Recruiting younger voters: How ready are Malaysian political parties?

Soo Wern Jun
Deputy Youth and Sports Minister Steven Sim said today’s young Malaysians are more politically mature than given credit for and are ever ready to share their opinions on public issues. — Foto oleh Mukhriz Hazim

KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 24 ― Roughly 7.8 million new voters age 18 onwards will qualify to vote by 2023, when the Pakatan Harapan (PH) government’s mandate expires.

That leaves a little over three years left for Malaysia’s increasing number of political parties and their new alliances to get their act in order for the next general election, a battle that is anticipated to be even more intense with the nascent PH gunning for a second term while the old Barisan Nasional (BN) guard attempt a comeback.

Malay Mail spoke to the youth leaders of political parties on both sides of the divide to find out their plans for Generation Z whom pundits observe to be more interested in contributing to the nation while simultaneously having little knowledge in how they can participate other than exercise their right to vote.

Here’s what we learnt:

The ruling coalition

The oldest party in the PH coalition, DAP is also one that has from its inception set the age for membership at 17, the lowest threshold of all political parties in the country.

To date, the DAP has no plans to lower the age floor to recruit younger members to shore up its vote bank. Instead, its Bukit Mertajam MP Steven Sim said focus will need to be given to improve and expand its political education outreach programmes.

“For instance, youths need to learn the difference between good governance versus corruption, democratic values versus autocracy, unity versus racism and more,” he told Malay Mail when contacted last week.

The deputy youth and sports minister said today’s young Malaysians are more politically mature than given credit for and are ever ready to share their opinions on public issues.

Sim said past initiatives were too focused on telling youths which political party they should choose when effort should be centred on educating them about the kind of politics that should exist.

He acknowledged that the Universities and University Colleges Act (AUKU) 1971 had prevented youths from participating freely in politics all this time, and that its much touted amendments remain unclear.

“This is one major challenge as political parties are reaching out in colleges and universities. We need to deal with it,” Sim added.

Parti Amanah Negara Youth chief Hasnul Zulkarnain Abd Munaim too believes educating Malaysians on politics should be prioritised ahead of recruitment.

“My personal view is that we need time to educate and help youths understand what politics is all about before aggressively recruiting them into the party,” he said.

He said initiatives can be done through schools, but without having politicians enter campus grounds.

“It will be done in the form of raising awareness through non-governmental organisations by giving talks. We will not be campaigning in schools,” the Titi Serong assemblyman said.

Hasnul also disagrees with lowering political party membership to 16, as some other parties are doing, saying that 18 is a suitable age so as not to disrupt secondary school education.

PH’s youngest component Bersatu currently caps membership into its Youth wing at 18. However, the wing information chief Ulya Aqamah Husamudin thinks there may be plans in the pipeline to lower the floor to 16 at the party’s next annual general convention.

“As for our plans for the Youth, we will discuss our new approach during the convention as well,” he said.

Malay Mail reached out to PKR but has not received a response at the time of writing.

Calls had previously been made by party members to lower membership from 21 years old to 18, but no decision appears to have been made so far.

MCA Youth chief Nicole Wong said for the past one year, the party has been concentrating its efforts in three areas it sees as key to winning back voter support ― value, policy and culture. ― Picture via Facebook

Opposition

Of the three parties that today make up the BN coalition that once had 13 components, MCA appears to be the clearest in its preparation to win the support of Malaysia’s Gen-Z.

At its annual general meeting earlier this month, the party that had been reduced to two seats in Parliament decided to open membership to non-ethnic Chinese and lower the age to 16.

Its Youth chief Nicole Wong told Malay Mail that for the past one year, MCA has been concentrating its efforts in three areas it sees as key to winning back voter support ― value, policy and culture.

“Our first step to recruiting more youths was to amend our party constitution to allow members below 18 to join us.

“The next stop will be to focus on value, policy and culture. Not only to attract, but also to educate them on the importance of politics,” she said.

Umno Youth chief Datuk Asyraf Wajdi Dusuki agreed that politics has got a bad reputation and something needs to be done first to change the public’s image of it.

“We have to promote something positive so people don't look at politics as being something more disruptive and not constructive at all.

“At the end of the day, politics is part and parcel of life and we must make sure the political atmosphere is constructive to help the country go further,” he said.

Once the largest political party in the country said to have over three million members in its heyday, Asyraf said Umno today is not just looking for new and younger members but are looking for those it can groom to be Malaysia’s future leaders.

“These are our future leaders so apart from preparing them to be voters we hope to train them to be leaders as well,” he said.

However, he declined to reveal Umno’s recruitment plans.

MIC appeared the first BN party to bounce back from the coalition’s defeat in last year’s general election and spoke to Malay Mail in August 2018 about its plans to set up a political school in Port Dickson, Negri Sembilan to groom its future leaders.

However, little news about the school is known today.

When contacted last week, MIC Youth chief R. Thinalan said the party is focusing on recruiting members.

“Next year,somewhere in February, we will be having a big event and we are expecting the attendance of about 2,000 youths,” he said, without elaborating.

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