News / Asia

Rise of Young Voters Shifts Malaysia Election Balance

Malaysian Izzati Zaidi (R), 24, and her friends show placards in support of Malaysia's Prime Minister Najib Razak during the launch of the "Voices of My Generation" youth programme in Kuala Lumpur, April 12, 2013.
Malaysian Izzati Zaidi (R), 24, and her friends show placards in support of Malaysia's Prime Minister Najib Razak during the launch of the "Voices of My Generation" youth programme in Kuala Lumpur, April 12, 2013.
Reuters
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak escaped a direct showdown with youth when a 23-year-old student gave up his bid to challenge him in his home constituency in the May 5 general election.

But Mohammed Bukhairy Mohammed Sofian's quixotic plan to run against Najib - which he dropped to avoid diverting votes from the main opposition candidate - was a reminder of how young voters are shaping politics in the Southeast Asian nation as never before and unnerving the long-ruling coalition.

He is one of 2.6 million Malaysians registered to cast their ballots for the first time, making up roughly a fifth of Malaysia's 13.3 million eligible voters. That is much higher than the 638,000 new voters five years ago.

Analysts say an upsurge in interest in politics following the opposition's best-ever election showing in 2008 has driven more young people to register.

Their numbers make young Malaysians a crucial, possibly decisive, source of support in an election that promises to be the closest since independence. They are also a force that could blur the traditional race-based faultlines that have shaped the political landscape in the multi-ethnic country.

An unbroken 56-year grip on power has given the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition control over mainstream media and the ability to spend freely in the election campaign as they preside over a period of strong economic growth.

Although a coalition win with a reduced parliamentary majority is seen as the most likely outcome, the opposition says that the new voters are the "X Factor" that could create Malaysia's biggest electoral shock since independence in 1957.

"I know what young people want. They want a voice and that means change," said Bukhairy, a third-year Islamic political science student at Universiti Malaya.

An opposition win would bring unprecedented uncertainty to politics in Malaysia, whose government is the longest serving in the democratic world, and herald a major shake-up in five decades of cosy relations between government and business.

Force for Change

Najib's government, which saw its parliamentary majority slashed in 2008, is struggling to respond to growing demands for more accountability and democratic reforms.

Malaysia's Prime Minister Najib Razak (C) waves a national flag as he sings patriotic songs with supporters during an election campaign rally in Rawang, outside Kuala Lumpur April 28, 2013.Malaysia's Prime Minister Najib Razak (C) waves a national flag as he sings patriotic songs with supporters during an election campaign rally in Rawang, outside Kuala Lumpur April 28, 2013.
x
Malaysia's Prime Minister Najib Razak (C) waves a national flag as he sings patriotic songs with supporters during an election campaign rally in Rawang, outside Kuala Lumpur April 28, 2013.
Malaysia's Prime Minister Najib Razak (C) waves a national flag as he sings patriotic songs with supporters during an election campaign rally in Rawang, outside Kuala Lumpur April 28, 2013.
Those demands are being pushed most forcefully by the young, many of whom get their news from lively independent websites rather than state-controlled media. Many feel impatient with the gradual pace of reform under Najib, a 59-year-old veteran of the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), which dominates the ruling coalition, and the son of a former prime minister.

An opinion poll by the respected pollster Merdeka Centre, released in February, showed that voters aged 21-30 are the age-group most dissatisfied with the performance of the prime minister, who enjoys an overall approval rating of 61 percent.

"With younger voters, I think the pattern of voting on racial lines is going to be more subdued. Certainly not as accentuated as with the older generation," said Ibrahim Suffian, programme director at the Merdeka Centre.

Another survey, released in January by Universiti Malaya, showed 52 percent of new voters backing opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim for prime minister, with Najib at 30 percent.

"Things that are important to them are things like transparency, good governance and corruption. All these issues tend to look very bad for the government," said James Chin, head of the arts and social sciences school at Monash University Malaysia.

Protests for electoral reform and against a controversial rare earths plant, which in April drew tens of thousands onto the streets of Kuala Lumpur, have had a strong youth contingent.

"The activism is not necessarily political, it's simply a people-led movement after so many years of Barisan Nasional rule. It is wanting change," said Khairani Razak, a 22-year-old education major at Universiti Malaya.

Najib has made a concerted effort to pursue young votes.

He's cultivated a cooler image, gathering nearly 1.5 million followers on Twitter. The ruling coalition, meanwhile, organised a series of free music concerts featuring international acts including K-pop sensation Psy in February.

More substantively, Najib approved landmark reforms of tough security and media laws in an effort to reach out to young and middle-class voters. But despite his efforts, Najib's government has struggled to shake off UMNO's reputation for cronyism and critics say the reforms are more form than substance.

Political Freedom

Student leaders say the university education system in Malaysia promotes an environment of unquestioning obedience that leaves little room for dissent.

"We are trained to follow. When students try to voice out anything, the authorities say the student is the opposition, against the university and so on," said Bawani KS, a 27-year-old law student at Universiti Utara Malaysia.

She became the poster-child for fighting oppression in the education system after a YouTube post went viral in January,  showing her being shouted down by a speaker linked to a pro-government body at a student event.

"Employers are looking for candidates who are outspoken, who can think creatively. But nowadays our graduates can't fulfil these expectations," she added.

Graduate unemployment levels are disproportionately high in Malaysia. According to latest available data, unemployed 21-24-year-olds made up about 61 percent of the total number of jobseekers in 2011.

