THE Malaysian Parliament created history on July 16, 2019.
Members of Parliament from both sides set aside political differences to vote on the #Undi18 Constitutional amendment to lower the voting age from 21 to 18 years old.
A great part of the recognition should go to Youth and Sports Minister Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman who led the effort to table this Bill as well as to ensure a bipartisan buy-in.
If anything, this demonstrated competent leadership from a minister whom some have derided as “too young”, “too naive” or “inexperienced”. This is indeed a good sign for having youth as leaders.
But this is not the time to rest on our laurels. The question now is: what’s next?
In the debate on #Undi18, whether in Parliament or outside Parliament, one of the oft-raised questions is, what is the government’s plan to educate young people to become responsible voters.
Yes, of course, the government must and will do a string of things to ensure youth and would-be youth voters are properly informed.
The Education Ministry is in the process of improving the school syllabus on the subject of elections and democracy.
The Youth and Sports Ministry will launch a new programme called Sekolah Rukun Negara as a platform to inculcate democratic values among youth.
The Election Commission too organises Akademi Pilihan Raya to educate the public on issues pertaining to elections in our country.
But the truth is, #Undi18 has never been just about giving young Malaysians the vote. More than that, #Undi18 is really about giving young Malaysians the opportunity to lead and shape this country.
Before a new slew of learning materials, programmes and seminars are introduced to educate these young would-be voters, I think we must first rethink how we look at youth.
Youth can differentiate right from wrong: First, we must recognise that young people know what is right and what is wrong when an issue is presented to them.
Ask them, is it right to steal or to bully? Ask them if we should take care of the environment. Ask them if there is a difference between “corruption” and “donation”, and chances are we will get replies that surprise us, but only because some of us suffer from the delusion that morality and maturity are factors of age.
Youth care about politics, but not gutter politics: Second, we must recognise that young people do care about politics and are willing to do something for the country.
Many people say that the youth are not interested in politics. And I used to believe this – in fact, I wrote a little book imploring young people to get involved in politics.
But as I worked with youth over the years, I realised that when they say they are not interested in politics, what they really mean is that they are not interested in the kind of politics that manifest abuse of power, bullying, corruption, racism, sectarianism and violence.
Youth today are already involved in many activities, movements and programmes that build society and empower people. In other words, youth do care about politics but they reject gutter politics.
Youth have good ideas but not in the forms we want: Third, we must recognise that youth have good ideas to contribute. They may not be expressed in the forms we are familiar with – and maybe that is why we call them immature.
For example, instead of writing an essay, they write music; instead of debating, they dance; instead of a town hall discussion, they draw and paint.
Of course, we know youth do write essays and debate and discuss, but what I want to say is this: We must not discount the message simply because we are unfamiliar with the medium.
Youth do not need more information, they need more formal platforms on which they can express themselves: Fourth, we must recognise that the new youth voters grew up in an age of hyper information, where the problem is definitely not the scarcity of information or the lack of access to it, but rather, information overload.
The last thing this generation needs is more information. Yes, having a lot of information may not mean anything. In fact, with the proliferation of fake news, it can be a problem. But fake news is a general problem of our times, not limited to the youth alone.
What is interesting is a recent study by Princeton University and New York University that showed those who are older are more prone to sharing fake news compared with youth.
The point really is, how do we cultivate the discipline of information processing and a culture of consultation, conversation and deliberation among young people?
When #Undi18 was being discussed, detractors mocked the youth of today as the “TikTok Generation” (TikTok is a social media platform for “creating and sharing short lipsync, comedy and talent videos” – think of it as a hybrid between Instagram and YouTube).
Some say that these types of punchy, sound-byte media is all that youth are good for. The truth is, these are the only platforms available to young people!
They do not get to go into newspapers, so they write on Facebook; they do not get to go on radio, so they post on Instagram; they do not get to go on TV, so they express themselves on TikTok.
Perhaps what we need to do for these young voters is to give them ample space in mainstream media to express their aspirations, creativity, criticism, ideas and opinions. I believe we will be positively surprised by the results that will emerge.
I am excited about the inclusion of youth into formal democracy in our country. I look forward to seeing fresh ideas complementing seasoned principles, and new idealism balancing old cynicism in politics and nation building.
Deputy Minister for Youth and Sports