KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 26 — Taufiq Firdaus, 26, holds a civil engineering degree from a local university. He thought a good education would land him a good career with good pay. Instead, he has held three jobs in the last two years because the firms that hired him, he lamented, were less willing to pay what he felt was a reasonable salary.
Today, he delivers food for Grab and other platforms to cope with a job market that is still reeling from the pandemic, earning just enough to pay the bills. He’s cautiously optimistic that things would get better, but only if a capable government and the right policies are put in place.
“That means we need good leaders. It’s not enough to just have ideas. For it to work I think we also need a competent government. That’s what I’d want for my vote, I think that’s what I’ll vote for,” he said.
Living standards often make the battleground that elections are won or lost on. As recent as the 2018 polls, living cost pressure blamed on the goods and services tax fuelled a voter backlash that ended six decades of Barisan Nasional rule.
Voter opinion polls by Malay Mail recently suggest the issue continues to top public concerns. Over a dozen people interviewed said they have hopes that winners of the next election could address soaring prices, improve wellbeing or create more job opportunities.
“It’s the most pressing issue to me,” said Taufiq.
“But I also know we can’t get this right if other matters aren’t fixed, like corruption. I think most people think they’re unrelated, but I think they are,” he added.
It was a view that resonated with most respondents. Over a dozen voters Malay Mail spoke to said they no longer see good governance and rice bowl issues as mutually exclusive, and that addressing socio-economic problems is inextricably linked to the fight for stronger institutions and corruption-free governance.
Yash, 30, a tech lead from Klang, saw the country’s economic woes rooted in communalist policies, and that he would vote for any party that makes racial equality the core tenet of its economic plans.
“There is no reason to only have Malay people in the Cabinet. If we keep going on like this then when there is any issue in Malaysia, there is going to be segregated groups according to race,” he said.
“Another example, If I want to buy a house, we are all Malaysians, so why is there a need for reserve Malay or Bumiputera land. Every time I look online and see a good house with a good price, it seems to be on land reserved for Malays,” he added.
“It makes me feel like Malays are the only ones who rule in the country, I don’t get my own freedom even though I’m Malaysian. That always bothers me, depending on what I do. If you were to solve this racial segregation, you are solving so many other problems.”
P. Bala Iyer, 69, who used to run a tiny business and now earns a living as a handyman doing odd jobs, felt the economy is doing poorly and more help should be given to struggling businesses. He was also of the opinion that industries suffer from religious and racial meddling.
To fix it, he suggested more top government positions be given to minorities to reflect the country’s multiracial composition, and to do away with race-based policies.
“First, they need to solve the economy. Meaning, with the banks everything, they need to be more flexible and help the SMEs. Many of them were struggling during the last two years and are now trying to recover but the banks are pressing them,” he said.
“They (government/politicians) should help them (SMEs) otherwise they will be stuck forever. Second thing, they shouldn’t bring race and religion into the business environment,” he added.
“There should also be no such thing as the top fellows in the government must all be Malay.”
Others like Darian Lim, 34, from Bandar Puteri Puchong, said transparency should be the hallmark of any government and its leaders must also be willing to admit mistakes, a quality both BN and Pakatan Harapan have been criticised as lacking.
“I want someone who comes to power, who has the ability to admit mistakes and speak the truth. It doesn’t matter if the government makes some mistakes, but they should admit them,” he said
“I feel this is the only way the public can find out what is really going on with the running of the country. I want a government that doesn’t treat the public like some mindless drones,” he added.
“For example, things like police brutality, or police misconduct, there is so little accountability when mistakes are made.”
Lim said he wants the Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission to be formed, and that it would be among key issues that would determine who he’d vote for.
Make way for new blood
Younger generations of voters are more likely to be issue-driven unlike their predecessors that tend to vote along partisan lines, according to findings from surveys held over the years.
The 15th general election will see the addition of 5.8 million mostly young and fresh voters cast their ballots for the first time, giving unprecedented power to a largely apolitical voting bloc who are distrustful of politicians. Combined together, more than 20 million could vote at the election that must be held by September 2023.
This has led to calls for the youth to take over leadership roles that were once reserved only for senior politicians.
Among them was Pravena Baskaran, 30, who saw former minister Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman, the country’s youngest Cabinet member, as living proof that young people are more than capable to govern.
On election day, Pravena said her vote would go to the Malaysian United Democratic Alliance (Muda), the party Syed Saddiq founded, on the belief that only young leaders dare to implement bold ideas that are needed to fix a broken system.
“What I would want from the party that I’m voting for firstly is to lead with honour, and then it’s also important to listen to the people to serve better,” she said.
“Thirdly there must also be radical change and the party voted in must have a clear strategy and communicate these ideas well so that people would know,” she added.
Like many from her generation, Pravena felt living quality hasn’t improved and the state of the economy worries her. She also felt there should be more urgency to address climate change. Muda, according to her, has been the only party that is proactively working to find solutions.
“It’s not radical for youths to be in power, it’s actually the new normal. We need fresh energy and a demographic that strongly understands the climate if they are to be our leaders,” she said.
Analysts reacting to Muda’s formation said the party encapsulates the growing disillusionment of a generation tired of constant political strife. As a result many young voters say they care little about politics.
Shazwan Mustafa Kamal, associate director at political risk consultancy Vriens & Partners, said he expects more voters would ask for political stability.
“I would say that some of the issues — rising costs of living, employment — still resonate from 2018 to now, and in fact, even more today,” said
“But some issues such as political stability, direction and sustainability in terms of policy planning (addressing issues such as flood mitigation plans, digital economy) will be crucial,” the analyst added,
Umno won back-to-back state elections in the span of just six months by appealing to a politically-fatigued electorate on a platform that promised stability.
The party has since pushed for Prime Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob to hold a general election by this year as it seeks to preserve the momentum.