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LAST_UPDATESat, 23 Jun 2018 4pm

What Do Young Voters Want From Political Parties?

It is no secret that political parties are always looking for more support by recruiting new members from all segments of the community, regardless of race, religious affiliation or age group.

However, political interest among Malaysian youths has been waning. According to last year’s survey by Kajidata Research, around 51.8 percent of voters remain undecided over their choice of political parties in the upcoming election.

In another survey by research firm Politweet, the 21-30 age group was the second highest among Malaysian Facebook users nationwide in losing political interest, showing near 37 percent drop during from October 2016 to January 2017. When broken down to the decline in support of Barisan Nasional and the Opposition during the same period, the survey showed 40 and 25 percent in decline respectively.

While some news outlets reported that the youth tend to favour the Opposition – that is not necessarily the case during on-the-ground events. This writer went to a community outreach event in Taman Melawati recently, hosted by the local Amanah branch, and among the attendees, the majority were senior citizens, while only a handful of youths were present.

This made me to question if tech-savvy youths of today do not respond welll to traditional political ‘ceramahs’ or forums held in public areas. So, do political parties need to adapt to new strategies to attract young voters?

Malaysian Digest approached voters in the youth demographic segment as well as a youth political leader and activist to share some insight into what youths want from poilitical parties in exchange for supporting them.

“I Am Pretty Tired Of Seeing Parties Planting Up Their Flags Or Posters In The Neighbourhood”

Living in a tech-savvy generation, many young Malaysians want political parties to utilise technology in their campaigns.

Omar, 26, opined that many Malaysian youths are no longer concerned with attending political rallies or public talks.

“I think many youths, especially millennials, are losing their interest with such campaigns. None of my friends have attended the talks or community programmes by the government or the opposition.

“In fact, I am pretty tired of seeing parties planting up their flags or posters in the neighbourhood. I had a friend who studied in the United Kingdom and he said there were no such things in the country during the election season,” he said, adding that printing promotional posters or flags can be harmful to the environment, considering how much waste is produced by such practices.

He said political parties should focus more on campaigning on social media and the internet, since millennials spend a lot of time on their devices.

Justin, 23, suggested for political leaders to learn a thing or two from how internet personalities gather their fans – by actively engaging on social media.

“Ask any young people on the street and I am sure they know who Khairy Jamaluddin is, because he is very active on Twitter and Instagram. Not only he posts regularly on those platforms, but sometimes he replied to some of the comments too,” he opined. If possible, he suggested leaders to do talks on Instagram or Facebook Live to reach younger audiences.

Justin is thankful that many senior politicians are realising the demands of today’s youths, and they often go to the ground to listen to the youths’ concerns firsthand. He cited the Transformasi Nasional 50 (TN50) initiative as a prime example of the government being committed to the country’s future leaders.

Furthermore, some youths are also getting tired of the developments of Malaysian politics, and that have caused them to lose interest in politics.

“Political parties in Malaysia, especially the opposition, can get very inconsistent. When they said they would elect Tun Dr Mahathir as Prime Minister should they win the general election, that’s when I lost my interest in politics,” said Nurul, 29.

She said the move to elect the former Prime Minister, which the opposition fought for a long time before his inclusion into PPBM, was illogical and given his very old age, already made her lose interest in the opposition.

There are also those who are considering joining the #UndiRosak movement, to voice their disappointment with the current state in Malaysian politics.

However, there are still responsible young voters who feel it is their duty to take interest in politics as this means the future of this country and their wellbeing.

For Benjamin, 30, he will still come out to vote during the election but declined to reveal which side of the political divide he is supporting.

“Yes, I do believe, the youth are losing interest in Malaysian politics, but I believe it is the duty of every Malaysian to vote and steer the country into their preferred direction.

“Some political moves by certain parties have confused me and a lot of my friends, but that does not mean I should stop taking interest in politics.

He urges other young Malaysians to read up on politics as they are the future leaders in Malaysia, and if they are unsatisfied with certain issues than it is their duty to voice their opinions and cast their votes.

Today’s Youths Demand Two-Way Communication Sessions With The Party’s Leaders, Says Youth Leader

The Malaysian Cyber Games 2018 was attended by the Prime Minister himself. Photo: Berita HarianThe Malaysian Cyber Games 2018 was attended by the Prime Minister himself. Photo: Berita Harian

Even though the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) is the largest political party in Malaysia, that does not mean they are immune to the effects of increasing disinterest among the youth and possibly losing out in the upcoming election.

UMNO Youth exco Datuk Armand Azha realises this, and one strategy the party is doing to stay relevant with today’s youths is to specifically cater to their demands.

“The promotion methods of Pemuda UMNO today are different than what it was ten years ago. Now, our events are more accessible to the public and not just restricted to UMNO members.

“For example, we hosted a Malaysian Cyber Games (MCG) competition on 13th and 14th January at the Putra World Trade Centre (PWTC), in which we managed to attract more than 25,000 youths to the event,” said Datuk Armand, who is also the president of the Suara Anak Muda 1Malaysia (SAM1M), a co-host of the event.

The party’s youth wing realises that E-sports is the current craze for today’s youth and utilised it to gain their support for the party. The government has assured passionate E-sports enthusiasts that they will keep supporting the sport’s development in the future, as the industry had contributed RM2.8 billion in 2017 and is expected to rise to RM6 billion by 2020.

Datuk Armand giving a speech during the pre-launch of MCG.Datuk Armand giving a speech during the pre-launch of MCG.

