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

    Leaving Scalia Replacement to 2017 Would Mean Unusually Long Vacancy

    History of high court shows Obama not in unique situation during final year of presidency

    US Fact Checkers Debunk Some Republican Candidate Claims 

    Slim evidence for several claims made by Republican presidential candidates at their last debate ahead of next Saturday's key nominating election in South Carolina

    Uganda Presidential Debate a Small Victory for Democracy

    In homes and bars across country, Ugandans were fixated on their screens as eight political candidates running for president took part in national debate

    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.
    New Technology Aims to Bring Election Transparency to Ugandai
    X
    Serginho Roosblad
    February 12, 2016 9:29 PM
    A team of recent graduates from Uganda’s Makerere University has created a mobile application designed to help monitor elections and expose possible rigging. The developers say the app, called E-Poll, will make Uganda's democratic process fairer. From Kampala, VOA's Serginho Roosblad reports.
    Video

    Video New Technology Aims to Bring Election Transparency to Uganda

    A team of recent graduates from Uganda’s Makerere University has created a mobile application designed to help monitor elections and expose possible rigging. The developers say the app, called E-Poll, will make Uganda's democratic process fairer. From Kampala, VOA's Serginho Roosblad reports.
    Video

    Video Refugees in Kenya Vie to Compete in Rio Olympics

    In Kenya, refugees from other African nations are training at a special camp and competing for a limited number of slots in this year's Rio Olympics under the flag of the International Olympic Committee (IOC). As Lenny Ruvaga reports from Ngong, this is a first in Olympic history.
    Video

    Video Gateway to Mecca: Historical Old Jeddah

    Local leader Sami Nawar's family has been in the Old City of Jeddah for hundreds of years and takes us on a tour of this ancient route to Mecca, also believed to be the final resting place of Adam's wife, Eve.
    Video

    Video Two-thirds of World Faces Water Shortage

    Four billion people — or two out of every three on the planet — do not have enough water to meet their basic needs. That is far greater than previously thought, according to a new study that presents a more accurate picture of the problem. As VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports, the findings will help policymakers and the public craft solutions to address the threat.
    Video

    Video As Refugees Perish, Greek Graveyards Fill

    Aid workers on the Greek island of Lesbos say they are struggling to bury the increasing number of bodies of refugees that have been recovered or washed up ashore in recent months.  The graveyards are all full, they say, yet as tens of thousands of people clamor to get out of Syria, it is clear refugees will still be coming in record numbers. For VOA, Hamada Elrasam reports from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video Russia Bristles at NATO Expansion in E. Europe

    Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is meeting Friday with the head of NATO after the Western military alliance and the United States announced plans for the biggest military build-up in Europe since the Cold War. Russia has called NATO's moves a threat to stability in Europe. But NATO says the troop rotations and equipment are aimed at reassuring allies concerned about Russia as VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
    Video

    Video To Fight Zika, Scientists Target Mosquitoes

    Mosquitoes strike again. The Zika virus outbreak is just the latest headline-grabbing epidemic carried by these biting pests, but researchers are fighting back with new ways to control them. VOA's Steve Baragona takes a look.
    Video

    Video Mosul Refugees Talk About Life Under IS

    A top U.S. intelligence official told Congress this week that a planned Iraqi-led operation to re-take the city of Mosul from Islamic State militants is unlikely to take place this year. IS took over the city in June 2014, and for the past year and a half, Mosul residents have been held captive under its rule. VOA's Zana Omar talked to some families who managed to escape. Bronwyn Benito narrates his report.
    Video

    Video Scientists Make Progress Toward Better Diabetes Treatment, Cure

    Scientists at two of the top U.S. universities say they have made significant advances in their quest to find a more efficient treatment for diabetes and eventually a cure. According to the International Diabetes Federation, the disease affects more than 370 million people worldwide. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video NATO to Target Migrant Smugglers

    NATO has announced plans to send warships to the Aegean Sea to target migrant smugglers in the alliance's most direct intervention so far since a wave of people began trying to reach European shores.
    Video

    Video Used Books Get a New Life on the Streets of Lagos

    Used booksellers are importing books from abroad and selling them on the streets of Africa's largest city. What‘s popular with readers may surprise you. Chris Stein reports from Lagos.
    Video

    Video After NH Primaries All Eyes on South Carolina

    After Tuesday's primary in New Hampshire, US presidential candidates swiftly turned to the next election coming up in South Carolina. The so-called “first-in-the-South” poll may help further narrow down the field of candidates. Zlatica Hoke reports.
    Video

    Video Smartphone Helps Grow Vegetables

    One day, you may be using your smartphone to grow your vegetables. A Taipei-based company has developed a farm cube — a small, enclosed ecosystem designed to grow plants indoors. The environment inside is automatically adjusted by the cube, but it can also be controlled through an app. VOA's Deborah Block has more on the gardening system.
    Video

    Video Exhibit Turns da Vinci’s Drawings Into Real Objects

    In addition to being a successful artist, Renaissance genius Leonardo da Vinci designed many practical machines, some of which are still in use today, although in different forms. But a number of his projects were never realized — until today. VOA’s George Putic reports.