The youth and Malaysia’s upcoming state elections - Hindustan Times
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The youth and Malaysia’s upcoming state elections

ByHindustan Times
Jul 28, 2023 12:47 PM IST

This article is authored by Sriparna Pathak, associate professor and director, Northeast Asian Studies, OP Jindal University, Sonipat.

Youth has always been the fulcrum of countries’ destinies. Examples range from their role in the Quit India Movement during India’s freedom struggle to the May Fourth Movement of 1919 in China which was an anti-imperialist political movement that grew out of student protests. Even in the 21st century, the youth continue taking leading roles in advocacy and protests around issues like climate change to abortion rights to curbing gun violence in the US. The role of the youth comes sharply into focus yet again as Malaysia gears up to hold elections in six states on August 12 this year, when a total of 245 assembly states will be contested in Kedah, Kelantan. Terengganu, Penang, Selangor and Negeri Sembilan. The state assemblies were officially dissolved from June 22 to July 1 this year. More than 9.7 million people are eligible to cast votes in the six state polls which will cost about USD 122 million. The uniqueness of the scheduled polls lies in the fact that 18-year-olds in these six states, known as Undi 18 group will be casting their votes for the first time this year. Over a million strong, the Undi 18, comprising those aged 18-21 became eligible to vote for the first time at the 15th general election last year.

Malaysian Electorate(ASEAN Briefing)
Malaysian Electorate(ASEAN Briefing)

The elections are the first to be held under the unity government led by Pakatan Harapan (PH) chairman and Prime Minister, Anwar Ibrahim. All main component parties of PH, People’s Justice Party or PKR, Democratic Action Party or DAP and the National Trust Party or the AMANAH, as well as the opposition coalition Perikatan Nasional or the PN will participate in the elections. The elections will be a litmus test for Anwar’s administration, less than a year after he took power last year. Bread and butter issues are most likely to take centre stage as election manifestoes, due to the fact that Malaysians are still grappling with persistent inflation, even after it slowed to 2.8% in May this year, which has been the lowest since May 2022. Costs have skyrocketed for businesses because the Malaysian Ringgit has weakened against a basket of currencies since early this year.

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Continues currency devaluation, poor economic performance, and ordinary achievements in the Unity government’s first hundred days become difficult questions as Malaysians gear up for the state elections. The added woe for the ruling government is in the fact that a significant percentage of Malays are suspicious of the capabilities of the Unity government in addressing issues around religion, corruption, economic turmoil, and the special rights of the Malay population. Anwar’s appointment of Ahmad Zahid Hamidi who faces corruption charges as the deputy Prime Minister has also caused further distrust.

Given the importance of the one million plus youth in shaping Malaysia’s future the ruling government launched various initiatives under the Belanjawan 2023, to provide reliance, particularly to the vulnerable ones. Schemes include initiatives like financial initiatives for youth entrepreneurs to immediate discharge for bankruptcy cases to provision of jobs with respectable wages for technical and vocational education and training graduates. Youth development has been identified as a key area of focus in the 2023 budget in the country. With a total allocation of 2.1 billion Malaysian Ringgit, the government aims to empower the youth to become productive, innovative, and socially responsible.

However, the questions of apathy towards politics among the youth loom large as elections get closer. As per MalaysiaNow, many youths in Selangor want to just pursue their studies and live out their aspirations. A significant number also stated that they do not care much about politicians or politics in general. The youth in urban areas might sway in favour of Anwar Ibrahim, who is seen as a liberal. However, concerns about the direction of the Undi 18 vote remain high and are exemplified by the government’s move to meet with social media companies about political censorship. In the 15th general election last year, it was observed that most several in the Undi 18 group considered personalities and issues before casting their ballot. At the level of the state elections, there is a high probability that voters will choose a candidate who is more concerned with local community issues rather than with big party logos. The PH has worked hard on addressing issues that the youth face around education, brain drain, employment and wages. However, given that the government is still very new, effects of the initiatives taken will take some time to display results. The extent to which the ruling party can convince the Undi 18 that they truly aim for youth empowerment and their capabilities to lead Malaysia to greater heights of development will be the key in these elections. The availability of the internet and technology has ensured the availability of information at fingertips, which the youth, in particular, is adept at assessing. Given that the Undi 18 has a lot more awareness on pressing local government matters thanks to the generational technological upgrade, a focus on addressing local issues in the six states that go to poll in August will be the key for all the contesting parties in winning the elections.

This article is authored by Sriparna Pathak, associate professor and director, Northeast Asian Studies, OP Jindal University, Sonipat.

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