“Other forms of UMNO Youth’s efforts to attract youths are with physical activities such as cycling, in which there are many cycling communities all over the country,” he said to Malaysian Digest.

Datuk Armand emphasizes that the party is trying to steer away from the conventional political events such as public talks and focus more on community engagement programmes where attendees especially youths can spend more time with the party’s political leaders.

One example of such engagement programmes was the National Aspiration Leadership Summit (NALS) 2018, also held at the PWTC on 4th February. The programme sets a platform for participants, consisting of student leaders from public and private universities, to engage in dialogue sessions with prominent leaders, public figures and youth leaders across Malaysia.

He estimates that around 5,000 student leaders had participated the summit and expressed their support for UMNO and the ruling coalition.

“This shows that there are still many youths who have huge interest in politics. However, unlike in the past where youths are just following in the visions of the party’s leaders, today’s youths are more vocal in expressing their opinions and ideals, in which they can also influence the visions of the party alongside the party’s leaders.

“Under the leadership of Khairy Jamaluddin, UMNO Youth takes a significantly different approach in attracting the young people, as compared to ten years ago. Back then, no one would have expected UMNO to host the MCG to attract youngsters,” he relayed.

UMNO Youth does not stop at hosting events, as they also actively go to universities to engage in dialogue sessions with the students. Datuk Armand believes that today’s youths demand two-way communication sessions with the party’s leaders, and no longer interested in one-way talks from the leaders to the students.

Datuk Armand prides himself as a high-ranking political member that often goes to the ground to listen to the plight of today’s youths. He regularly joins cycling sessions with various youth groups all over the country.

“This time, UMNO’s programmes are not necessarily huge, as smaller engagements with the youths will allow us to focus more on the issues concerning today’s youths.”

Seeing how today’s youths are more actively engaged on the internet and social media, UMNO is also actively pursuing support in online platforms as well.

“Two or three years ago, we can see that most of the negativity towards the government was caused by the Opposition’s agenda on social media.

“Now, thanks to the party’s collaboration with the media, bloggers and social media personalities, we can see that there is an increase in support for the government among netizens,” Datuk Armand explained, adding that the youths are slowly increasing their support for the party.

He welcomes any youth to discuss with the party regarding any policies created by the party. Just because a person opposes a party policy does not make that person a member of the Opposition, but rather someone who is just voicing out his or her opinion or concerns towards that issue.

Datuk Armand hopes that the senior leaders of UMNO will listen to the voices of all the young people, regardless whether they support or object some of the party’s policies. The UMNO Youth exco argued that by listening to the youth, they will garner their support UMNO in the long run.

“Young People Want To See Progress Towards Something That Matters To Them"

While statistics show that a lot of the youths are still unregistered among the population, they are still a sizeable age group that could affect the election significantly.

Malaysian Digest contacted Tharmelinggem Pillai, director of Undi 18, a non-government organisation working to lower the voting age to 18 instead of the current 21.

“I do think the youth will have a huge impact on the upcoming election. The term ‘youth’ can be applied to those who are from 20-40 years old who share similar economic situations, and even though the younger ones are still unregistered, there are still a lot of registered voters in the age group.

“Even in terms of policymakers, we can see Bank Negara trying to fix housing problems, telling developers that they can’t build too many high-rise houses and instead build low-cost houses,” he points out some recent policy initiatives geared toward the youth population.

Both sides of the political divide have also created special platforms for the youths. Tharmelinggem said the opposition has raised issues concerning youths such as minimum wage, while the government has created entrepreneurship policies for the youth.

“Policymakers are already paying attention to the youth as they are a significant voting group.”

However, he does admit that youths are losing interest in the country’s politics in general, and part of it is due to conflicting image by the parties.

“Young people want to see progress towards something that matters to them and they can look forward to. But with both sides of the parties, it seems very hopeless and negative, “Tharmelinggem suggests that the youth face problems with relating to those leading the parties.

“We have a lot of negative press about our current Prime Minister, but at the same time we also have decades of negative press towards Tun Dr Mahathir.

“So, there is a lot of disillusionment on who can the youth voters choose,” he opined, adding that people feel like they are pressured to vote for the lesser evil instead of based on hope or something greater than themselves.

As to how to attract the young people to be interested in politics again, Tharmelinggem explained that while the traditional campaigning methods of public talks are getting old-fashioned, they are still relevant in rural and non-urban areas.

Urbanites can’t attend talks as they are usually busy with work, juggling a hectic city life with transportation restrictions, where traffic jams are imminent and finding parking can be a hassle.

However, many Malaysian voters still live in rural areas, political parties have no choice but to adopt a two-pronged approach as the internet in non-urban areas may not reach as many potential voters as it clearly does in the cities.

Pic:PolitweetPic:Politweet

Like it or not, all political parties planning to contest in GE14 need to include youth voters in their campaign strategy given their sheer numbers which cannot be discounted, whether they reside in rural or urban areas.

According to the Elections Commission, as of September 2017, 42% of registered voters or over 6.14 million of them are aged between 21 and 39. Meanwhile, out of 3.7 million Malaysians yet to register, two-thirds are aged between 21 and 30.

The huge numbers of youth voters clearly indicate that they will play an important role in the upcoming election..

“Better social media messaging is crucial to reach out to these urbanites who are more tech-savvy, while the public talks are more effective outside of urban circles,” he concluded.

-- mD