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KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 23 — Tyra Hanim Razali, 25, was a campaign volunteer during the 2013 general elections when she was not yet eligible to vote, was both a polling and counting agent, and took part in street demonstrations like Bersih 4.
But four years on, she no longer wants to register to vote in the 14th general elections (GE14) that must be held by August 2018.
“I have my political inclination, which is towards the Opposition, but I’m not sure where are they going, their direction and the new leadership — oh, I seriously don’t believe in an old dictator leading the pact — also the politicking that is going around,” Tyra Hanim told Malay Mail Online.
Tyra Hanim said she was most concerned about institutional and systemic reforms, public policy and administration, the economy, international affairs, underprivileged groups and racial and religious politicking, but did not view federal Opposition pact Pakatan Harapan (PH), the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN), or Islamist party PAS as capable of addressing these concerns.
The policy and programme executive accused aspiring youth politicians in the Opposition of being “power crazy” and criticised racial politics in PH with the entry of Bumiputera-centric Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (PPBM), which she described as succumbing to “Umno-style” politics meant to “gain Malay votes”.
When asked about voting for “the lesser evil”, Tyra Hanim, who is currently based in Nebraska, United States but is returning to Malaysia next month, said she did not believe in that and stressed that voting was not the only way to effect a change in government.
Tyra Hanim is one of six English-speaking anti-establishment Malaysians in their 20s and early 30s living in the Klang Valley who told Malay Mail Online they either feel disinclined about registering to vote or they may abstain from voting in the upcoming general election, mainly because they do not see PH proposing substantive policies or promoting secularism.
The Election Commission said last March that 4.1 million Malaysians who were eligible to vote had yet to register as voters as of February, with the majority comprising those aged 21.
It is unclear how many urban voters, often perceived by political commentators as PH’s vote bank, may give up their ballots in the 14th general election, after two terms of PKR and DAP leading the state governments of Selangor and Penang. BN lost the popular vote in Election 2013 that had a historic 85 per cent voter turnout, with analysts attributing the outcome to an urban and middle-class swing.
Five to 8 per cent of youths may abstain from voting
Ibrahim Suffian, director of research outfit Merdeka Center, is predicting a drop in turnout for GE14 compared to the previous election.
In a recent survey titled “Youth Perception on Economy, Leadership and Current Issues”, Merdeka Center found that only 30 per cent of the youths polled cared about politics, while the rest were more concerned about the economy.
The survey was carried out via phone in August with a sample size of 604 peninsular Malaysians ranging in ages from 21 to 30.
“I expect a slightly lower turnout in the next general elections. But I don’t think youth will abstain in large numbers. Maybe lower by 5 to 8 per cent,” he told Malay Mail Online.
Ibrahim said that while many Malaysian youths appear not to be attracted to BN, their support for PH this time around will likely be affected.
“Non-Malay youths would likely support PH, but the Malay youth may split their support three ways to BN, PAS and PH.”
Where to, Pakatan Harapan?
Freelancer Hafidz Baharom, who said voted Opposition in the previous two general elections, now plans to abstain from voting in GE14 because “neither side deserves my vote”.
The 34-year-old, who is registered to vote in Shah Alam but lives in Damansara Perdana, said he was most concerned about economic issues, but found PH to lack a proper economic plan for the country. Hafidz also did not support PH’s populist promise of repealing the goods and services tax (GST), saying the real solution was to raise wages.
“They want to offer free education; how are they going to pay for it? They say they’re going to lower corruption, but how long it’ll take and how much it’ll cost, no mention,” said Hafidz.
He also accused PH of being “extremely hypocritical” for saying that they wanted to stop race-based politics, but accepting PPBM led by former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad as a member party of the coalition.
On social and governance issues, Hafidz noted that campaign finance reform was no longer discussed and claimed the DAP “basically got someone to resign” over a “buka puasa” event that the party member had organised with a gay rights group.
“And term limits, which is a good idea, keeps getting shot down in Penang. So it’s all hypocritical. If BN won’t do it and Pakatan won’t do it, why should we vote for either?” Hafidz questioned.
When asked about the 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB) scandal, Hafidz said “neither side has the ability to say they’re not corrupt, be it Pakatan Harapan or BN”.
Riza Tan, a 24-year-old first-time voter, said she may withhold her ballot in the 14th general election as she saw racial-, money- and attack politics exist in both BN and the Opposition.
“Like DAP. They label themselves multiracial, yet we can clearly read on social media DAP-friendly pages that are clearly being racial, using Chinese sentiments to get people emotional,” Tan, who is registered to vote in Kota Kinabalu, told Malay Mail Online.
The Sabahan currently interning at a law firm in Kuala Lumpur questioned the purpose in voting if things remained the same, saying she did not want to be responsible for voting in a new government “that is equally as bad as the current”.
“Essentially, we’re faced with a very unpopular BN government versus an Opposition that has no manifesto, no economic plans for Malaysia, no clear PM candidate and no coordination on essential issues. The Opposition today are simply working with each other to obtain power. They have no plans what to do, or how to work together once or if they get that power,” she said.
“No one on the political landscape is talking about true fundamental change. I mean just look at PPBM. They say they want change yet they operate in a Malay-only party just like Umno”.
Religious fundamentalism worse than corruption
Three Malaysian men in their 20s said they planned to abstain from voting in the 14th general election or did not feel like registering to vote because they believed both BN and the Opposition were not interested in upholding secularism.
“I’d rather have a corrupt government than a Taliban government,” PR manager Alex Liew, 29, told Malay Mail Online, referring to the Islamic fundamentalist movement in Afghanistan.
Liew, a Petaling Jaya resident who voted in Election 2013 but considering abstaining in the 14th general election, said he was most concerned about Malaysia turning into an Islamic state.
