This article has been republished with updates as part of the Media in Arms' joint report, "Undi18: My country, my decision".
THE year 2022 will be big for youths, who are now able to exercise more political power and help determine the course of our nation’s future.
This is due to the Undi18 constitutional amendment which lowers the minimum voting age to 18 from 21, introduces automatic voter registration, and brings down the minimum age for election candidacy to 18.
The effects of those changes on voting numbers and demographics will be seen this year. The electoral roll swelled by 5.8 million on Jan 16 as automatic voter registration kicked in following the implementation of Undi18 in December 2021. Out of this number, 1.2 million were Malaysians aged between 18 and 20 while the other 4.6 million were those above 21 who had not registered earlier.
It was reported that based on data by the National Registration Department, between 40,000 and 50,000 Malaysians turn 18 every month. They will be automatically registered as voters and gazetted under the electoral roll by the 16th of each month, an Election Commission (EC) spokesperson told The Star in January.
The additional voters will be a game changer for political parties and coalitions – this month alone the number of registered voters in Malaysia jumped from 15.8 million to 21.1 million.
The upcoming Johor state election will be a litmus test of the sway of the Undi18 voters, making it urgent for political parties to devise plans to appeal to this demographic. However, as some major political players tell Sunday Star, they are also focused on various long-term programmes not only to attract these young voters but to also provide political education for them and train potential leaders.
Umno Youth observes that young voters want fresh faces, new ideas, and candidates who are clean, capable, honest and with accountability. They also want political parties with clear principles and big but realistic ideas.
Umno Youth aims to bring in youth support by fielding such candidates and espousing such principles. If a candidate fits these criteria, the chances of attracting youth support is higher, says Umno Youth chief Datuk Dr Asyraf Wajdi Dusuki.
“Young voters now are very smart. They can access information fast and anywhere. Hence, whoever that we want to field as a candidate must have credibility and capability to lead,” he says.
Asyraf Wajdi says that Umno Youth are open to working with any organisation, be it government bodies or civil society organisations, to have fair and effective political education for youths.
Political education is vast, and must include information and knowledge about our political system, state governance, the Federal Constitution, rights and responsibilities of a citizen, the election system and processes, rule of law, political parties and related matters, says Asyraf Wajdi.
The youth wing carries out training and small group discourses at the national, division and branch levels. These programmes include various structured modules and informal discussions on political ideology through various platforms.
“Political education is important to sustain trust and retain support of our members, especially among the youth,” he adds.
“Furthermore, we need to ensure more youth participation in decision-making positions either in Government or any work sector. Youths need to be empowered as they are leaders of today, not tomorrow.”
Among the initiatives by the party to empower its own younger members is to revive Putera Umno for those aged between 18 and 25, and will have their own programmes and leaderships represented at all levels
“We always believe that peer and micro targeting approaches are more effective ways to engage with this group,” Asyraf Wajdi explains.
MCA Youth has continuously engaged with youths through higher education institution programmes and school activities, and acknowledges the influence of social media to reach this target group, says MCA Youth chief Datuk Nicole Wong Siaw Ting.
“We will engage more with young influencers and key opinion leaders as a bridge to get closer to youths. We need to listen and respond to them,” she tells Sunday Star.
“MCA Youth will also organise more activities with youths. The recent voluntary programme under the Crisis Relief Squad of MCA on flood relief also gained some youth attention,” she explains.
“The present challenge is that most of our youth remain unaware of current affairs. It is essential to think for oneself and be critical about all that is going on around us. With that comes a level of social responsibility. Lessons on voting might help with understanding how the process of voting works, but it does not address the challenge of ensuring voters come to the ballot box,” she shares.
Acknowledging that there is a need for more young leaders to join the team, Wong says that meetings will be arranged between youths and political leaders so that they can better understand the workings of parliament, MPs and minister’s offices.
“Politics is typically regarded as a space for politically experienced men, and while women are often disadvantaged in accumulating experience to run for office, young people are systematically marginalised because of their young age, limited opportunities, and projected lack of experience. So, we need more young candidates in the coming election,” she says.
