KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysia's youngest minister wants to empower the nation's youths by amending policies promoting hierarchy and seniority based on age.
Youth and Sports Minister Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman, 25, told The Straits Times that he intends to kick-start change by altering the defined age range for youth in Malaysia.
"National youth policy sets the age limit at 40 years old even though discussions for it to be set at age 35 and 30 has been there since 2011," he said.
"But there's no political will to do so because then a lot of the youth NGOs would get very angry and the (previous) government fears losing votes from these people," he added.
Mr Saddiq said that entrenched networks between local youth organisations and political parties such as Umno at the grassroots level meant that young people seeking to take up leadership roles found themselves hindered by old guards unwilling to step aside for new blood.
"These are public policy changes that requires strong political will," he said.
"But now I think political will is there, the mandate from the people have changed," he said.
Mr Saddiq slammed the previous long-ruling Barisan Nasional coalition, saying that decades-old measures had prioritised personal selfish gains which, in turn, stunted growth among youth.
"If you look on average the village head in Malaysia is aged 50 years and above. There's actually an age restriction," he said.
States determine the age requirements for village heads, with most setting the range from 35 upwards. In 2015, former prime minister Najib Razak raised the retirement age for village heads to 69, from the original 65.
Stories of young village heads are few and far between, but Malaysia did record its youngest village chief in 2014 in Perak , a 24-year-old man.
"In the end the success of the youth ministry can be defined if I'm able to create a generation of young people who'll take up leadership positions whether it's in the corporate world or the political world as well as a generation of young people who'll not just be employees but also employers," Mr Saddiq said.
The minister also vowed to push for freedom of expression, particularly in the universities.
He said he would work to have the Pakatan Harapan government fulfil in its first term its election manifesto promise to amend the University and University Colleges Act (UUCA) - a law that has been criticised for curbing youth activism and freedom of expression.
"The aim is to ensure young people have freedom to express themselves, engage in debates and dialogues, be free to associate with any political party, even if it's against the government," Mr Saddiq said.
Between 1975 and 2012, Malaysia amended the UUCA five times under the BN government, introducing more prohibitions on student activities on and off campus. Amendments in 2009 and 2012 removed off-campus restrictions but kept the curbs on freedom of expression, assembly and association.