“The Opposition used to at least stand for racial unity, fairness, et cetera. PAS wasn’t such a Taliban party during Nik Abdul Aziz’s time. Now it’s like they want Malaysia to be Afghanistan,” he added, referring to the late PAS spiritual leader Datuk Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat.
“Then you got your PPBM, which is pretty much another Umno; like seriously, what’s the difference? DAP used to at least have some balls and stood up when it was wrong, but now, for the sake of an Opposition alliance, they hold their tongue. How’s that different from MCA?” said Liew, adding that he believed PH would eventually make electoral deals with PAS despite the posturing.
Twenty-four-year-old Sarawakian writer Andrew Jaden, who lives in Kuala Lumpur, said he has not decided to register to vote yet.
He described a “cycle of hopelessness” in which people mistakenly believed during the previous elections that the government would change and Malaysians would then get outraged over claims of gerrymandering and phantom voters, but their outrage would slowly fade.
“That cycle of hopelessness makes me think, ‘perhaps there is no diplomatic way to change what things are like’. The alternative... is not what I want to see happen too, because I have a feeling violence may be the only way things will change.
“Throw in the Opposition parties not entirely being convincing (like initially selling their souls to PAS, knowing all along what they represent, or Pakatan Harapan leaders being childish by dressing up as Trump). And now Mahathir, arguably the cause of Malaysia’s descent into Islamic fundamentalism, is leading the opposition. How can I, in any conscience, vote for them?” Jaden told Malay Mail Online, adding that he was most concerned about racial and religious inequality.
A 26-year-old project executive who lives in Petaling Jaya said he registered as a voter a couple of months ago, but did not plan to cast his ballot in the 14th general elections as the voting process in Malaysia was “rigged”.
The ethnic Chinese man, who requested anonymity, told Malay Mail Online he was mostly concerned about the Islamisation of the government, the legal system, and the public sector at large.
“I wouldn’t vote for anyone who’s willing to work with PAS, no matter how short-lived. It tells me they don’t care much for secularism,” he said, when asked if he would vote for PH.
Activist Maryam Lee, 25, told Malay Mail Online she did not plan to spoil her vote in GE14, but believed the act was a legitimate form of protest.
“The aim of election is to choose a public representative that would bring about change. Not just any kind of change, but change for the better. But if voting in one racist out of three racists in a three-corner fight means still electing a racist, in what ‘practical’ manner then are we voting for change?” she said.
Not voting is ‘dumb’
Tharmelinggem Pillai, 24, felt that both BN and PH are viewed by youths as being bogged down by scandals and lacking effective policies that could improve their lives.
“There is a perspective that politics is messy and dirty, and they don’t want to be involved with politics in any way because it frustrates them. So this results in apathy, where they would rather shut out political news and discussions and focus on their studies and work,” the director of Undi18, a campaign to lower the eligible voting age from 21 to 18, told Malay Mail Online.
Tharmelinggem said that for many youths, GE14 feels like a choice between the present BN administration or PH that is led by Dr Mahathir, who has historically been accused of corruption, autocracy and racism.
“Many of us grew up learning from the Opposition about how Mahathir was terrible, and now they want to do a 180-degree change about him. When both have had horrible histories, it’s difficult to trust either side.”
For PH, Tharmelinggem believed that they must come up with new charismatic leaders to entice youths to vote, saying that the current pool may be good MPs but were terrible in inspiring youths.
The Malaysian Students’ Global Alliance vice-president criticised Malaysians who chose not to vote or planned to spoil their votes as a means of political protest in GE14, describing such a move as a dumb decision.
“Protesting by not voting is dumb, because it’s an invisible protest that changes nothing,” Tharmelinggem added, saying he plans on voting but hasn’t decided which party to vote for yet.
Field younger candidates, raise youths’ wages
Muhammad Iqbal Fatkhi, editor at TahanUni, an online news portal for university students, said that fielding younger candidates in GE14, addressing issues affecting youths like academic, internet and social freedom, and also making voting “cool” would encourage younger Malaysians to come out and vote.
He said that even though both PH and BN have been harping on economic issues to reach out to voters, there appears to still be a form of disconnect between the coalitions and their target audience.
“Because both are not seen as answering the concerns of youths. If the primary concerns of youths are unemployability and cost of living, doing away with GST doesn’t solve the first and they don’t believe it can be done to solve the latter (especially since Pakatan have yet to present an alternative solution to the GST as a way to raise government revenue).
“For BR1M, youths generally aren’t looking for handouts, but are looking for someone to present a way to solve their employment problems. Someone who can answer how universities will be revamped to better prepare graduates for the job market, and what plans there are to drive growth in the private sector and create more entry level jobs for them,” he told Malay Mail Online.
Iqbal predicted that if there is a low voter turnout among the 21 to 30 age group, BN would likely win a larger share of the older vote and, as a result, youths will not be seen as a real voting bloc and future political discourse will shift further and further away from the issues that matter to youths.
Political activist and Parti Sosialis Malaysia Youth chief Khalid Mohd Ismath claimed that many Malaysian youths have become apathetic about voting because both BN and PH have shown to be similarly corrupt and politically opportunistic in using issues to leverage on support.
But unlike Iqbal and Tharmelinggem, Khalid felt that having younger lawmakers is not a priority for Malaysian youths, and that what really mattered was whether a politician could adequately represent the interests of voters upon being elected.
He pointed out how rarely any MPs from BN or PH spoke in Parliament about minimum wage for graduates who have just started working, or for youths who have no academic qualifications. Instead, the focus was on issues and scandals like 1MDB which did not affect youths.
“I believe that even without 1MDB, our younger generation will still be faced by difficulties in trying to survive. These are related to policy issues,” Khalid told Malay Mail Online.