KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 6 ― As more youths migrate to urban areas, Umno can no longer blame its waning support on federal opposition pact Pakatan Rakyat (PR), analysts said when weighing in on the recent call for “rejuvenation” by the ruling party’s youth wing.
Instead, the failure to capture the support has been the result of the 65-year-old party’s disconnect with the younger set of voters compared to the pull PR has over youths or urbanites, they suggested.
“Any party that wishes to garner support from urban areas, or youths who have migrated to cities, must transform themselves,” Prof Dr Jayum Jawan, a political analyst with the National Professor Council, told Malay Mail Online in a recent phone interview.
“They should know the ‘taste’ of the urbanites, the youths. They have to understand the aspirations of the youths. Not for the youths to understand the parties instead.”
Jayum suggested that while PR component parties may not be empathetic towards the demographic, they at least understand the “lingo” of the youths.
“They dance to the youths’ rhythms. They try following their ‘taste’, their way of talking. Their tone fits with the youths. Umno should be like that as well, why can’t it?” Jayum asked.
According to the Universiti Putra Malaysia lecturer, it is “unscientific” and an “indefensible argument” to assume tha youths will automatically flock to PR just because they migrate to urban areas.
Prof Dr Shamsul Adabi Mamat, a political science lecturer with Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, claimed that while majority of young urbanites might vote for PR, it is however far from a lost cause for Umno.
“What is more important to discuss is not how to attract them towards Umno, but how Umno can offer its service to the youths,” Shamsul told Malay Mail Online.
“A lot of Umno’s discussions revolves around how to attract voters, how to win elections. They should instead respond pro-actively, discuss how to identify the needs of this group.”
According to him, Umno should not worry about voting patterns, as the public would recognise its efforts anyway if they are unconditional rather than having strings attached to them.
In the Umno general assembly last week, Umno Youth chief Khairy Jamaluddin urged the party and the wing to make “rejuvenation” its top priority.
He noted that if Umno leaders continue to be saddled with the perception that there is no space for the young in the party, they will continue to lose out to the opposition in terms of youth support.
The Youth and Sport Minister also told Umno to look at ways of promoting young candidates, citing the example of DAP which offered 27-year-old Dyana Sofya Mohd Daud as its candidate in the Teluk Intan by-election.
In the same week, Khairy also told the National Student Leadership Conference 2014 that 60 per cent of rural youths have migrated to urban areas, and pointed out the need for a leader who understands this demographic’s needs.
This concern was shared by several Umno assemblymen in Selangor, the country’s most populous and most industrialised state, the destination for much of the migration from other states.
Contrary to the analysts, however, Umno’s Semenyih assemblyman Datuk Johan Abd Aziz insisted it is a genuine concern that youths can be influenced easily to sympathise with PR in urban areas.
Similarly, Sg Burong state assemblyman and Selangor opposition leader Datuk Shamsudin Lias claimed that Malay youths who have migrated to the cities have not come back to Umno’s folds unlike those in rural areas.
"We need to engage the youths with a new perspective, through social media … we cannot think our hardcore supporters can provide the strength Umno needs to survive,” the state lawmaker told Malay Mail Online at the sidelines of the Selangor state assembly recently.
Johan also claimed that Umno is actively engaging with this demographic through programmes that they might find more appealing and relevant, and different from those organised for rural voters.
"We have made a drastic decision, we will be introducing an online membership system in order to encourage and make it easier for youths to join Umno and for us to be more accessible.
"The implementation part is still being ironed out but this is part of the plan," Johan said.
Johan also pointed out that in Selangor, the state Umno chapter has been organising economic workshops, and business or career talks for youths for the past six months, as it tries to priorities issues that matter to the group.
"Every Wednesday for the past six months, we have provided workshops for youths. Agencies like Tekun, Bank Simpanan Nasional are there to talk to youths, to guide them through how to run their own businesses," he related.
In the next general election no more than four years away, there will be an estimated four million youths who will qualify as new voters, adding to the 17.8 million, who may cast ballots if they all register as voters.
For Umno, it is a matter of some urgency as it is also believed that it may also be losing support from rural Malays ― traditionally its core power base ― due to increasing migration to urban areas.
Besides the Federal Territories, Selangor, Penang and Malacca are the three states with the highest urbanisation rate, according to a paper presented in last year’s International Population Conference on Migration, Urbanisation and Development in University of Malaya.
According to the same paper, Malaysia’s urbanisation level reached 70.9 per cent in 2010, and is expected to increase to 75 per cent by 2020.
In Election 2013, PR trounced Barisan Nasional (BN) mostly in the urban centers across the country, snapping up more than 50 per cent of the total votes cast in the entire general election.