MCA Youth recently set up an Undi18 Special Task Force, which will work with the government and liaise with youth groups throughout the Undi18 implementation process.
The Youth wing in each state will also set up its own special task force to ensure that the implementation of Undi18 runs smoothly, says Wong, who adds that youth response indicates that they are excited to participate in the political process.
MIC Youth Chief Raven Kumar Krishnasamy says that the wing has been engaging students at the university level, explaining about government administration and the reality of the political scenario in Malaysia.
“These students have been receptive and also defensive on their thoughts. What has always kept them comfortable in our discussions is our acceptance that we are not here to promote a party, but to share how the system works. My responsibility is to explain things as it is, and it is also equally my responsibility to hear them out,” says Raven, who is also Tenggaroh assemblyman.
MIC has introduced a Siswa programme that engages young students, with the Youth Wing guiding them further in specific areas according to the needs of individual youths, says Raven.
“We are planning leadership summer camps through our Undi18 MIC programme, which will be open for anyone to participate. We are also planning on assembling a committee dedicated to voter education. Veterans and new leaders will be giving their input on matters regarding politics and administration, social media, and online outreach,” he explains.
“To develop young leaders, we have to create rational voters rather than emotional voters. Young leaders need to learn about community-building through the organisation as it builds cohesiveness. An organisation is more apt to rally around leaders with whom they have shared bonds.”
Young voters, especially those between the ages of 18 and 20, need to be exposed to “Democracy Education” to ensure that the group does not get involved in money politics ahead of the Johor state election and the 15th General Election (GE15).
Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) communications director Fahmi Fadzil says the Election Commission needs to shoulder the responsibility so that the group of first -time voters will understand their responsibilities as citizens who are eligible to vote.
This includes providing basic exposure to rules when exercising one's rights as a voter, he explains.
“My biggest concern actually is whether young people, if they are not literate in the democratic process, would lack understanding of what should happen on polling day.
"What are their rights as voters, are the votes secret, and many basic things in the democratic process. Are they easily influenced or maybe their votes can be bought.
“There are irresponsible parties (offering money) and this will educate a generation of voters in the problem described as money politics,” he says in a recent interview.
Commenting further, the Lembah Pantai MP admits that the mindset of voters in that age group is still not fully understood by the political parties.
However, he adds, all parties are currently reaching out to voters aged 18 to 20 in an effort to win their hearts and votes.
On the sentiments of young voters on the current political situation, Fahmi believes young voters would be more inclined to lean towards those who are able to resolve issues that are closely related to the group.
“If they can’t be resolved, then they will find a party that can resolve (the issues).
"Meanwhile, for any politician, the challenge is to speak in a language or manner and style that is close to young people. What more now that they can easily watch (developments on current politics) and get information through mobile phones.
"So, for me, the way they get the information is also very important because not only the issues, but also the way the information is presented, play a role in their perception of political parties, candidates and the future of the country," he says.
At the same time, Fahmi hopes that the representatives from PKR in each constituency have played their role (in engaging the young voters) including organising activities for them and connecting with youth leaders.
Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia’s (Bersatu)’s Armada youth wing organises outreach programmes that serve as an extension of the government’s initiatives called Mahasiswa United, says its chief, Senator Wan Ahmad Fayhsal Wan Ahmad Kamal.
“It is a platform where we encourage all students, from universities particularly, to participate and become agents of change through Undi18. Also, I hope in the long run this initiative could serve as a recruitment programme where bright students who are interested in contributing to the country’s policies and nation-building can directly channel their voices and ideas to the highest leaders of the country,” says Wan Ahmad Fayhsal, who is also Deputy National Unity Minister.
He believes that political education is important to ensure youth participation, and for youth to be politically conscious of their roles in the formation of our political landscape.
Armada plans to attract youth based on three major issues – jobs, technical and vocational education and training (TVET) and climate change, says Wan Ahmad Fayhsal. To do so, the wing plans to come up with policies and in-house programmes to help youth acquire more jobs in certain sectors, especially those related to TVET. This will also mean promoting TVET to youths of all levels and regions as a way to prepare them for a post-pandemic future.
