Is youth-centrism the new norm?

In recent years, governments across the world have started to pay more attention to the voices of the youth, Malaysia is no exception. Malaysia has progressed fairly well in the development of youth and their inclusion into politics.

The youth and sports ministry was allocated RM6.5 billion in Budget 2020 to create up to 350,000 jobs over five years for youth and women through the Malaysia@Work programme. In 2018, the ministry, with the cooperation of the home affairs ministry, launched the “Yellow Ribbon Project”, which benefitted 24,234 youths in 2019.

This project works alongside private sectors to provide at-risk and troubled youth with the opportunity to train themselves with entrepreneurial skills and marketability to provide themselves with an opportunity to contribute to society.

In 2019, Parliament unanimously voted for an amendment in the Federal Constitution to lower the voting age from 21 down to 18, this was the first time in Malaysian history where MPs voted unanimously across party lines.

This shows the public that their elected representatives understand the importance of cultivating and empowering the future of the nation and are willing to put politics aside for it.

In 2020, after the fall of the Pakatan Harapan government, Muar MP and former youth and sports minister, Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman, announced the establishment of youth-centric party, Malaysian United Democratic Alliance (MUDA).

Syed Saddiq stated that Thailand had set up the youth-centric Future Forward Party and likewise, the La République en Marche in France, which ended up winning the national elections and forming the federal government. He said it was about time that Malaysia had a political party to groom the future leaders of the country.

While the party may carry a youth-centric sentiment, it will remain open to all ages. The party particularly aims to bring in young technocrats, professionals and young politicians from across the spectrum of society to ensure the voices of the youth will be heard loud and clear.

Prior to MUDA, most parties have only had a youth wing where the chief of the wing will sit in the Supreme Council, this doesn’t adequately convey the message and voices of the youth as there is only a sole representative among some 20 odd Supreme Council members.

In fact, Parliament itself will have problems legislating and debating on issues of the youth as the average age of MPs is 55.5 years old while the average age of the Malaysian population is 30.3 years old.

There are currently only two MPs aged 30 or below. This causes parliamentarians to be out of touch with the issues of the youth and policies may not accurately reflect the needs of the youth.

Some of MUDA’s co-founders are already a force to be reckoned with in Malaysia. Alongside Syed Saddiq, another co-founder, Radzi Tajuddin, used to serve as a member of the National Economic Action Council.

Another co-founder, Amir Abdul Hadi, who is an activist, used to coordinate the “Right to Trial” programme at Suara Rakyat Malaysia (Suaram) and works closely on issues such as security laws and police detention without trial.

While the party may not have been registered by the Registrar of Societies at the time of writing, the party has created a lot of headwinds already.

During the recovery movement control order when the higher education ministry ordered all higher learning institutions to be closed due to the spike in Covid-19 cases two days before classes were meant to resume, many students were left stranded across the country.

MUDA took it upon themselves to organise a public crowdfunding with an aim to collect RM50,000 to assist the stranded scholars. Within three hours of opening the collection fund, MUDA surpassed their target goal with RM51,100.

In their 2021 Budget demands, the party called for a “1 Family 1 Laptop” policy which will enable underprivileged students to have better access to their online classes. MUDA also demanded a monthly payment of RM50 for students to help them buy internet packages in order to attend online classes.

Another demand was for equal parliamentary allocation across all parliamentary constituencies, regardless of the MP being a part of the government or the opposition.

This is an important stance especially during the pandemic, as it will enable the MPs to efficiently distribute government funds to their constituents who have been adversely hit as a result of Covid-19.

While it may be too soon to determine the success of Malaysia’s first-ever youth-centric party, it has definitely been a disruptor in the political landscape as 30,000 people have registered to join the party within two months of its announcement.

Regardless of the success of MUDA, it has been making enough headwinds to establish youth-centrism as the new norm for governments to come.

This article was originally published on November 23, 2020 in Free Malaysia Today.

Photo by Deva Darshan on Unsplash

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