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.
TEXT SIZE - +
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

Algerians Vote in Presidential Election

There were few media reports of protests and clashes around the country, but so far no significant violence More

Sharks More Evolved than Previously Thought

The discovery could “profoundly affect our understanding of evolutionary history” More

Pakistan Military Asked to Protect Polio Workers

Request comes as authorities say a Taliban ban on vaccinations in 2012 and deadly attacks on anti-polio teams have prevented thousands of children from getting inoculated 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.
Google Buys Drone Companyi
|| 0:00:00
...
 
🔇
X
George Putic
April 15, 2014
In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Google Buys Drone Company

In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Ray Bonneville Sings the Blues and More on New CD

Singer/songwriter Ray Bonneville has released a new CD called “Easy Gone” with music that reflects his musical and personal journey from French-speaking Canada to his current home in Austin,Texas. The eclectic artist’s fan base extends from Texas to various parts of North America and Europe. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Austin.
Video

Video Millions Labor in Pakistan's Informal Economy

The World Bank says that in Pakistan, roughly 70 percent work in the so-called informal sector, a part of the economy that is unregulated and untaxed. VOA's Sharon Behn reports from Islamabad on how the informal sector impact's the Pakistani economy.
Video

Video Passover Celebrates Liberation from Bondage

Jewish people around the world are celebrating Passover, a commemoration of their liberation from slavery in Egypt more than 3,300 years ago. According to scripture, God helped the Jews, led by Moses, escape bondage in Egypt and cross the Red Sea into the desert. Zlatica Hoke reports that the story of the Jewish Exodus resonates with other people trying to escape slave-like conditions.
Video

Video Police Pursue Hate Crime Charges Against Kansas Shooting Suspect

Prosecutors are sifting through the evidence in the wake of Sunday’s shootings in a suburb of Kansas City, Missouri that left three people dead. A suspect in the shootings taken into custody is a white supremacist. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, he was well-known to law enforcement agencies and human rights groups alike.
Video

Video In Eastern Ukraine, Pro-unity Activists Emerge from Shadows

Amid the pro-Russian uprisings in eastern Ukraine, there is a large body of activists who support Ukrainian unity and reject Russian intervention. Their activities have remained largely underground, but they are preparing to take on their pro-Moscow opponents, as Henry Ridgwell reports from the eastern city of Donetsk.
Video

Video Basket Maker’s Skills Have World Reach

A prestigious craft show in the U.S. capital offers one-of-a-kind creations by more than 120 artists working in a variety of media. As VOA’s Julie Taboh reports from Washington, one artist lucky enough to be selected says sharing her skills with women overseas is just as significant.
Video

Video UN Report Urges Speedier Action to Avoid Climate Disaster

A new United Nations report says the world must switch from fossil fuels to cleaner energy sources to control the effects of climate change. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released the report (Sunday) following a meeting of scientists and government representatives in Berlin. The comprehensive review follows two recent IPCC reports that detail the certainty of climate change, its impacts and in this most recent report what to do about it. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble has the details.
AppleAndroid