POLITICS: Youth power vs old men politics

Is Malaysian politics dominated by old men?

Going by what 95-year-old Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad commented on Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman's proposed youth-centric party, it is.

The Parti Pejuang Tanah Air (Pejuang) founder told the 28-year-old-politician, his former protégé in Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia, that he was not confident the Muar MP's planned youth-led party would be successful in a general election.

The former prime minister said although the yet-to-be-named or formed party might garner substantial support from youths, it would likely not be enough to win. The support of old voters, it seems based on Dr Mahathir's logic, was necessary to win the election.

On what she thought of the Langkawi MP's dismissive opinion of Syed Saddiq's party, political scientist Bridget Welsh said Dr Mahathir was 95 years old and he doesn't understand the young.

"It showcases how old Dr Mahathir is. And the fact is youth representation and leadership - in terms of younger leaders and grooming young people - are areas where Dr Mahathir has not performed that well," said Welsh, an honorary research associate of the University of Nottingham, Malaysia's Asia Research Institute (Unari) based in Kuala Lumpur.

On whether the youth-led party could win over the old voters, Welsh contended that Dr Mahathir was correct as some would not. However, she said some would as it depended on the platform that Syed Saddiq's party stood. She also noted that there were many swing voters in Malaysia.

Welsh pointed out that Syed Saddiq's party was already making an impact as it was mobilising young people. "It's making them think about politics. It gives them an avenue to engage on issues and it brings attention to issues of the youth which is important as they make 40% of the electorate," she said, adding that with Undi18 the number would increase to 50%.

"It is making an impact because people are fed up with the current political parties across the political divide. And within these political parties, youth do not get adequate representation. And therefore, in a sense, the youth voice has been excluded," she said.

Universiti Malaya political analyst Dr Muhammad Asri Mohd Ali, however, shared Dr Mahathir's view.

Muhammad Asri believed that the proposed youth-led party could not attract new voters. He listed two reasons.

1) All dominant parties in Malaysia for certain reason are based on ethnicity and anchor to region. For examples, DAP in Penang, PAS in the Malay belt and PKR in Selangor. He said it was difficult to penetrate these areas.

2) Syed Saddiq is not related to any cause other than the issue of youth. "What happens if he becomes older? And almost every political parties have youth wings," he said.

Syed Saddiq has been polite in his response to his mentor, tweeting "Thank you, Tun. We accept the criticism with an open heart. This is a party led by youths for all Malaysians."

He could have told Dr Mahathir that Malaysia was 'No Country for Old Men'.

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