We have a powerful potential in our youth, and we must have the courage to change old ideas and practices so that we may direct their power toward good ends.

— Mary McLeod Bethune, American stateswoman, humanitarian and civil rights activist

Two years ago, a 26-year-old Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman was sworn in as Cabinet minister. Unfortunately, that is also a feat I doubt we will see ever again.

While I often disagree with him on his political decisions, and sometimes his policies, his role in breaking the glass ceiling in terms of participation of youth in policy making must not be understated.

What he did was proof that although the public views the participation of youth in politics with skepticism, due to them being raw in terms of perspectives, the younger generation is more than capable of taking up the mantle of responsibilities.

Being at the same age that Syed Saddiq was when he was elected as Muar MP and appointed as Youth and Sports Minister, I can tell for a fact that my peers apparently adore the former Bersatu Youth chief.

When I spend some time on Twitter, the other social media platform I frequent, my Twitter feed — without fail — will have a tweet from Syed Saddiq, apparently being shared, or in Twitter’s terms, retweeted by those I’m following on the platform.

His ideas may be a tad polarising, repetitive even when it comes to his political narrative with his undying adulation for Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad but apparently, my peers and other youths just gobbled it up.

What I’m saying is that policies, even if they’re good will not be viewed as successful, meaningful and for lack of better terms, in touch with the youths without the representation to go along with it.

That is the political reality now and with Syed Saddiq’s Bill to lower the voting age from 21 to 18 years old unanimously passed in Parliament in July last year, there will be an influx of first-time voters that political parties will look to entice.

So, the question now becomes, why aren’t we jumping on this bandwagon yet? Good policies for youth are always going to be the topic of the day, but we do need to ask ourselves, does it have the effect that we desire?

With Pakatan Harapan’s (PH) collapse last February, the nation not only lost its first opposition-led government, but the youth lost their icon and the worry now is that they will use it as a stick to beat the current
federal government with.

In terms of Sarawak, I can say with great confidence that the participation of youths in politics — the one where debates are done on policies rather than mere sentiments — is scarce.

I was a student leader during my university heyday. Whenever there were leadership courses, programmes and initiatives, the usual individuals and groups always showed up and they were mostly from Malaya and Sabah.
I recall that I always rue the lack of participation of our Sarawak locals; I found that they were already content with their hobbies, went out with friends and enjoyed themselves that they did not see any need to somehow contribute, or rather, serve.

That is why I deeply feel that we need our own youth icon in Sarawak, someone who emulates what Syed Saddiq has done, being a good representative for youths and be someone that the younger generation can identify with. We need someone to be the public face of our own youth movement; it should be promoted as one of the main factors of the next state and general elections.

We should also consider doing away with the convention, where politics of patronage is the way to go, along with seniority when it comes to choosing someone for positions in the government.

This is because while one may enter the system in their early twenties, they will only be able to climb to the top of the ladder in their late 50s and early 60s. At that point, their appeal for being a youthful, fresh representation is long gone.

Simply put, politics is no longer a game of the elderly or the grown-ups.

The younger generation is taking an interest in it — knowing that it too, affects them. But what we can’t do is let them be misguided by false promises, and I say this carefully — excessively liberal mindset or even anarchy mentality, that the current youth representatives from the other side are campaigning for.

Slow progress is lasting progress. We need to instill this in the mind of the youth. We need to take the lead by promoting the mentality that best encapsulates our own.