By Azeem Abu Bakar
As we approach GE14, we notice an increase in political issues and content appearing on our news feeds. There are more rallies now everywhere across the nation, be it by the government or the opposition. Every day, we see political comments “by experts”, news about polls on the election outcome, attacks and even name-calling.
However, are the young voters being given the right messages to aid their decision to vote? Especially for the youths, this does not seem to be the case. In a recent poll by Merdeka Center, 70% of the 604 young people polled said they do not care about politics.
So why has their interest in politics dwindled? After serving the Organisation for National Empowerment (ONE) for four years and engaging with thousands of youths, observations we gathered about this segment of society can provide some insight.
1. Moving on from the days of “war-time revolutionary” struggle
We always hear from our grandparents stories of the days when they were a part of the struggle for independence from the Japanese and British imperialists. They donated their jewellery, money and belongings to fund Tunku Abdul Rahman’s journey to London to negotiate independence.
When Tunku returned, they were there to welcome him. Some, like my grandparents, were there at Stadium Merdeka when Tunku chanted “Merdeka” on Aug 31, 1957.
A political party fought for independence. They had a story to tell. As my comrade Danni Rais always says at ONE events, “politics was sexy back then”.
The struggle to build the nation to improve our quality of life was continued by our parents’ generation until today. Nevertheless, as decades went by, the revolutionary spirit eased with the improvement in the nation’s well-being.
As the economy grew, investments flowed in and the nation transformed, the youths became less familiar with the kind of revolutionary struggles faced by the older generation.
Their challenges are now different. It is about competing for a share in the economic pie. The more ambitious ones strive to compete globally. They now look forward to growing their careers, not politics.
2. Political fatigue
While they strive to grow their careers, many still pay some attention to politics. However, they soon became disenchanted with both sides of the political divide. While allegations against the government are public knowledge, the opposition side seems to have flaws as well.
It has become increasingly unlikely that the opposition, now facing allegations of multi-billion ringgit scandals surrounding the Penang tunnel and Selangor Ijok land projects, can guarantee a clean government. Not to mention the person leading the opposition was not spared from dozens of scandal allegations during his time. The youths are fully aware of this.
This make it extremely difficult for the younger generation to decide on who to vote for on the premises of governance alone. But this does not mean they have lost all hope. To most, it is now also about who can secure and empower their future.
3. Focusing on career growth
In an era where the economic pie is already there for grabs, there are jobs and career opportunities, domestically and globally, that provide a better quality of life. If we work hard and are able to climb through the ranks in a good performing company, salary, bonuses, benefits in kind, healthcare and lifestyle allowance are a given.
Penang and Selangor are also bringing in international investments, mainly from China, that will open up more opportunities for youths. The electrical and electronic industry in Penang is robust, keeping youngsters from having to migrate to Kuala Lumpur.
Mega infrastructure projects such as KL118, the MRT, ECRL, High Speed Rail, Pan Borneo, Kota Iskandar and RAPID Pengerang are empowering the future while at the same time providing hundreds of thousands of high-income jobs. Business seed funding and incubators such as the Cradle Fund, Superb and MAGIC were set up and have skyrocketed start-ups, especially Grab, the “fintech” sector and more.
These are exciting times for the younger generation as an abundance of opportunities flood the market for the taking.
Gone are the days of the war-time revolutionary struggle that made participating in politics sexy. We have now entered the world of the improvement of quality of life through advancement of our career, and by extension, the nation. This is our story.
This is why youths today would rather look forward to a thriving future. The party which can empower the youths to move #ForwardTogether and provide them with a compelling growth story is more likely to attract their support in GE14.
Azeem Abu Bakar is secretary-general of the Organisation for National Empowerment (ONE).
The views expressed are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.