Renewing Malaysian politics: Will the young respond to the call?

Are the uncorrupted young, filled with hope and idealism to build a just and equal society, willing to stand up and make a difference?

Photograph: Eric Thoo

I am 73 and I hope I am not wasting my time writing this piece.

After reading that some young political were forming a new political party, I thought I should put down my thoughts as I believe the future of Malaysia – or any other country of the world – lies in the young as it is their future that is at stake.

They should be in politics and in government. They should be the ones who decide the direction of a country. The oldies of politics should simply leave the scene. But can this really happen in Malaysia?

Look elsewhere and learn lessons

This idea of the young in politics can also be seen elsewhere.

An example is Finland, whose Prime Minister is in her 30s, and her cabinet is not merely young but also made up of a majority of women. It is a coalition government with the parties agreeing to have a young and mainly female government. It also means that citizens agree to be governed by a female-majority government.

This government also took the reins of the presidency of the European Union for six months in 2020. They showed that though young, they were up to the job to lead a union of 27 states.

Of course, they had behind them experienced civil servants who among them would be men and women, but it was these young leaders who made important decisions every day of their term in office.

Many admire Finland for its educational system, and Malaysian academics have also taken an interest in it. Have there been any Malaysian academics taking an interest in Finnish politics and how it has arrived at such a government? I doubt any.

Could Malaysia produce a young and female-led majority government in the future? I think it is asking a lot in a patriarchal society, where men lead and where women are not seen as equal – which is still the case even in Europe.

What will it take to make this to happen? The old male and even female politicians are not going to quit just like that. They have too much to lose and will resist. But there is a need for a dream to drive the Malaysian young to think of another politics, another society, their future and their country.

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For this to happen, it means political parties led by the young must compete and supersede existing political parties in the long run. But who will be considered young? I think of 40 as the cut-off point for political leaders in Parliament and government.

The young-led political parties must be able to garner support by highlighting issues which affect the young and seek the support of older folk sympathetic to the young.

I think of the Greens in Europe, which I have been associated with, and they have parliamentarians in their 20s. They galvanise much support from the young who care about the ecology and want to save the planet.  

This led traditional parties to take up these interconnected issues as they also compete for the votes of the young, and they want to rejuvenate themselves. All organisations and institutions want to last forever, but it is not realistic.

We have seen the young demonstrating across the world to save the planet through the “Friday movement” though that has not caught on in Malaysia. The environment, energy, climate change, nature and all other related matters have never been a major priority in Malaysian politics and we know why.

Perhaps it is time for the young in politics and those entering politics to think along these lines, which will cut across ethnicity, religion and more. A green party in Malaysia?

Young also implies young politicians and leaders who do not carry political baggage. They must be able to start from a clean slate engaging in new politics, restructure the state and society, and promote a new culture.

This reminds me of the demonstrations in Lebanon in 2020, where people were looking for a government free from corruption and free from religious and ethnic-based political parties. They were looking for technocrats to run the country. They were looking for politics not based on religious confessional-based parties.

The then-newly appointed prime minister, whom demonstrators did not want in the first place, resigned because no consensus was reached with such religious confessional-based parties.

His successor is an old politician based on the confessional politics of the past up to the present. Does this not seem familiar to us in Malaysia? Malaysia is not as bad as Lebanon, but it can become a failed state with rising corruption, coming with money politics.

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What’s expected of young politicians and parties?

Youth-based political parties in Malaysia with a clean slate should be reflected in the personal lives of these young politicians living up to their ideals and proving themselves to the people.

A clean slate means a new manifesto placing the human being at the centre, regardless of colour, race, religion, class and culture. No more championing of race or religion but championing the human being. As human beings, we are all equal before the law and before God. We must championing what unites us, not what divides us.

Such a party led by the young will promote a system of values which the old establishment parties have never kept, even though their members claim religious allegiances in the spirit that all religions promote a system of values which are not divisive.

This system of values will include equality, justice, tolerance, solidarity, the common good and the defence of the poor, the disadvantaged, the minorities and the Orang Asli, underpinned by love of people.

These values are also values expected in any democracy and will include democratic values such as the rule of law, human rights, good governance and accountability.

This young party or parties must promote this system of values while in opposition and must live up to them when in government, as democracy is more than elections and electoral politics: what happens between elections is just as important.  

The Pakatan Harapan government and what it promised gave great hope to the people of Malaysia. It fulfilled some promises but failed with many others. The parties led by the young have to learn from mistakes of the PH parties because they are not parties of a clean slate either.

These PH parties have a history behind them, although many perhaps cannot think of an alternative party or parties to the current Perikatan Nasional backdoor government. These PH parties comprise many old politicians, even if they have ideals and want to serve the people.

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The parties led by the young have to distinguish themselves even from these PH parties. The young party or parties have to do better in political will to implement what the PH parties stated they would do.

They have to go further and repeal all non-democratic elements in the laws and fight against corruption, which gives Malaysia a bad international image.

They should act more in the interest of the workers and the poor and improve social security and social welfare. They should assist small and medium-sized enterprises as they are the biggest employers rather than the giant corporations. They should promote the setting up of cooperatives as a form of business and social enterprise.

They should work to improve the environment, reduce greenhouse and carbon emissions, remove wastage, recycle, introduce a green and circular economy, and create new green jobs.

They should pay more attention to what is happening and have an international perspective, not just a national one and see how the national interest meets the international ones.

We are living in a global world whether or not we like it. No problem can be solved by a solitary country. The young have to see how they can strengthen Asean in an era of big power politics. The international scene is never in a manifesto of a political party, but this is a ‘must’ today as what happens outside affects what is inside, and what is inside affects the outside. Malaysians need to have an international perspective. International schools are not enough.

The young and their parties will not win over the population immediately, but they have to be patient and build their reputation. It is the future they must have in mind, but the work must start now.

Are the uncorrupted young, filled with hope and idealism to build a just and equal society, willing to stand up and respond positively to this calling?

Dr Paul Lim was a professor and visiting professor in European studies at two Malaysian universities. He also served as acting deputy director of the European Institute for Asian Studies in Brussels

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loyal malaysian
loyal malaysian
27 Jan 2021 7.17am

Dr Paul Lim, yes, it will be a renewal of sorts if the young of our country take up the call to rejuvenate our nation’s politics.
Perhaps, Rafizi and Nurul Huda are not good examples, yet in recent times, these 2 show to us, the young in our country have not what it takes to make a difference in our country.

Perhaps it is the feudal structure of our political parties now – yet, if we take a look round, is it not true those who hold power have their hands on a long chain of command built up over many years.

“Are the uncorrupted young, filled with hope and idealism to build a just and equal society,..” – they are not seen yet.