Youth voters sparking New Politics in Malaysia

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New Politics is the rage now among young first-time voters, who articulate their opposition for entrenched, race-based state policies via social media, says Adil Johan.

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The 13th general election has sparked the beginning of a new direction in Malaysian politics. It was the first time for many young voters like myself in the 21-35 age bracket to exercise our right to decide on the country’s future and we have spoken very loudly.

The popular votes in favour of Pakatan Rakyat clearly indicate a sentiment for political and social renewal in the country. More Malaysians want a nation free of corruption, misinformation and racial politics. As such, the results of GE13 indicate an indisputable shift towards an era of New Poltics in Malaysia.

This is a politics of freedom of expression and information that rejects the insularity of BN-controlled ‘mainstream’ media. In fact, we increasingly see once ‘alternative’ forms of media take centre-stage in the dissemination of political information. Malaysiakini, YouTube, Facebook and Twitter as well as a host of other independent news portals have surpassed mainstream media outlets for reliable and timely election information. Prior to the polls, social media sites dominated as a means of sharing political information and opinions among youth.

This is a politics of young and dynamic leaders in Parliament. Nurul Izzah, a symbol of youthful renewal and dedication, defeated all odds and retained her hotly contested Lembah Pantai seat. Standing alongside her, Ong Kian Ming, Liew Chin Tong, Zairil Khir Johari and Rafizi Ramli are symbols of intelligence, dedication and fresh ideas for Pakatan Rakyat. These representatives are proxies for the new youth voters as they represent the future of Malaysian leadership, scarcely found in the ruling Barisan National. Opposing them is Khairy Jamuluddin, whose sincerity and capabilities remain to be seen as he now faces an uphill battle within the conservative and corrupt structure of his own party.

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This is a politics of cooperation and diversity across social and ideological backgrounds in Malaysia. In a brief pre-election road-trip around Klang, Kluang, Johor Bahru and Seremban I was inspired to see Malay DAP volunteers, non-Malay Pas members and Chinese Malaysian youth campaigning for all of three of Pakatan Rakyat’s component parties. The impact of the ‘majmuk’ or diversity initiative is symbolised in the active promotion of all three of Pakatan Rakyat’s component parties and close cooperation among all of the parties’ members. To top it off, I witnessed an excellent orator, Salahuddin Ayub of Pas, eloquently denouncing racial politics while addressing a Malay-majority crowd in Larkin, Johor. To my surprise, he didn’t even exclaim the “Takbir!” at the end of his speech. This is something that the more liberal Anwar Ibrahim and the even more dynamic Nurul Izzah are known to do in their speeches.

Despite all this cooperation and positive support across the Peninsula, the coalition remains in opposition in at the federal level. However, one must also take into account the ambiguity of parliamentary seats won by Barisan National in East Malaysia. The extent of the post-Lahad Datu military presence and suspicious cases of illegal blue IC’s affecting the polls outcome in Sabah remains to be seen. Sarawak, limited to parliamentary polls, also raises the question of Taib Mahmud’s unbreakable corrupt influence on the disadvantaged electorate in the interior villages. It was difficult to monitor so many unreachable polling centres but the existing warlord would have had no problems in allegedly facilitating shameless cheating in those crucial seats.

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Beyond the conspiracy theories, there is a clear divide between the voters of East and West Malaysia. This is contrary to assumptions that the election results indicate a Malay-Chinese split. In fact, in the Peninsula, Malays and Chinese are equally supportive of Pakatan Rakyat. It just so happens that such Malays are predominantly located in urban areas. The convincing majorities of Pakatan Rakyat in urban seats easily dispels the myth of such a racial divide.

Thus, it is my belief that a New Politics has been ignited in Malaysia. The structural advantages favour the status quo of Barisan Nasional’s authoritarian grip on the Malaysian people but a groundswell of renewal is challenging this inequality despite the odds. Not taking into account electoral fraud, phantom voters and postal ballots, at least 51 per cent of Malaysians support a change. At least 51 per cent want a new Malaysian Malaysia that is transparent, accountable and free.

Now we are in an era of looking forward. The youth who voted for the first time are sorely disappointed with the results. However, my peers and I are aware that we must do more than wait to cast our ballot in the next five years. We must mobilise and participate. We must actively take part in the political landscape of our country and support the leaders that best represent our hopes and aspirations. We must rally our once apathetic peers to register themselves to vote immediately. We must get out of our urban comfort zones and engage with those who are not as privileged, exposed and informed. We must be humble but we must be tenacious. The change for our nation starts with us, the NEW YOUTH of Malaysia.

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Adil Johan is doing his PhD in Malay film songs dating from the 1940s to the 60s in London

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