionally, these resolutions should be brought up in parliament for further action.

Ideally, both parliaments should be operating somewhat in tandem and not independent of the other as it would defeat the purpose of such an initiative.

I am both excited and hopeful that the Youth Parliament will signal a shift from a culture of street protests to a more educated and ideas-driven participation from the youth.

Earlier this year, I even signed up as a youth parliament voter to show my support for the initiative, although I did not manage to vote in time for the freshly elected batch of representatives.

You can learn more about the Youth Parliament at www.parlimenbelia.gov.my and via their official Facebook page, or follow @MYparlimenbelia on Twitter.

Tags / Keywords: youth parliament

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