GE15: Litmus test for youth participation


PETALING JAYA: Youth issues such as quality education, better minimum wage, housing as well as bread-and-butter issues have been largely ignored by political parties across the divide, says #PulangMengundi founder Joe Lee.

“The general sentiment is that youths would love to see parties address issues such as the above, to offer some sense of security, especially during these trying economic times,” said Joe.

ALSO READ: GE15: KJ urges youths to come out to vote on polling day

He added there is also a general air of lethargy and political fatigue surrounding youth voters as GE15 campaigns enter its final lap before Malaysians go to the ballot box this Saturday (Nov 19).

For some youth groups, the subdued mood in the ninth day of campaigns could be due to the wet weather, Covid-19 and a fear of floods, he added.

Flash floods have been happening across the nation over the past few days, and it could serve as a deterrent to voters from attending ceramah before polling day.

“But, it’s still good to see parties work around smaller ‘ceramah kelompok’ as well as the online streaming of their events,” said Joe whose movement is non-partisan and intends to encourage Malaysians to return and vote.

ALSO READ: GE15: Youth in Sabah excited to vote, learning importance of their ballot

He also noted that physical campaigns in GE15 have mostly shifted towards online on social media.

#PulangMengundi is part of the #UndiBanjir collective initiative that involves #UndiRabu, #CarpoolGE, and #KitaJagaKita.

According to Joe, the four initiatives decided to come together under one umbrella - #UndiBanjir - in GE15.

“Because we are definitely short of many things. Since we need to focus on the floods, crowd funding, educating youth voters, so we try to rope everyone in and pull all the resources that are available,” said Joe, who’s also a social media consultant.

ALSO READ: Undi18 students set for rush home to vote

Malaysian Students Global Alliance head Jonathan Lee said youths outside politically aware circles, have displayed a sense of apathy towards politics, and he believes that it was due to lack of engagement and also incessant party-hopping as well as corruption controversies.

Jonathan urged politicians to be creative in engaging youths, such as having dialogue sessions with the young in cafes or holding live sessions on social media.

“Youths are particularly interested to hear how job shortages and retention of local talents will be addressed.

“These are very pressing issues for youths who will be entering the workforce,” said the 20-year-old student at Newcastle University in the UK.

ALSO READ: Young voters at the forefront of changing political landscape

Jonathan also said youth disinterest towards politics stemmed from a lack of trust in elected representatives, and leaders have to work harder this time around to restore public confidence.

“Politicians also have to remember that they carry the hopes of people who placed them in power in the first place and it is their duty to act responsibly in Parliament,” added Jonathan.

Jonathan, who is also the global coordinator for VoteMalaysia, a movement to bring overseas postal ballots back to Malaysia, is hoping for the next government to look into the issue of postal rights.

“There was a lot of awareness work that volunteers had to conduct, and some feared they may not receive their ballots in time to vote.

“I hope the next government can look into implementing reforms towards the system,” said Jonathan.

For Jonathan, a majority of youth voters will make their decision based on the quality of candidates, rather than the party.

“This is partly due to social media, where whoever has the most waves on social media may appear as the better candidate. It’s also a matter of perception where one is more likely to vote for the candidate that he or she has heard more about,” said Jonathan.

But, Jonathan also said families may play an influencing factor on how youth votes.

“So, youths who are less informed and more undecided will likely vote for the party that their family usually votes for, as to them, it will seem to be the ‘safer option’,” added Jonathan.

Institute of Strategic and International Studies analyst Lee Min Hui said youths have always been less politically engaged compared to other age groups in the country.

She cited the 2020 Youth Development Index, which shows Malaysia ranked among the lowest in the region for youth participation in politics and civic participation.

“In the Johor election earlier this year, youth advocacy groups found that many youth were unaware about automatic voter registration, or even that state elections were being held.

“So, there is reason to believe that some level of voter disengagement or even apathy still persists despite the advent of Undi18. Strategies to attract youth voters must thus speak directly to them to pique political interest,” said Lee.

Lee also noted that youths generally lacked trust in governance and public institutions, so it could be pivotal for candidates to start discussing issues on accountability and their plans to set up proper mechanisms to monitor that.

Lee said candidates can attract more youths by being more relatable and social media platforms are a low hanging-branch to achieve that.

“But this isn’t as simple as just posting content - it is about being responsive, about showing the youth that they are heard and not powerless, and about providing political information that seeks to inclusively educate and not intimidate new young voters.

“Strategies that harness on both these items to build general political and societal engagement among the youth are an important precursor towards more enhanced political interest, which have the potential to transform into votes in the future,” Lee added.

Lee said it will be difficult to determine whether youth voters will cast their ballot based on candidates or the political party.

“However, I do believe that this vote could likely hinge on how politically informed they are.

“Those that are more politically informed will likely shift away from the voting behaviours that have long characterised Malaysia’s political landscape, such as patron-client relationships or ethnic voting patterns.

“It remains to be seen what the magnitude of the youth vote will be. The upcoming elections serve as a litmus test as to the power and extent of the youth’s political participation,” said Lee.

Early voting will be on Nov 16 (Wednesday) and polling this Saturday (Nov 19).

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