Malaysiakini Letter

How Harapan secured the youth vote

Mohamed A  |  Published:  |  Modified:

LETTER | In the wee early morning of May 9, people were gearing to cast their ballots.

Many of them came to the ballot box anguished, disappointed and raring for change after living under the rule of BN, who became high on their own Kool-aid and were not even ashamed of plundering the country.

One voter group was especially anxious about the outcome of the votes – the youth voters.

For the youth, the situation of the country was getting out of hand. Bank Negara put youth unemployment at 10.7 percent, which is three times the national average. Cost of living was increasing and wages were not getting any better.

But the biggest challenge for any party that wanted to win in GE14 was to figure out how to get these groups to come out and vote.

There was already a movement specifically for spoilt votes that claimed no party really represented the voice of the youth.

What Pakatan Harapan needed at that time, was a young person, someone with a vision, energy and the idealism to connect all the youth out there and give them hope that their voice can be heard.

The person to fill in that spot was a relatively unknown rookie in the political world - Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman.

There was huge scepticism behind him being appointed to lead Bersatu Youth. People were wondering what can a newbie like him could do, and whether he would be able to pull in the necessary members into a newly formed party.

The masterstroke behind this move was that Dr Mahathir Mohamad and Harapan sensed his pulling power. For most insiders, this move came as no surprise as he did manage to secure the biggest bloc for his party which consisted of the youth, making up 57 percent of the party.

This is an important factor because despite the party being relatively new, many youths have already decided on which party they will support.

Not stopping there, Mahathir and his party once again placed faith in Syed Saddiq to represent them in the Harapan presidential council, making him the single youth representative in the council.

He used the opportunity to represent the voice of youth out there and bring up matters related to youth to the highest level of the coalition. His performance was even so impressive that even DAP supremo Lim Kit Siang touted him as a possible minister.

While many think he is young and underqualified, Mahathir entrusted him to be a researcher for his team. His main effort was to ‘youthify’ Mahathir to ensure he has a greater outreach to the public. He used this opportunity to centre Mahathir on youth issues.

What was difficult for him was to balance the act of trying to win in his own constituency whilst rallying youth votes nationwide. Based on the outcome, this was executed brilliantly. He was the first Harapan member who voiced out a need for the coalition to field in young candidates.

As a result, his own party fielded the youngest Harapan candidate for a state seat, i.e. Abdul Hannaan Khairy, and Syed Saddiq himself for parliamentary seats. This gave youth hope that their voice will be represented.

Not only that, he ensured that Bersatu did not become UMNO 2.0. He managed to convince the top management in his party to allow more youths to stand for election. The outcome was that Bersatu fielded 31 youngsters, seven for parliament and 24 for state assemblies.

Post GE14, Harapan caused a major surprise, wresting Putrajaya away from BN, resulting in the first government transition in Malaysian history. Truth be told, the youth voters delivered.

A case study on the Muar and Johor Bharu constituency shows that Saluran 3 and above (i.e., youth votes) was the determining factor for the Harapan win. As for Syed Saddiq himself, 59 percent of his votes came from the youth.

However, he realised that since only 41 percent of the youth registered or qualified to vote for GE14, he needed to act fast. He was quick to meet Gobind Singh to discuss the issue of fast internet speed and access, as well as the abolishment of Biro Tatanegara (BTN).

He also ensured that his voice remained vocal by calling out moves within certain quarters of Harapan that was not in line with the manifesto. For example, by ensuring funding allocation for opposition MPs and state assemblypersons across the country and how GLCs should be politically independent.

What he echoed were the voices of youth. Harapan needs to decide quick, either to elevate their stalwarts to a proper lawmaking position or to simply use him as a poster boy with little effectiveness seeing as how now they are the ruling government.

The youth are anxious to see whether Harapan will really keep their promise to ensure that the voice of the youth is being heard at the highest level.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

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