The Merdeka Centre poll in February found that 21-30 year-olds were the group most worried about their personal finances. So Najib's campaign message of a booming  economy - which grew 5.6 percent last year - may fall on deaf ears among many young Malaysians.

While free university education forms a central plank in the opposition's manifesto, the Barisan Nasional government has scoffed at the promise as irresponsible.

Instead, BN has targeted young voters in series of pre-election giveaways, setting aside 325 million ringgit ($106.6 million) for book vouchers and 300 million Malaysian ringgit ($98.4 million) for smart phones.

In an interview with Reuters last year, Khairy Jamaluddin, the 37-year-old head of UMNO's 600,000-strong youth wing, said it was a misconception that younger people would overwhelmingly vote for the promise of change represented by the opposition.

"We are the ones pushing for faster change," he said. "We have to make sure the reform agenda is not the monopoly of the opposition."

You May Like

WHO: Anti-Ebola Efforts Should Focus on West Africa

Official says WHO is 'reasonably confident' countries bordering those hardest hit by the Ebola outbreak are not seeing the virus crossing their borders More

South Sudan Crisis Threatens Development

Economic costs and lost development opportunities in South Sudan have erased what little progress the country has made since independence in 2011 More

Ukraine PM Warns Russia May Try to Disrupt Sunday Poll

Arseniy Yatsenyuk orders full security mobilization for parliamentary election to prevent ‘terrorist acts’ from being carried out More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Ketuanan Rakyat from: London
April 30, 2013 2:30 AM
Under Barisan, there is only fake democracy where the people in power are not chosen by the people and not for the people. Their time has come and the people will overcome the unsurmountable odds of defeating the worlds longest self serving tyranny. Ini kali lah!

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rulesi
X
October 21, 2014 12:20 AM
European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rules

European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video Kobani Refugees Welcome, Turkey Criticizes, US Airdrop

Residents of Kobani in northern Syria have welcomed the airdrop of weapons, ammunition and medicine to Kurdish militia who are resisting the seizure of their city by Islamic State militants. The Turkish government, however, has criticized the operation. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from southeastern Turkey, across the border from Kobani.
Video

Video China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Law

China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video US ‘Death Cafes’ Put Focus on the Finale

In contemporary America, death usually is a topic to be avoided. But the growing “death café” movement encourages people to discuss their fears and desires about their final moments. VOA’s Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Ebola Orphanage Opens in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone's first Ebola orphanage has opened in the Kailahun district. Hundreds of children orphaned since the beginning of the Ebola outbreak face stigma and rejection with nobody to care for them. Adam Bailes reports for VOA about a new interim care center that's aimed at helping the growing number of children affected by Ebola.
Video

Video Young Nairobi Tech Innovator on 'Track' in Security Business

A 24-year-old technology innovator in Nairobi has invented a tracking device that monitors and secures cars. He has also come up with what he claims is the most robust audio-visual surveillance system yet. As Lenny Ruvaga reports from the Kenyan capital, his innovations are offering alternative security solutions.
Video

Video Latinas Converting to Islam for Identity, Structure

Latinos are one of the fastest growing groups in the Muslim religion. According to the Pew Research Center, about 6 percent of American Muslims are Latino. And a little more than half of new converts are female. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti travelled to Miami, Florida -- where two out of every three residents is Hispanic -- to learn more.
Video

Video Exclusive: American Joins Kurds' Anti-IS Fight

The United States and other Western nations have expressed alarm about their citizens joining Islamic State forces in Syria and Iraq. In a rare counterpoint to the phenomenon, an American has taken up arms with the militants' Syrian Kurdish opponents. Elizabeth Arrott has more in this exclusive profile by VOA Kurdish reporter Zana Omer in Ras al Ayn, Syria.
Video

Video South Korea Confronts Violence Within Military Ranks

Every able-bodied South Korean male between 18 and 35 must serve for 21 to 36 months in the country’s armed forces, depending upon the specific branch. For many, service is a rite of passage to manhood. But there are growing concerns that bullying and violence come along with the tradition. Reporter Jason Strother has more from Seoul.
Video

Video North Carolina Emerges as Key Election Battleground

U.S. congressional midterm elections will be held on November 4th and most political analysts give Republicans an excellent chance to win a majority in the U.S. Senate, which Democrats now control. So what are the issues driving voters in this congressional election year? VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone traveled to North Carolina, one of the most politically competitive states in the country, to find out.
Video

Video Comanche People Maintain Pride in Their Heritage

The Comanche (Indian nation) once were called the “Lords of the Plains,” with an empire that included half the land area of current day Texas, large parts of Oklahoma, New Mexico, Kansas and Colorado.The fierceness and battle prowess of these warriors on horseback delayed the settlement of most of West Texas for four decades. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Lawton, Oklahoma, that while their warrior days are over, the 15,000 members of the Comanche Nation remain a proud people.
Video

Video Turkey Campus Attacks Raise Islamic Radicalization Fears

Concerns are growing in Turkey of Islamic radicalization at some universities, after clashes between supporters of the jihadist group Islamic State (IS) or ISIS, and those opposed to the extremists. Pro-jihadist literature is on sale openly on the streets of Istanbul. Critics accuse the government of turning a blind eye to radicalism at home, while Kurds accuse the president of supporting IS - a charge strongly denied. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

All About America

AppleAndroid