On the climate change front, Armada plans to come out with green policies in all sectors.
“On education, we will continue to conduct massive tuition programmes for SPM candidates in order to help them strive for better university placements, while at the same time exposing them to interesting and promising career paths,” he says.
Armada also has Akademi Siasah Raja Ali Haji (Aksara) to coach young politicians for the party’s future by offering professional training on how to speak, how to write, how to think, and how to send their ideas across to voters and the public.
Young voters, especially those in Johor, have given a clear signal that they want leadership that is clean, has integrity and not involved in corruption or political misconduct, says Johor PAS Youth chief Ahmad Nawfal Mahfodz.
However, he adds, the Islamic party is honestly worried that young voters, especially those aged 18, may not be ready to carry out their responsibility as voters in the next election.
That is why Pas, under the leadership of Tan Sri Abdul Hadi Awang, has always emphasised on political maturity, he says.
"PAS has always adhered to the welfare aspect, and this needs to be seen more broadly and not just limited to sending aid to the door.
“This touches on the question of how we build the country, how we empathise with and relate to these younger brothers and sisters (young voters) and that is one of the segments that we are trying to bring to them, including in terms of recreation such as involvement in e-sports.
"Besides that, they are still interested in forming a prosperous Malaysia but as what we said - they want one that has integrity, is clean and and so on," he says.
Ahmad Nawfal, who is also the Perikatan Nasional Youth Chief, says the component parties in Perikatan also play an important role in guiding the younger generation towards a fresher political direction that is also free from misconduct.
He adds that the Johor state election should not be used as a testing ground; instead it should be an opportunity for young voters to translate their wishes into votes if it is true that they are fed up with the current political situation.
"In other words, if they still have doubts, worries or still feel like they don't want to go out to vote, then there is a lot more work to be done by all political parties.
“Political parties need to play a role in that direction to mobilise young people to go out to vote.
"If the Johor election does not reach a good number or percentage, then there is still a long way for us to say, these young voters (can) shape our state and country," he says.
The Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS) government policies are about empowering youths and the rakyat by improving their socioeconomic standing, livelihood and well being through embracing new and current technologies, says Datuk Gerald Rentap Jabu.
“The Sarawak state assembly amended the State Constitution to allow 18 year olds to be a candidate in the State elections in November 2020. This is part of the political reform process mooted by the EC since 2018,” says Jabu, who is also Layar assemblyman and Youth Chief of Parti Pesaka Bumiputera Bersatu (PBB), a component party of GPS.
According to Jabu, who is Sarawak Assistant Minister for Youth, Sport and Entrepreneur Development I, the GPS government has incorporated policies to help, guide, inform and provide for Sarawakian youths.
“The Sarawak Micro Credit Financing Scheme was created to help youths to start, finance and run their business from 2020. The Sarawak Youth Creative Industry Fund was created in 2020 for Sarawakian Youths from 15 years to 40 years old to help nurture, develop and subsequently encourage their creative talents. The response has been encouraging and the State GPS government is continuing to expand and mentor our youth,” he says.
The ministry is also working with other agencies to develop, improve and train youths in the digital economy, particularly in the Science Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (Stem) area of coding, application development and start-up initiatives.
“We do this in collaboration with industry players such as Shell, Google, MaGIC (Malaysian Global Innovation and Creativity Centre) and Lazada by improving and commercialising their efforts and talents. The youth are our future and that is what Sarawak Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Tan Sri Abang Johari Tun Openg wants to invest in. Unity through diversity creates economic opportunities that will ensure stability, prosperity and propel Sarawak to greater heights,” Jabu says.
One of Pejuang’s methods to attract youth and train young politicians is by providing them channels to work on the ground and volunteer their services, says Pejuang Women’s Youth Wing (Pejuanita Muda) chief Dr Nurul Ashikin Mabahwi.
