MALAYSIAN youths will be a voice to reckon with when the 15th General Election comes around but their rights to vote would mean little if their decisions are influenced by their social circles.
The lack of independent thought when it comes to issues of politics and national affairs could lead students – particularly those who will be voting for the first time – to turn to their families and friends when casting their ballots.
This was a finding highlighted in a recent study by the Tun Tan Cheng Lock Centre for Social and Policy Studies (TCLC) at Universiti Tunku Abdul Rahman (UTAR).
The study found that only 40% of the respondents indicated that they had sufficient political knowledge of the voting system.
TCLC chairman Dr Chin Yee Mun said such a voting pattern would adversely affect the country’s democratic process in the long term.
“If political decisions are based on family and friends, groupism, or collective voting decisions, will most likely emerge. “In a multiracial country like Malaysia, groupism can lead to ethnic-based polarisation. Group opinions can also end up overshadowing individual voices leading to a democracy that ignores the voices of the minority,” he told StarEdu.
A root cause of the issue, Chin noted, is general political apathy.
“The lack of interest in politics is widespread and not confined to the youth. Many of us are not able to see the role of politics in managing society,” he said, adding that the lack of political literacy among youths is also a cause for concern.“Since we have lowered the voting age, students should be exposed to more knowledge that will guide them to vote wisely and responsibly,” he said.
Legal amendments that lower the minimum voting age from 21 to 18, introduce automatic voter registration, and reduce the minimum qualifying age for election candidacy to 18 came into effect last year.Undi18 programme associate Nisa Muzamir Shah, however, doesn’t think learning about politics from friends and family is necessarily a bad thing.
“Youths have to get their exposure somewhere but they need to be careful with the information they are getting and do more research on the issues to form an unbiased and rational opinion.
“This is to avoid the herd mentality,” she said.
A total of 265 respondents between the ages of 16 and 30 participated in the TCLC study. Of those polled, only 42% had an understanding of political parties in Malaysia.
With the lowering of the voting age, it’s even more pertinent now that youths are politically mature.
Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs (Ideas) senior manager of research Aira Azhari said it’s vital that youths are more in tune with the political landscape.
“Many of the most pressing concerns today impact young people the most, such as cost of living, unemployment, inflation and climate change.
“Young people should be involved in all of these issues as these affect their livelihoods, survivability and that of the future generations,” she said.
That youths could be basing their voting decisions on other people, she said, indicates a lack of independent thought.
“This means that youths might be voting on topics that are not of interest to their generation.
“Youths should be more independent because all the big problems of our time require dynamic, empowering solutions compared to the previous generations,” she concluded.