KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 31 ― A lowered voting age and the ongoing political turmoil in the country has stimulated youth involvement in politics more than ever before.
This has strongly been evident over the past year ever since lawmakers made a historic constitutional amendment to lower the country’s voting age from 21 to 18 years’ old via a bill dubbed Undi 18.
As a result, the country has witnessed a notable uptick of interest in youth-led political movements that are generally fuelled by discontent or a desire to make new impacts in the political scene.
Among the recent noteworthy youth-led initiatives that caught the nation’s attention was the virtual mock parliament, known as Parlimen Digital, which saw 222 youth representatives reflecting the federal seats in Malaysia convene for a two-day debate session in July.
The youth movements gained even more momentum last month after former youth and sports minister Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman formed a youth-led political party called the Malaysian United Democratic Alliance (Muda).
With millions of new young voters in the electoral system by approximately June next year – after the completion of the automatic voter registration system – the young Malaysians are expected to be very much in demand among the politicians.
However, the sudden surge of voters in the next general election (GE15) may show different voting patterns with a much younger demographic casting their ballot.
According to Institute of Strategic and International Studies analyst Harris Zainul, the lowering of the voting age will bring about many new challenges to politicians who opt to sway this new voting bloc.
He said the youth nowadays could be more concerned with different issues, such as the environment, and would opt for new solutions to the environment they want to live in.
“Apart from that, having 18-year-olds in the electoral roll means issues on education would become more important to new voters.
“This is because prior to this, the voting age was at 21, hence the issues of education wouldn’t have been as relevant as when they were younger,” he said.
Harris also noted that the bread and butter issues, cost of living as well as a track record of giving out public goods and job creation would matter in the long run, and the political party that addresses these issues would benefit the most.
On top of that, he added stagnation of wages which has been a long-standing issue in Malaysia would probably be addressed more properly now as more fresh graduates are going to vote in the election.
“Social protection schemes and social safety nets for jobs involving the gig economy may also get more attention as more youth is attracted to that sector.
“The fact is these youngsters now have the vote and if any political party does not address their hopes, dreams, fears and anxiety, they won’t vote for them.”
For those in rural areas, Harris said the issue of connectivity, infrastructure and job development may still be more prominent.
“Whoever addresses their needs will play a bigger factor in winning the votes rather than just representing the youth.
“Youth representation is important, but in a long-run, it all comes down to bread and butter issues,” he added.