“We do what we do best, not to be too political in a political party. We make things as youth-friendly as we can. There is freedom for our young members to submit their proposal for programmes or events, we let them lead. That’s how they grow,” she explains.
Dr Nurul Ashikin says that the main focus of Pejuang Youth Wing’s ongoing political education campaign is to raise awareness among young voters on the importance of voting and how to vote.
“Our membership for both of our youth wings increased significantly, and the response has been good so far. Most of our members have never joined politics before, but they chose us as their first party, and so I am sure we are on the right track,” she says.
“We have thousands of ‘very vocal’ girls and boys in Pejuanita Muda and Pejuang Muda. We’ve got to let them speak up and voice their opinions. My job is to listen. Of course, political training is a must and we have that in schedule,” she adds.
Dr Nurul Ashikin says that it is refreshing to see a significant increase of young politicians in Malaysia.
“They are clean and corruption-free. I have high hopes that young politicians will shape Malaysia to a better future.”
United Progressive Kinabalu Organisation (Upko) was the first party to give comprehensive approach, attention and opportunity for the younger generation to dabble in politics, says Youth Chief Felix Joseph Saang.
Saang points out that nearly 20 years ago, the party established its Komulakan Wing, which was then rebranded to the Generasi Muda Wing.
“Youths who have reached 18 years old could register as Upko party members through the Generasi Muda Wing. Since then, Upko has produced many young leaders. Some of them have been nominated as candidates, won elections and even appointed as Ministers in the previous Sabah State Cabinet Government,” he says.
Saang says that the party will continue to organise various youth-targeted seminars, workshops and leadership courses to reach out to the youths in hopes of producing and developing future leaders.
“Upko Youth fully supports Undi 18. However, Upko Youth would like to reiterate its firm stance that the registration must go through a transparent mechanism to ensure that this automatic registration would not involve those who have obtained identity cards illegally or corruptly, especially in Sabah.
“We all know that the Royal Commission of Inquiry (RCI) report has proven this scandal involving identity cards that have been issued through the use of malpractice and abuse of power in the state of Sabah,” he cautions.
“It was truly a moment of pride for all the young people in Malaysia when the High Court announced its landmark decision on Sept 3 last year, in favour of the implementation of Undi 18. However, we do not want the illegal issuance of identity cards to continue as it would pose a threat to our national sovereignty.”
The goal of the Malaysian United Democratic Alliance (Muda), one of the country’s newest parties, is to build a multi-racial, multi-religious country that is moderate, with a strong sense of civic duty, to push for poverty-alleviation and one that uplifts the voices of youths, says its secretary-general Amira Aisya Abd Aziz.
As a youth-led party, political education is a priority for Muda, says Amira Aisya.
“The best political education for youths is by getting them involved on the ground. Since the past month, Muda has been getting huge participation from the youth for our national flood relief effort. We have registered over 12,000 volunteers – which most of them age range 16 to 32 years old. From this, we expose them with politics of service,” she explains.
Through this effort, youths are introduced to the reality on the ground, how bureaucracy and governance affects the welfare of the people. Muda will soon kickstart their first “political school” to introduce Malaysia’s political scene to party members. This will involve multiple NGOs, knowledge sharing with party leaders, and other programmes at the national and state levels. A crucial move will be to bring youth into the decision-making process, and almost all national and state Muda leaders are youths, says Amira Aisya.
“We fight for issues pertaining to young people including unemployment, housing issues, price hikes, students’ welfare, the rights to vote and many more. There is no single formula to attract the youth voter group, but Muda believes that by fighting for them, together with them – it will create a ripple effect to gain their support.”
DAP is developing young leaders who are continuously connected with the young generation and passionate about serving the communities, says DAP National Socialist Youth (Dapsy) Deputy Chief Chiong Yoke Kong.
“It is our belief that through perseverance and hard work, we will bring about positive results and garner support from the public,” says Chiong, who is also Tanah Rata assemblyman.
Chiong explains that DAP has been actively putting youths in the forefront, and has more than 30 MPs and assemblymen who are aged between 20 to 40.
