A whole new generation of young Malaysians who identify themselves with more than Malaysia’s lovely food has arisen. They hopefully will usher in an era of New Politics, observes Francis Loh.
On 24 August, a group of young Chinese Malaysians, attached to the DAP internship programme, under the charge of the new MP for Serdang, Ong Kian Ming, visited the Aliran office.
All had impressive academic backgrounds; one was a lawyer, another a chartered accountant, yet another a mechanical engineer. One had graduated in sociology from a top women’s college in the US. There were two still schooling in the London School of Economics while the others were attached to local universities or colleges, studying various disciplines.
Whatever, all had decided to take time off from their studies or careers to engage with politics more directly by attaching themselves with various parliamentarians or state assembly people, and via them, to state government departments in Penang and Selangor.
They were a most inquisitive lot, and I had to field some hard questions. More significantly, I was struck by how keen they were about Malaysian politics and about related Malaysian affairs. No doubt they had a great sense of identification with and affection for their motherland.
And this is the nub of the matter.
For me, one of the most important consequences of the Pakatan Rakyat coming to power especially in the states of Penang and Selangor, is that the youth, especially non-bumiputera youths, have become interested in politics. More than that they have become interested to engage not only with politics, but with the institutions of government in Malaysia, albeit at the state – not yet at the federal – level.
We are all aware that Malaysia has been afflicted with a serious problem of brain drain for several decades now. It has been reported that some 5 per cent of skilled Malaysians, mostly non-bumiputera, leave the country each year, and that some 20 per cent of Malaysia’s young graduates, trained at home and abroad, opt to leave the country (mostly to Singapore), ultimately. What a loss this has been for our country!
In 2011, the World Bank’s Malaysian Economic Monitor reported the results of a survey of Malaysians living overseas who were asked whether they intended to return to Malaysia at some point in their lives.
Of those surveyed, 87 per cent of respondents said they would do so if there was a shift away from race-based to needs-based affirmative action in government policies.
A similarly high 82 per cent of respondents said they would also return if there was evidence of fundamental and positive change in the government or public sector.
Also, some 46 per cent desired to see greater investment in public education.
Significantly, only 17 per cent cited ‘favourable tax structure’ as an incentive for returning to Malaysia.
Put another way, the reasons for leaving were real or perceived ethnic discrimination in Malaysia, apart from lack of educational opportunities for their children. It was not about money.
With this problem of brain drain as a backdrop, the recent interest of these young Malaysians, including non-bumiputera, in politics and government is most encouraging.
Indeed, it is not only this particular group of Chinese Malaysians youths who have found meaning in the New Politics, and in the Pakatan-led governments. Many others – Malays, Chinese, Indians, Kadazandusuns, Dayaks, and others – have found renewed meaning in politics and government since GE12 and GE13.
In Selangor and Kuala Lumpur, we have seen the election of young wakil rakyat like Nurul Izzah Anwar, Nik Nazmi, Hannah Yeoh, N Surendran, Rafizi Ramli and Ong Kian Ming; in Penang Dr Afif Bahardin, Yap Soo Huey, Steven Sim, Zairil Khir Johari, Kasthuri Patto, Lee Siew Khim, and Soon Lip Chee; in Perak, Chang Lih Kang; in Sarawak, Alice Lau; in Johore, Teo Nie Ching and Liew Chin Tong.
Many other young people have also been appointed to become councillors in the local authorities. No longer are these positions the purview of old self-serving politicians like Datuk Zakaria (the late Umno kingpin of Klang, who also put on his big dark glasses, remember?), a practice which had further alienated young people from politics and from government.
More than that, the emergence of the two-party system has also encouraged young people to be involved in civil society organisations of all hues and colours and in social media and blogs. For instance, we have Latheefa Koya and Edmund Bon in Lawyers for Liberty/Loyar Buruk.
A majority of the people who attended the Bersih rallies and the Himpunan Hijau marches were youths. Many new ad-hoc organisations focusing on youth issues such as Universiti Bangsar Utama have also emerged.
Malaysia’s youth have been prepared to express themselves about politics and about government like never before! Among them are Fahmi Reza, an independent film producer of ‘Sepuluh Tahun Sebelum Merdeka’ fame; activist Fahmi Fadzil, host of the PopTeeVee series of interviews; independent writer Fathi Aris Omar and video and film producer Namewee.
It is this sea change in Malaysian poltics that makes our 56th year of Merdeka so very meaningful. Not the Jalur Gemilang or singing the Negara Ku per se. Certainly, not the showing of Tanda Putera! Nor because some have decided to organise a convoy of big bikes to Putrajaya and to ride around the F1 Circuit in Sepang along the way.
No, a whole new generation of young Malaysians who identify themselves with more than Malaysia’s lovely food has arisen. They have become interested in politics and in government. They are seeking – and hopefully will usher in – an era of New Politics.
Selamat Hari Kebangsaan! Selamat Merdeka, Malaysia!