The recently concluded Johor State Election displays a real concern – that if progressive forces continued to be divided, Malaysia will descend towards a failed state, where political leaders convicted of mega-corruption crimes are tolerated and even celebrated as heroes.
But even in this bleakest moment, there is a glimmer of light. There is a glimpse of hope toward a real renewal that our nation and our people crucially need – more young people are realising that their voice matters in determining our country’s future.
For the first time, 18 to 20-year-olds voted.
This reform (known as Undi18) did not come easy. Despite Parliament passing constitutional amendments to lower the voting age under the Pakatan Harapan government, there were multiple obstacles and delays. After the Sheraton move, the Perikatan Nasional (PN)-led government made many excuses, even trying to delay the Undi18’s implementation as late as September 2022.
Young people did not sit still. Multiple judicial reviews were filed in High Courts across the country to demand that Undi18 be implemented immediately, with a decisive decision in their favour on 3 September 2021. On 15 December 2021, the Act was brought into operation. On 16 January 2022, 5.8 million new voters were added into the electoral roll under automatic voter registration (AVR), out of which 1.4 million (24%) were under 21.
Malaysian youth have long been excluded from the political process. In 1971, the then Barisan Nasional government introduced the Universities and University Colleges Act (UUCA) which, among others, banned students from taking part in politics.
This Johor election, the youth fought back. Fought for their rights by exercising their voting rights. Pictures of “stained” fingers and stories of first-time voters sharing their experience are aplenty on social media. Many mobilised family, friends, relatives, and social media circles to come out and vote.
Led by a team of youths, the UndiJohor initiative mobilised and brought home up to 5,000 votes from Malaysians working in Singapore.
Many successful candidates’ campaigns were also run by scores of young people. Teams that did not win nonetheless fought a brave and more importantly, clean fight that promoted their candidates on the basis of service and integrity, not on the basis of race, religion, or the bags of goodies they could hand out.
This gives hope that the renewal of our country starts with the youth, but more importantly we must encourage more young people in positions of main authority and leadership.
HARAPAN’s defeat in Johor on top of other electoral defeats since 2018 must be our final wake-up call. As Einstein said, insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.
To do things differently, we must bring fresh perspectives to the table. HARAPAN needs to lay serious groundwork to build a cohesive youth movement leading up to the 15th General Elections (GE15). One that is inclusive, creative, and clearly communicate ideas and policies on issues affecting them such as education, decent jobs, housing. Such a movement must be a collective effort to reach out, engage, listen, and more importantly get them involved and even possibly take important political leadership.
This renewal starts with us. Young Malaysians will be the bridge that connects disparate groups, energising them into a potent and cohesive force to build a better future. Admittedly, this task will not be easy. It may take days, months or even years. But it starts today!
Kelvin Yii Lee Wuen
MP Bandar Kuching