In Malaysian politics, millennials are misunderstood

NOVEMBER 16 — As we approach the 14th General Elections, it looks like millennials will likely not vote as politicians seem to be stuck in the past.

In 2008, first-time and young voters were those who grew up in the age of Reformasi and only knew Barisan Nasional as the ruling coalition.

There was no credible opposition before that as they only had a combined 20 seats to Barisan Nasional’s 198 seats in 2004. 

So in 2008, the idea of giving unknown parties a chance fuelled the wave of change as voters thought “Why not?” and went out to the polling booths in huge numbers. 

First-time voters in the next general elections — 21 to 25 years old—were still in school at that time, observing from the fringe as Barisan Nasional lost its two-thirds majority in Parliament. 

We grew up in an environment where there is a government and an Opposition. 

That marked the political awakening of many millennials and that is the reason we hear the words, “What’s the difference between BN and PH?” when speaking with young people today. 

The chants of “Ubah” and “Reformasi” which captured the imagination of young and old in 2013 have turned into “Kleptokrasi.” 

No one knew the word kleptocracy before the United States’ Department of Justice Report on asset seizure in Malaysia was filed in 2016. 

But it’s been the go-word for many Opposition politicians and has become the fulcrum of their recent roadshows throughout the country. 

Kleptocracy doesn’t resonate with people like “Ubah” and “Reformasi” did because people were sold a dream, a vision of change to realise the tremendous potential Malaysia had. 

No Third World country has seen a change of government solely based on an anti-corruption campaign. 

Today, as much as politicians say, “Malaysians are tired and disillusioned with politics”, I see that many politicians look tired too. 

And I do not blame them. It’s been 10 years since the current Opposition began its quest for change in 2007. With the constant mudslinging going on day in, day out, it takes a lot out of everyone. 

As much as detractors like criticising Barisan Nasional, the Transformasi Nasional 50 programme, popularly known as TN50, has captured the imagination of young people, giving them a chance to think out of the box and tap into their ideals. 

That’s what is missing in the Opposition. And that is causing them to underestimate millennials and take them for granted. 

Millennials have been ignored for the most part since 2013. 

It is only now that politicians are seeing their importance and sweating on the very real possibility that young people will not come out to vote at the next polls. 

At this point, the young in Malaysia are facing a huge challenge of housing and transportation. 

Some of us cannot even afford to rent a house, let alone buy one. We don’t buy cars because we want to, but because the public transportation system forces us to buy cars. 

So immediately, we enter the job market with a debt on our heads, on top of the education loans many of us take on. 

With the political ring being filled with sheer negativity, it is unwise for politicians to think that millennials have nothing to offer and don’t care about politics. 

Millennials are “Generation Instant” and grew up with quicker access to information, problems and solutions. 

I’ve always told my friends to go to the nearest post office and sign up to vote, and vote in the next elections. 

These conversations are getting tougher as many of them see politics as a “League of Extraordinarily Old Men”, something I have a tough time countering. 

But it’s still not too late. We need to bin the talk of kleptocracy and go back to why politics matters to make millenials interested in politics again. 

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.