Parties target youth voters in Johor poll, many multi-cornered fights expected

Many believe the poll could be a watershed with the sudden influx of younger voters. PHOTO: MUDA

JOHOR BARU - Multi-cornered contests, involving up to five candidates from established and new parties, are expected to take place in the much watched state election in Johor next month.

Many believe the poll could be a watershed with the sudden influx of younger voters.

On Nomination Day on Saturday (Feb 26), parties will offer more young professionals as candidates in the hope of convincing voters that they can form a government that creates attractive opportunities for Johoreans.

The March 12 election will be the first to implement "Undi 18", a set of electoral reforms that lowers the voting age from 21 to 18 and automatically registers all qualified citizens.

Youth-centric Malaysian United Democratic Alliance (Muda) will make its debut, while Perikatan Nasional (PN), the largest bloc in Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob's government, will field a line-up where a third of its candidates are aged 40 or below.

About 60 per cent of those named by former premier Mahathir Mohamad's Parti Pejuang Tanah Air are no older than 50, while the Umno-led Barisan Nasional (BN) said over 80 per cent of its hopefuls are below 55 and highly educated.

"We hope this new blood can serve Johoreans more energetically," BN chief Zahid Hamidi said during an event on Thursday to present the coalition's slate of candidates.

Muda president Syed Saddiq Abdul Rahman, who spearheaded the constitutional amendment when he was youth and sports minister three years ago, has said that about 80 per cent of previously unregistered voters are under the age of 40, which would mean that up to a quarter of Johor's now 2.6 million strong electorate would be young first-time voters.

All of Muda's candidates are also under 40.

"Those under 40 look for better jobs and opportunities and equitable access to the business market," Democratic Action Party (DAP) Johor chief Liew Chin Tong, who is the Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition's candidate for the Perling seat, told The Straits Times.

Mr Liew, 44, added that about a third of DAP's candidates are younger than 40, an age group he said made up half of the state's voters.

The results of the state poll will be a barometer of the next general election where the number of voters will grow by nearly 40 per cent due to Undi 18.

"Politicians shiver when there is a five per cent increase. That's why I call it (Undi 18) the strongest political earthquake and tsunami in Malaysia," Mr Saddiq, 29, told The Straits Times.

SPH Brightcove Video
President of new party Malaysian United Democratic Alliance or Muda speaks with ST Malaysia bureau chief in an interview and shared why the youth vote is crucial in the upcoming Johor election.

The national vote is due in 18 months, but should Umno follow up on their landslide November victory in Melaka - when BN won three-quarters of the assembly - with another handsome win, the faction allied to Zahid and as well as his predecessor Najib Razak, who was the former prime minister, would likely push Datuk Seri Ismail, a party vice-president, to call for snap polls this year to capitalise on momentum.

The fate of former premier Muhyiddin Yassin is also at stake in the Johor poll. A disappointing result for the PN chief in his home state would severely hurt his chances to return as Malaysia's leader after being forced to make way for Mr Ismail, who served as his deputy prime minister, last August.

In 2018, BN lost the state - as well as federal power - for the first time since independence over six decades ago, taking just 19 seats to PH's 36. Umno reclaimed Johor's chief ministership two years ago when Tan Sri Muhyiddin led a number of parliamentarians to defect from PH, which not only resulted in him being made premier eventually, but also saw several state governments change hands.

But most contests in 2018 in Johor were decided by slim margins. Over 70 per cent of the state's 56-seat legislature was won by a plurality - less than half the number of ballots cast - due to multi-cornered fights.

Thus, the impact of the "Undi 18" influx could be key in deciding who controls Johor's government after Umno dissolved the state assembly in January citing political instability due to its one-seat majority.

"It is a big issue for all parties, not just BN, to evaluate the sentiment of these new voters," said Umno deputy president Mohamad Hasan, who is the pact's election director for the Johor vote.

Most parties have launched manifestos promising better jobs and expanding the digital economy in a bid to attract the under-40 cohort.

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