Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Tan Sri Abang Johari Tun Openg’s decision to get his Parti Pesaka Bumiputera Bersatu (PBB) to establish a wing for youths aged 18 to 28 is a move in the right direction and certainly bodes well for the party’s preparations to face Undi18.
The party president and Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS) chairman’s decision early this month set the ball rolling for other parties in the four-party ruling coalition to open up memberships to 18-year-olds and above.
Coalition partner, Sarawak United People’s Party (SUPP), was quick to announce that a mechanism to allow youth members — in particular those in the 18 to 28 bracket — was already in place ‘long ago’.
The minimum age to join SUPP as a member is already 18 years old, says Youth chief Michael Tiang.
“From the start, the age qualification to become a member has always been 18 years old. Our youth section does not need to amend the age limit to allow youngsters to join the party.
“Whoever joins SUPP at the age of 18 or within our youth section will become members.”
Not long after, Parti Rakyat Sarawak (PRS) joined in the chorus by announcing its plan to reactivate PRS 30, a unit for members below the age of 30.
“PRS used to have PRS 30. We wanted to follow UMNO’s Puteri wing.
“Also, under PRS 30 last time, we used to have a sub-wing called Angels,” said PRS secretary-general Datuk Janang Bungsu.
Janang’s party has to find out what actually happened to PRS 30. And what happened to the Angels? Maybe the Angels decided the sky above is a better abode?
PRS has to work hard to recruit youth members.
Yes, SUPP and PRS’ constitutions allow the recruitment of youths 18 to 28 and above. But honestly, were serious efforts ever made to recruit those in this age bracket?
Only after PBB decided to set up a special wing for this age group did the others decide to join the bandwagon, so to speak.
The Undi18 bloc must be overjoyed following the full implementation of the automatic voter registration (AVR) system by the Election Commission (EC) on Jan 16 which will see an additional 1.2 million voters in the 18-21 age bracket.
The electoral roll will also see an additional 4.6 million new voters from the 21 and above age bracket who will be eligible to vote in the 15th general election or other elections.
Our youths are now more politically aware than in previous years. They are no longer going to sit down and let their ‘elders’ choose the nation’s leaders or let ‘elderly politicians’ administer the country alone.They now want the opportunity, space and voice to design the country’s democracy through elections.
As one reader aptly said in the Letters to the Editor of a national newspaper: “To me, Undi18 represents a struggle among youths to be collectively seen and heard in a nation with increasingly unrepresentative politicians, be it age, gender or ethnicity. It is also a plea to be taken into consideration when drafting national policies.”
I agree. Undi18 is all about empowering our youths in the decision-making process of electing a government. Allowing them to vote in elections will chart the political direction of our country and enhance democracy.
Our chief minister’s farsightedness to set up a special wing in PBB for youths should be lauded. Times are no longer the same now compared to in the past. Unlike back then, information is now readily and easily accessible to youths.
Our youngsters keep abreast of happenings around the world and know about political developments. We can’t hide information from them.
Politicians need not fear them; instead, youths should be seen as a challenge for political parties to intensify efforts to engage Undi18 and secure their support.
The voices of our youngsters are reflected in the democratic process. Should the government stifle their demands, it will likely face repercussions as it risks shutting out a large potential voter base.
Universiti Malaya political analyst Dr Awang Azman Awang Pawi notes that any party that sticks to the culture of ‘old politics’, insists on retaining candidates who are no longer relevant, and are insensitive to the needs of youths “face the liability of being quickly rejected by youth voters”.
The analyst predicts a shift with Undi18 voters. “Support will be shown not for preferred parties but for individual candidates contesting in specific constituencies instead … for example, candidates who are seen to be sensitive to issues young people care about such as educational assistance, youth employment, first homes, and other policies involving the interests of young people.”
The move by GPS coalition parties to recruit Undi18 bloc members will promote more youth-centric dialogues and policies for the benefit of the state’s youths.
Our youths, who will play a big role in the future, will have to be made to understand state policies and what the government has in store for them.
In the meantime, let’s have more faith and confidence in Undi18’s involvement in politics.