Malaysia’s disenfranchised, disillusioned youth

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Politically aware younger Malaysians have a unique opportunity to reject the politics of race and bigotry and instead focus on the issues that will determine their future wellbeing, writes Wandering Malaysian.

An article in the online media quoting student activist Anis Syafiqah Md Yusof caught my eye. She says that Malaysian youth are disillusioned and are no longer certain about who they could rely on to protect and look after the fate of the country.

I can fully empathise with her cynicism looking at what the Malaysian elders are up to:

  • Najib Razak visits Anwar Ibrahim in hospital in a sandiwara of rapprochement (never mind that he is widely perceived to be responsible for Anwar’s current predicament).
  • Anwar Ibrahim declares his support to Mahathir Mohamad (who had previously sacked and jailed him).
  • Mahathir Mohamad’s blue eyed boy Najib Razak has now turned into his political nemesis.
  • Lim Kit Siang, jailed without trail by Mahathir Mohamad, is now the former premier’s new-found political ally.
  • Hadi Awang, Najib’s once sworn enemy, is now being courted by him.

These shifting alliances to grab and cling on to power at all costs by men who range in age from 64 to 92 define Malaysian politics today, leading to a growing trust deficit between the political leadership and young voters like Anis Syafiqah.

Consider the fact that more than 40% of the Malaysian population is under 40 and almost 20% of the registered voters in 2013 were first-time voters, a proportion which is likely to increase in 2018.

This important segment of the population is clearly disenfranchised looking at the current political leadership:

  • There is no one below 40 in the Malaysian cabinet (Khairy Jamaluddin just turned 41).
  • The youth chiefs of the major political parties are above 40, entrenched in the current political culture and aspiring to climb up the political hierarchy rather than be catalysts of youth-led reform.
  • There are no elected representatives below 30 and less than 9% of our current Members of Parliament are below 40.
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This lack of participation and representation of youth is of course a natural outcome of our education system that is designed to suppress political activism and expression of alternative ideas and of a social system that engenders patronage and acquiescence to authority and age. This needs to change in the coming general election.

Does anyone remember Mohammed Bukhairy Mohammed Sofian? In 2013, he launched his candidacy to challenge Prime Minister Najib Razak in his home constituency of Pekan. He was all of 23 years old then and he subsequently withdrew his candidacy in order not to split the votes of the other opposition candidate.

Anis Syafiqah and her friends need to follow his example and struggle for a new political culture and vision for a better Malaysia. Her generation will need to face emerging challenges such as declining economic competitiveness and governance, the lack of jobs due to automation, the economic and social impacts of climate change and the increasing inequality and fragmentation of Malaysian society.

They have a unique opportunity to shed the burden of the emotional baggage of the current political leadership, rejecting the politics of race and bigotry to instead focus on the issues that will determine their future wellbeing and that of their children.

Wandering Malaysian is the pseudonym of an Aliran reader.

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