Youth voting power
By:Dr Jeniri Amir

THEY have been touted as kingmakers who could determine the outcome of the 15th general election (GE15) on Saturday. Or are they just wildcards in the current political landscape?

There are about 1.4 million first-time voters between the ages of 18 and 21 and about 5.8 million new voters. In Sarawak, there are some 675,077 new voters as of Dec 31 last year and 66 per cent of them are from 18 to 29 years old.

The amendment to the Federal Constitution gazetted on Sept 10, 2019, which lowered the voting age to 18 years and provided for automatic voter registration (AVR) of adults aged 18 and above contribute to the significant increase in the number of voters.

They are possible kingmakers because they constitute a sizeable number among the 21.1 million electorates.

GE15 is crucial as those aged between 18 and 20 would be engaged for the first time.

It’s not easy to predict the outcome of GE15, partly because of the crowded field of 945 candidates vying for 222 coveted seats.

What aggravate the situation and complexity are the multi-cornered fights in almost all seats.

Like it or not, some of the youth don’t have sufficiently deep and expansive exposure to politics although it cannot be denied they are more familiar with social and certain political narratives on the internet.

The significant number of youngsters and first-timers who will cast their votes has changed the political equation and political landscape in the country.

The power to shape the future of the country now is also in the hands of the youth.

The current median age of Malaysians is 30.3 years, but around 70 per cent of lawmakers are over the age of 50.

When you scrutinise the age groups of the candidates in GE15, this is even more alarming. Not even one candidate is from the age group of 18 to 20.

The youngest is an Independent candidate for Tenom Sabah, Peggy Chaw Zhi Ting and the oldest is of course Tun Dr Mahathir, 97, contesting in Langkawi.

Nineteen candidates are from the 21 to 29 age bracket, 129 are from the 30 to 39 age group, compared to 298 candidates from the 50-59 age segment and 258 candidates are more than 60 years old.

Do these candidates understand the aspirations, needs and wants of the young voters?

Our leaders and candidates are older than the population.

What will be the impact of young voters on the outcome of GE15?

Multiple surveys have been carried out in the country before GE15. The effects of the sudden increase in the number of voters on voting patterns remain to be seen.

Is it true that most young voters have no idea what politics is as perceived by many?

Political parties have a lot to answer for regarding how to attract young people. The youth want parties to advocate for their participation in politics.

The youth vote is very important, so the candidates and political parties should not take them for granted.

Are youth the real kingmakers or game changers?

As no alliance or coalition will achieve anywhere near the magical number of 112 to form the federal government independently, every vote counts, particularly from those below 40 years old.

There have been doubts about whether the young voters have the political maturity to decide properly during the GE15.

Ideally they should base their voting decisions not on emotions or sentiments, but on who can put the country on the right path.

With their high level of education, we expect them to have the wisdom and political literacy to pick the right future leaders.

Whether or not they are capable of making good voting decisions when the time comes, one thing is for sure. Nobody is certain how young voters will vote come polling day.

Political parties realise this fact and have been formulating and implementing various strategies to woo them. Political parties realise the power of the youth and young voters.

They have taken the bold steps to field younger candidates and offer promises that resonate with this group. Many of the promises are on their manifestos.

But will the youth vote on Saturday?

If the turnout of young voters in Johor is to be used as a barometer, it will not be surprising to see low turnouts amongst young voters on Saturday.

Thus political parties need to up the ante in terms of strategies and engagements.

Among the undi18, low political awareness and political literacy are contentious issues.

It is likely that their voting patterns will be very much influenced or shaped by their parents and friends. Some are also influenced by the narratives on social media.

I believe parents and friends have a big say because they may ask for their opinions.

Issues of concern, inter alia, for young voters are education, job opportunities, high cost of living, salary scales, housing, environmental sustainability and good governance.

Young voters have to actively participate in the democratic process of the nation.

In the final analysis, a big turnout of young voters will determine the future of the country.

On their part, young voters should not disregard and underestimate their power to change the future of Malaysia. They should exercise their democratic right in the coming GE15 to make a difference.

Remember, every single vote counts, including the ‘golden votes’ of the youths.

To them I say, don’t underestimate your vote in changing the future of your constituency and your country. Youth should realise the power of the votes to bring change for the betterment of Malaysia.

Dato Dr Jeniri Amir is a National Council of Professors Senior Fellow

New Sarawak Tribune e-Paper

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