As political parties lower their membership age to lure youths, are Malaysians biting?

Ahmad Iszuddin Ahmad Izham is a founding member of non-profit group, Save Sea Animals from Extinction (Safe). — Picture by Nor Azlina Ishak
Ahmad Iszuddin Ahmad Izham is a founding member of non-profit group, Save Sea Animals from Extinction (Safe). — Picture by Nor Azlina Ishak

KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 22 — Ahmad Iszuddin Ahmad Izham is 13 and hopes to one day become prime minister.

Some may laugh off his aspiration as youthful idealism. But the soon-to-be second former recently earned plaudits from Deputy Yang di-Pertuan Agong Sultan Nazrin Muizzuddin Shah of Perak for his two-year fundraising campaign to save turtles and is very clear on why he is aiming for high public office.

“It started with my science teacher showing us how the turtles were suffering.

“As I did more conservation work, I dreamt of being a prime minister. I want to make plastic illegal and I feel that to make such a decision, only a prime minister could do it,” the co-founder of non-profit group, Save Sea Animals from Extinction, told Malay Mail.

He added that seeing Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad lead Pakatan Harapan (PH) to victory in last year’s general election also inspired him to aim high.

Ahmad said that even if he doesn’t end up being prime minister, he wants to be able to focus on conservation work in Malaysia.

After decades of trying to keep Malaysians from becoming politically active before the age of 21, the government changed the law this year to reverse youth apathy. Parliament passed a Bill allowing 18-year-olds to vote. It also approved a motion allowing 18-year-olds to stand for elections.

This was followed by political parties like MIC and MCA — now in the Opposition — changing their constitutions to lower the age for membership to 16. Others, including Umno and Amanah, are set to follow.

Malay Mail spoke to several other students to find out their thoughts about politics and if they would join a party or otherwise and found they are not as politically apathetic as perceived.

While keen to contribute and make Malaysia a better country to live in, many also expressed hesitation, saying they lacked information about what politics is all about.

Ahmad Iszuddin Ahmad Izham, 13, recently won the Tuanku Bainun Young Changemakers Award 2019 (for the 13-15-years-old individual category) for his efforts at environmental and sea creature conservation. — Picture by Nor Azlina Ishak
Ahmad Iszuddin Ahmad Izham, 13, recently won the Tuanku Bainun Young Changemakers Award 2019 (for the 13-15-years-old individual category) for his efforts at environmental and sea creature conservation. — Picture by Nor Azlina Ishak

‘Our education system doesn’t teach us how to think’

Like Ahmad, 21-year-old Lee Mei Yan said she wants to be politically involved out of conservation concerns and even join the Energy, Science, Technology, Environment and Climate Change Ministry, which is led by Yeo Bee Yin, who at 36 is among the handful of younger ministers.

But Lee, a veterinary science student, thinks Malaysians at 16 are “still too immature to understand the full context of politics”.

“Unless they revolutionise the education system. Because right now, our education system is focused on memorisation of answers to get marks in exams. Our education system doesn’t teach us how to think,” she said.

Science major Tan Eng Huat said a mindset change is needed, adding that for that to work, the government needs more quality teachers in public schools.

“The good teachers need to come from a generation where they are taught differently.

“Otherwise, it’s just a never-ending cycle of bad education, and to revamp the education system it takes a long time,” the 19-year-old said.

Economic major Priscilla Choi thinks politics should be taught in schools, but fears it may turn racial.

She also thinks that even if 16-year-old Malaysians wanted to join political parties, their first wall would be their parents.

“I don’t think my parents would have allowed me to join a political party, unless it was endorsed by the school, or a lot my classmates were in it together.

“When I think about it now, at that age, we had other things we wanted to do. For me, politics wasn’t one of them,” the 18-year-old said.

Pre-veterinary science student Chin Xin Yee, 20, said she could consider joining a political party but only after she completes her basic degree, citing the Universities and University Colleges Act 1971 as limiting undergraduates in what they can publicly say and do.

A former debater, Chin said a taste of politics while a university student council secretary has given her an insight on what it means to represent the populace and those in authority.

“Even in a university environment, you would experience politics. I was the medium between the students and the authority (the idea resembles the people and the government).

“Based on what I experienced, I believe that with my knowledge and strength, I can do more in improving the living quality of the ones in need, and facilitate development,” she told Malay Mail in a text message.

Corruption and power abuse

Nur Izaz Emyra Rohimmi who is majoring in corporate communication major said the past Barisan Nasional administration gave her a poor impression of politics, adding that her disinterest remains as many of the old guard are still influential in their respective political parties.

“I can see that it is getting better with the current government, but something tells me that it is still corrupted somehow,” the 24-year-old said.

But she sees Bersatu Youth chief Syed Saddiq Abdul Rahman’s inclusion in the Cabinet as a positive step to draw younger Malaysians into politics, noting that the demographic’s views were ignored in the past as they were deemed “too young” to be involved in policymaking.

“But I also think that without non-baby boomers controlling the decision making, more youngsters will be interested in joining politics because they know that their voices will be heard,” she said.

Animation undergraduate Sivanesh MV Sukumar, 22, said Malaysian youths have ideas on governance and policies and want to make the country better, but just lack information on how they can contribute.

“We need proper education about the political scene in Malaysia. That would offer a better insight for youths on how they can contribute,” he said.

Right now, though, the current political climate just does not interest him.

“There’s nothing about politics in Malaysia that inspires me to want to take part in it. But if in the future it changes, I would consider it.”

Unlike the millennials, Ahmad was excited when he learnt he could join a political party when he hits 16.

He said party membership might prove handy for him to further his turtle conservation cause and hopes to find out more in the next three years before he reaches that age.

“But what I really want to see change is how education is done in the country. I feel that teachers need to teach more about current affairs.

“What they are teaching is what has already happened. It is of no use to address the problems at hand,” he added.

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