“Concerning efforts to attract support from Undi18, our elected representatives and Dapsy Leaders are performing their duties particularly in their specialised areas, such as assisting undocumented children, single-parent families, varsity affairs, educational counselling for low-income families, and development consultation for social media and emerging careers,” he says.
“All of them are dedicated to serving the communities by providing counseling, legal aid, or guidance,” he adds.
In addressing youth concerns, Parti Amanah Negara’s (Amanah) Youth Wing will prioritise major topics affecting the younger generation, namely unemployment, stagnating wages, housing and high cost of living, says its chief Hasbie Muda.
“Amanah Youth will initiate strategic cooperation with various non-governmental organisations (NGOs), think tanks and as well as policy makers at the state and national levels to raise awareness on youth political involvement,” he says.
Amanah Youth will also focus on strengthening three ongoing high-impact programmes to provide theoretical and practical education to today’s youth, especially first-time voters under the 18-21 year old category.
Among the three major programmes conducted are the Amanah Executive Internship, open to those under 25, to understand the workings of Malaysian parliamentary democracy. This programme allows participants to interact with parliamentarians and given tasks to further their understanding of the political system.
The School of Leadership programme introduces the party, and focuses on the strengthening of the concept of democracy and in producing new leaders. The Pondok Siasah programme, meanwhile, focuses specifically on building youths who are interested and want to be directly involved in party politics.
Parti Warisan has always adopted an inclusive approach and the leadership of Datuk Seri Shafie Apdal has always been one that has prioritised the importance of giving youths a platform to lead, their voices heard and fresh new ideas executed, says Warisan National Youth leader Dr. Rajiv Bhanot.
Warisan plans to appeal to young voters by moving towards a more mature, policy-driven type of politics, and continue to provide a platform for youth to voice out their ideas, adds Dr Rajiv, who is also Warisan Semenanjung Chief Coordinator.
“As a multi-ethnic political party that is focused on centrism, we hope to be the strong voice of Moderate Malaysia. Young leaders have always been given opportunity in Warisan and this was shown when many of the candidates that contested in GE 14 as well as the last state elections were all ages 40 and below,” Dr Rajiv tells Sunday Star.
He explains that many of the party’s top leadership as well as divisional leaders are all young, dynamic individuals, and that this exposure into politics at a young age has allowed the party to groom the next generation of state and national political leaders.
“Malaysia is a beautiful country that has unfortunately been very divided by many years of race based politics and policies. With continued involvement of the youth, we will fight for policies that benefit all Malaysians and move us towards being the unity force that we once were as a nation.”
Parti Sarawak Bersatu (PSB) Youth chief Dr Johnical Rayong Ngipa says that a lot of plans are underway, including in-person and online workshops and seminars, to encourage youths to be a part of the political process.
“We hope to spark their interest by providing information on the importance of politics and how it shapes their future. We are also in the midst of setting up NGOs for youths to carry out activities with the support of the party,” says the Engkilili assemblyman.
According to Dr Ngipa, PSB plans to amend its constitution in February to allow anyone above 18 to join in its activities, and will be setting up Putra and Putri wings which will cater to younger members.
“Youths today are very wise and are very tech savvy, so we will capitalise on this,” he says, adding that the party will focus on issues close to the hearts of youths.
“In Sarawak, some youths received good results in school but they could not enter university because they cannot afford it. Scholarships are hard to come by, and some are afraid to take up National Higher Education Fund Corporation (PTPTN) loans because it puts them in debt. This limits their education progress,” says Dr Ngipa.
Dr Ngipa adds that many fresh graduates in Sarawak also face difficulty securing work and oftentimes end up in low-paying sectors, even though they achieved good grades.
“We will continue to fight for equality in the job sector. If youths are not happy, the best way for them to protest is to join the party,” he says.
Sunday Star has also reached out to Parti Bersatu Sabah (PBS) but did not receive any response to our queries on youth political participation. This article was first published on Jan 30, 2022.
The Media in Arms is a media alliance comprising The Star, Sinar Harian, Sin Chew Daily and Astro Awani.