In his paper “Does it matter that politicians are older than their constituents? Yes.”, Harvard postdoctoral fellow Charles T McClean posits: “Young people are under-represented in most political institutions. Over half of the world’s voters are under 40, compared to just 14% of MPs.”
In Malaysia, we see a greater discrepancy in the percentages, where the average age of ministers in Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin’s Cabinet is 57 years and there is absolutely no youth presence in Parliament.
The lack of ministers in the Cabinet with a full set of hair is concerning, as it is to my and many other Malaysians’ belief that there is a need for strong youth participation in Parliament to form an effective government.
Here, I identify the reasons young politicians are much needed in the Cabinet to ensure social and economic developments in the country.
Young people are directly affected by the future they create for themselves. The possibility of having to “reap what they sow” puts them in a position of accountability in regard to the choices they make.
Young politicians are thus required and obligated to ensure the sustainability of Malaysia’s finite resources and how they will be allocated. Potentially, this will lead to economic development that ensures the needs of the present generation can be met without compromising the well-being of future generations.
Older politicians have less time or may not even be present to see the absolute effects of their policies on the country, so they are vulnerable to lacklustre decision-making that injures the future of their children and their children’s children.
In a country where 28% of the population comprises youth (15-30 years old), the youth of today desperately needs representation from young politicians.
Political participation from Malaysian youths is a basic political and democratic right, and pivotal in the development of policies that respond to the specific needs of the younger generation.
The employment of young politicians in the Cabinet may also foster widespread interest in politics among the country’s youth, creating a nation equipped with young people interested in and who are more aware of Malaysian politics.
Indeed, this was proven to be true when the country observed a much-needed surge of political interest among the youth following the appointment of Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman, a promising young politician, as the youth and sports minister for the former Pakatan Harapan government in 2018.
Sanna Marin, Finland’s 35-year-old prime minister, was reported by the Helsingin Sanomat paper to have earned an 85% approval rating for her handling of the Covid-19 crisis – a striking level of confidence in these unprecedented times.
Marin’s performance underscores the notion that young people are, in fact, capable of leading a country. They are, as a result of the digitisation and globalisation of free information, more aware of the cultures, ideologies and political situations outside their country and are thus much more open to the different views offered by a diverse population.
In a survey conducted by Lenovo covering more than 15,000 people across the globe, it found that people exposed to technology, chiefly millenials and Gen Zs, are “more open-minded and charitable”. Truly, young people’s exposure to digitised knowledge and information from around the world revealed to them that there is no single right way or perspective to anything – that everything is relative.
Consequently, it also made diversity a natural occurrence, rather than something to be feared. The open-mindedness and progressivism of youth contribute to their ability to have better judgment when implementing policies and allocating government spending, subsequently ensuring the welfare and benefit of all citizens.
Marin herself also serves as a reminder that as much as there is a need for youth presence in the government, there is also a need for strong female participation in the Cabinet.
Christene Cheng, a senior lecturer and researcher of women in politics at King’s College London, delineated several reasons why there is a need for women in politics in her blog, “Politics and more politics”.
Through several studies, she observed that female politicians are “more likely to concentrate on issues that matter more to women such as day care, gender equality, reproductive rights, flex time, elderly care, children’s welfare”, “have very different leadership styles from their male counterparts” and “are generally less corrupt”.
Evidently, four of the five countries with the top scores in the Human Development Index (Norway, Switzerland, Germany and Hong Kong) are led by women. From these findings, it is easy to infer that the active participation of women in the governing of a country is a necessary component.
Contrary to the beliefs of most aged politicians and one former prime minister, the suggestion of employing more young politicians in the Cabinet does not necessarily diminish the importance of older politicians. Older politicians are essential in maintaining the formality that grounds parliamentary sittings. Plus, they can provide a mature evaluation of the efficacy of certain policies suggested by young politicians based on their experience.
Hence, I believe there needs to be a symbiotic relationship between the young and old to truly bring about change in the country. The youth’s receptiveness and political promise, when combined with the maturity and experience of the old, could bring about the imperative change Malaysia requires.
Ivan Huang is an FMT reader.
The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.