The Asian Voice

Why the youth are not keen to vote: The Star columnist

In his article, the writer expresses his concern over the trend of Malaysian youths, disillusioned by the politics, giving up their democratic right to vote.

An increasing number of Malaysian youths, disillusioned by the politics of today, are willing to give up their democratic right to vote. PHOTO: THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

KUALA LUMPUR (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - There's little point in venting our frustrations at politicians on social media if we are not registered as voters - it's that simple.

A staggering 3.8 million Malaysians who are 21 years old and above as of September 2017, have yet to register as electors, according to the Election Commission.

Based on statistics, about 45 per cent of Malaysians are young people and they make up the bulk of these unregistered voters.

There are many reasons why people may not want to exercise their democratic rights: not understanding the power of the ballot, the absence of facilities (especially in rural areas) or simply, the lack of interest.

And now, the young are calling for the boycott of the upcoming general election via the social media initiative #undirosak.

Little attention was paid when the campaign began, but it has started to gain serious traction, enough to now send politicians scrambling to stop their plans.

The voice of discontent is distinctly growing louder, with the youth urging voters to spoil their ballot papers to send the message that they are fed up with politicians from both sides of the divide.

The assumption has always been that the young are most likely vocal, idealistic and thus, anti-establishment.

But the revolt began when Pakatan Harapan announced its Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister candidates.

It's difficult to expect the young, and even the not-so-young, to accept a 93-year-old former prime minister to lead the opposition and to be the interim PM if it wins.

Yes, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad is much respected and revered - and rightly so, too - but he's not exactly Justin Trudeau or Emmanuel Macron to the young, who have great expectations.

Dr Mahathir himself has conceded to the lack of enthusiasm displayed when he fraternised with the young recently - the core target voters. He would surely have detected what was coming.

After a two-hour meeting in Petaling Jaya with about 200 Malaysian youths last year, Dr Mahathir apparently left the hall "with the impression that young people feel changing the government is not going to solve the ills besetting the nation, such as corruption and abuse of power."

The Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia chairman revealed in his blog the take home point for him from that session was that the young believed the problem lies with the system and that "if the system is right, then everything will be fine".

His advice to young Malaysians is that they should not be apathetic, but instead, work to change the government, lest they regret it later.

And that was even before Pakatan Harapan announced Dr Mahathir as its choice for PM. His ratings are said to have dropped down further among the young since they expect a younger set of leaders to head the government.

The young are obviously not happy with the incumbent, Barisan Nasional, either. Various contentious issues, from corruption to the high cost of living, have all bothered them.

The ruling coalition would obviously need to work harder, and expand beyond its mantra of political stability. To the millions of millennials who never faced the nation's struggles, their life of comfort is a given right and not something to be eternally thankful for.

Unfortunately for politicians, this is a responsibility, not a privilege. After all, representing the people was a choice, not an instruction, so gratitude is a moot point.

#undirosak is appealing because there is an increasing segment of Malaysian youths that is politically aware but disillusioned by the politics today, so much so that these young ones are willing to give up their right to vote.

And because the young are well-read, they find it hypocritical of politicians who used to berate Dr Mahathir are now hugging and kissing him, slapping each other on the back and conspiring with the sole purpose of unseating Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak.

The desperate clambering for votes of the young, meanwhile, has become a frenzied affair, with Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) promising the broadcast of the English Premier League on RTM. Of course, they are not gullible and know Astro pays a bomb for the rights to televise the games, an astronomical figure said to be close to RM one billion (S$ 338 million) .

But Dr Mahathir is a veteran campaigner and must have realised that the earlier one-issue strategy - 1MDB - was not gaining momentum.

Even the term, kleptocracy, or a government of corrupt leaders, was hard to cement in the minds of the people. To the young, it was easier to identify with Krypton, the fictional home planet of Superman.

So, it's now back to the drawing board - reminding the young, especially jobless graduates, that the Government has failed them since they now have to become petty traders to earn a living.

Dr Mahathir opines it is a waste to train university students in specific fields such as engineering and medicine, only to see them ending up selling nasi lemak or becoming Uber drivers due to the lack of employment opportunity.

He blamed the Government for not being able to provide appropriate jobs that could match the graduates' skills.

"People who send students to universities have hopes that they will graduate and be able to land high-paying jobs."

Finger-pointing is what politicians do best. But the effect on our local graduates, who have problems securing jobs, did not start yesterday.

Decisions on our education policy, many made during Dr Mahathir's 22-year tenure as PM, have left many Malaysians - of all races - mediocre.

Numerous aspects of the education system and the reluctance of our present leadership to tackle the epidemic, hasn't helped the cause. Education has always been politicised, unfortunately.

Many of our graduates lack proper command of English, and now, with the rise of Mandarin, they find themselves at a greater disadvantage.

In the past, they could easily be absorbed into the civil service, but now, it is grossly bloated and causing us to struggle with a huge wage bill.

It doesn't help that we never train our graduates to be entrepreneurs, so that they could be creating jobs instead of looking for them.

It is totally unrealistic for any fresh graduate to join the workforce and expect to be instantly paid well. It's not happening in Malaysia, and certainly not in the United States or many parts of Europe, either.

Well, the days of talking down is over. It is time for our politicians, who want the votes of the young, to listen. Stop talking, just listen.

The writer is The Star media group's managing director/chief executive officer. The paper is a member of The Straits Times media partner Asia News Network, an alliance of 23 news media entities.

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