News / Asia

Malaysian PM Appeals to Youth Amid Election Speculation

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, left, gestures as he speaks at a radio station in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, September 20, 2011.
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, left, gestures as he speaks at a radio station in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, September 20, 2011.
Luke Hunt

Malaysia Prime Minister Najib Razak is undergoing an image makeover designed to appeal to his country’s burgeoning youth vote. The move follows a protest by tens of thousands of demonstrators earlier this year demanding more electoral transparency. Now, as the prime minister tries to boost his party’s popularity, there is speculation he will call an early election for November or early 2012. 

Najib has been in power since 2009, when he ousted his predecessor after the worst election performance by his party, the United Malays National Organization or UMNO. The party retained power with a sharply reduced majority and Najib pledged to restore UMNO’s lost prestige among voters.

To do this the 58-year-old politician must win over the nation’s youth. He has been working hard to cultivate what his handlers describe as a “cool image” something akin to a local pop star.

He made an unexpected appearance at a rock concert and gave free beverage coasters to about 200,000 people who follow him on Twitter.

Christopher Dillon, the principal of Dillon Communications, a Hong Kong-based consulting firm that specializes in training senior executives and politicians in communications, says Najib has a tough road ahead while contending with the sometimes overwhelming political presence of former leader Mahathir Mohamad and long standing opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim.

“He’s an old school politician and he’s caught between Mahathir who is the ultimate old school politician and Anwar Ibrahim who is of the same vintage, but is sort of more of a fire brand," he said. "So he’s really got to try and step outside of his comfort zone and become more appealing to the younger voters.”

However, in winning over the Internet-savvy youth, Najib has to contend with the fallout from the July 9 political rallies in the capital. Then, protestors, many of them young, were calling for electoral reform, only to be beaten with batons and tear gassed by police.

Since then, Najib has bowed to demands by the protestors, putting electoral reform on the agenda. He has also announced he will repeal laws that curtail press freedom and freedom of assembly, and grant police extensive powers of detention under the Internal Security Act.

He now speaks often about his affinity with the Manchester United football team and appears at public events in casual clothing. This is a significant change from the stern faced, suit wearing poses that the prime minister is noted for.

Dillon says this is all part of a delicate political balancing act.

“He’s got a very diverse constituency ranging from very very traditional Malay voters to young people who are agitating for change and that means he’s got to try and be all things to all people and that’s always a very very tough thing to do, especially if you’re trying to be authentic," said Dillon. "And young voters are very very carefully in tune to that issue of authenticity. They can smell it if you appear to be fake or somehow forced.”

Najib also suffered a decline in opinion polls following the July 9 rallies, amid claims his government had lost touch with the broader electorate. Local commentators say by conducting a campaign more akin with U.S.-presidential style elections, the prime minister is hoping to boost his popularity, which in turn should improve UMNO’s standing within the electorate.

You May Like

Beijing Warns US on S. China Sea Patrols

Warning follows news reports Thursday that US military is planning to sail warships close to artificial islands Beijing has been aggressively building More

Indian PM Calls for Unity Amid Tense Climate Over Beef Attacks

Recent series of beef-related incidents seen as signs of rising intolerance toward Muslims and other religious minorities More

Why These Are New York City's Most Treasured Spaces

Under threat of jail time and fines, some New York property owners are not allowed to renovate their spaces without prior approval More

This forum has been closed.
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
House Republicans in Chaos as Speaker Favorite Withdrawsi
Jim Malone
October 09, 2015 12:32 AM
The Republican widely expected to become the next speaker of the House of Representatives shocked his colleagues Thursday by announcing he was withdrawing his candidacy. The decision by Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy means the race to succeed retiring Speaker John Boehner is now wide open. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports.

Video House Republicans in Chaos as Speaker Favorite Withdraws

The Republican widely expected to become the next speaker of the House of Representatives shocked his colleagues Thursday by announcing he was withdrawing his candidacy. The decision by Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy means the race to succeed retiring Speaker John Boehner is now wide open. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports.

Video German, US Officials Investigate Volkswagen

German officials have taken steps to restore some of the reputation their car industry has lost after a recent Volkswagen diesel emissions scandal. Authorities have searched Volkswagen headquarters and other locations in an effort to identify the culprits in the creation of software that helps cheat on emission tests. Meanwhile, a group of lawmakers in Washington held a hearing to get to the bottom of the cheating strategy that was first discovered in the United States. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Why Are Gun Laws So Hard for Congress to Tackle?

Since taking office, President Barack Obama has spoken out or issued statements about 15 mass shootings. The most recent shooting, in which 10 people were killed at a community college, sparked outrage over the nation's gun laws. But changing those laws isn't as easy as many think. VOA's Carolyn Presutti reports.

Video Hungary Criticized for Handling of Refugees

Amnesty International has accused Hungary of breaking multiple international and European human rights laws in its handling of the refugee crisis. As Henry Ridgwell reports, thousands of migrants and refugees continue to travel through the Balkans to Hungary every day.

Video Iraqi-Kurdish Teachers Vow to Continue Protest

Sixteen people were injured when police used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse teachers and other public employees who took to the streets in Iraq’s Kurdish north, demanding their salaries from the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG). VOA’s Dilshad Anwar, in Sulaimaniya, caught up with protesting teachers who say they have not been paid for three months. Parke Brewer narrates his report.

Video Syrian Village Community Faces Double Displacement in Lebanon

Driven by war from their village in southwestern Syria, a group of families found shelter in Lebanon, resettling en masse in a half-built university to form one of the biggest settlements of its kind in Lebanon. Three years later, however, they now face being kicked out and dispersed in a country where finding shelter as a refugee can be especially tough. John Owens has more for VOA from the city of Saida, also known as Sidon.

Video Bat Colony: Unusual Tourist Attraction in Texas

The action hero Batman might be everyone’s favorite but real bats hardly get that kind of adoration. Put more than a million of these creatures of the night together and it only evokes images of horror. Sarah Zaman visited the largest urban bat colony in North America to see just how well bat and human get along with each other.

Video Device Shows Promise of Stopping Motion Sickness

It’s a sickening feeling — the dizziness, nausea and vomiting that comes with motion sickness. But a device now being developed could stop motion sickness by suppressing certain signals in the brain. VOA’s Deborah Block reports.

Video Making a Mint

While apples, corn, and cranberries top the list of fall produce in the US, it’s also the time to harvest gum, candy, and toothpaste—or at least the oil that makes them minty fresh. Erika Celeste reports from South Bend, Indiana on the mint harvest.

Video Activists Decry Lagos Slum Demolition

Acting on a court order, authorities in Nigeria demolished a slum last month in the commercial capital, Lagos. But human rights activists say the order was illegal, and the community was razed to make way for a government housing project. Chris Stein has more from Lagos.

Video TPP Agreed, But Faces Stiff Opposition

President Barack Obama promoted the Trans-Pacific Partnership on Tuesday, one day after 12 Pacific Rim nations reached the free trade deal in Atlanta. The controversial pact that would involve about 40 percent of global trade still needs approval by lawmakers in respective countries. Zlatica Hoke reports Obama is facing strong opposition to the deal, including from members of his own party.

Video Ukranian Artist Portrays Putin in an Unusual Way

As Russian President Vladimir Putin was addressing the United Nations in New York last month, he was also being featured in an art exhibition in Washington. It’s not a flattering exhibit. It’s done by a Ukrainian artist in a unique medium. And its creator says it’s not only a work of art - it’s a political statement. VOA’s Tetiana Kharchenko has more.

VOA Blogs