BEFORE the Covid-19 pandemic hit, Amirul Ahmad was a hopeful young man, passionate about cooking and eager to start work as a cook.
A mere two years later, he is a frustrated, jaded person who has had to live with the disappointment of being retrenched from his dream job. And he is only just 18.
Now, Amirul grudgingly works an eight-hour shift as a salesman at a mall before moonlighting as a food delivery boy afterwards. He is exhausted and just wants to find a job that pays decently.
“My life has changed drastically since the pandemic. All I want is my old life back as a cook,” said Amirul.
Will a change in the political scene make his life better?
“Politics? I don’t care about that,” he declared.
“I don’t have time to think about who betrayed who. Forget about dreams, I just need to survive first.”
Elsewhere, 19-year-old student Adeline Ngai ran her last mile on the treadmill at a gym on a Saturday afternoon and was heading off to a group study session.
Her college life is hectic, but Adeline has strong political views. She is staunchly against “party hoppers”.
“The only way to ‘fry’ these ‘political frogs’ is by voting them out in the ballot box,” she said.
She, like Amirul, will be among the almost six million 18-year-olds and over who will be allowed to vote in the coming 15th General Election.
While Adeline promises to be at the polling station because of the “political frogs”, student K. Muthusamy wants to stay out for the exact same reason.
The 20-year-old who lives in Kuala Lumpur, said he would not travel back to Kedah to cast his ballot as a first-time voter, as he was very disappointed over the defections.
Amirul, Adeline and Muthusamy are three young voters who are all facing the same reality – but with totally contrasting views.
Therein lies the headache for political parties as they drum up preparations for the GE.
So far, the youths seemed to be divided largely between Pakatan Harapan and Barisan Nasional.
An analysis of the Johor election showed that votes received by Pakatan in youth voting streams ranged from 39% to 50% on average, while Barisan had between 25% and 33%.
Perikatan Nasional, on the other hand, is still trailing behind the two coalitions, averaging between 15% and 17%.
“We believe the majority comprised of young Malay voters,” said Datuk Dr Pamela Yong, deputy chairman of the Institute of Strategic Analysis and Policy Research (Insap) which did the analysis.
“The younger generation feels financially and socially vulnerable. Employment and employability remains as key concerns for younger voters.”
Another of Insap’s conclusion was that political fatigue is very real, and may even deter youths from coming out to vote.
This makes it extremely important for political parties or candidates to come up with credible reasons to encourage young and new voters to cast their ballot. Many have already revved into fourth gear to catch the attention of #undi18 voters behind the scenes.
MCA, for one, has decided to “read the minds” of the young voters and has organised several egame tournaments at the party’s divisional and state level, said spokesperson Mike Chong.
“We saw overwhelming participation from young people. This is one of the new ways to reach out to them,” he said.
The 38-year-old, who was campaigning alongside MCA heavily during the Johor election, also said viewership analytics conducted on its live-streamed ceramah found that its viewers consisted of mostly youths.
“From the analysis we did on the Johor and Melaka state election results, we believe we have secured more votes in youth voting streams in several state seats,” he said.
Chong reckons MCA is gradually gaining youth support due to Barisan’s track record.
“Youths want stability and progress for the country,” he said.
PKR’s Permatang Pauh MP Nurul Izzah Anwar and party stalwart Rafizi Ramli have also embarked on wooing the young with their “Ayuh Malaysia” campaign, especially after Pakatan Harapan’s dismal outing in the Johor election in March.
So far, the “Puteri Reformasi” said the campaign managed to recruit more than 7,000 volunteers but “so much remains to be done”.
“While young voters represent as much as 41% of voters who cast their votes in GE14, the last few (state) elections have shown a downward trend,” she said.
Voter turnout has gradually decreased from 65.85% in Melaka last year to 54.92% in Johor in March.
Nurul Izzah is focusing on several key thrusts – food security, renewable energy and environment, youth empowerment and TVET, affordable housing, and the democratisation of education – to woo the young ones.
Although social media is a crucial tool to interact with voters, she agreed that good Internet traction might not necessarily translate to voter turnout.
“Data from Germany, the United States, Switzerland and Japan indicate that the rise of social media use over the past decade did not significantly change voter turnout, especially among youths.
“It’s a crucial reminder for us as we churn out social media content – to remain relevant to the challenges of everyday life and how evidence-based policies in politics can make lives better,” she added.
The pandemic has changed the lives of Malaysians and there are many who say the youth would probably choose based on trends when it’s near GE15.
However, their unpredictability could cost political parties heavily. It could be worse if the young choose to ignore the ballot box completely.
There seems to be only one way to avoid this – improve the economy and return their lost faith in politics, and politicians.