By Bernard Goh Teck Yang. First published in Malaymail Online 19 April 2016
In light of Syed Saddiq’s active involvement in current political affairs which have met with the disapproval of the government and those in power, it can be argued that youths should not be invoked in politics. Unfortunately, when Syed Saddiq started voicing the concerns of the youths, the establishment has actively sought to discredit and undermine his credibility.
But this is what Malaysia needs right now, young people who are unafraid to speak on both sides of the political divide. There is an acute lack of neutral public (particularly youth) engagement and participation in mainstream and proper-channel politics.
Malaysian politics in general has always been quite splintered and pack-minded when it comes to political allegiances. Party members are expected to toe the party line and to behave as one entity. This is worrying because it creates the perfect environment for blind hate and irrational dislike of our political blocs.
Youth participation in politics is barely existent since — according to a study conducted by the Centre for Public Policy Studies — only 9 per cent of Malaysian Members of Parliament (MP) are in their 30s. At least 71.2 per cent of Malaysian MPs are aged 50 and above! People who are often considered retirees and senior citizens, and not representative of 50 per cent of the population.
The numbers show that there are barely any youths at all holding office in both government and opposition machinery. Based on my understanding, this is due to the lack of a proper youth political ecosystem to encourage constructive youth political participation.
Political parties should be allowed in Malaysian public and private universities. Institutions of higher learning are meant to places where youths are encouraged to participate in mainstream politics and not vent their frustrations through alternative channels, like Bersih — not to say that these channels are not part and parcel of a functioning democracy.
Currently, our political structures only allow youths to rise up in the ranks through the youth wings of various parties. This is far from ideal as it takes a significant amount of time before the youths can actually progress to senior party positions and subsequently, be elected into government office. By the time these youths make it there through the process, they would no longer be youths. Therefore, they can’t possibly echo the sentiment of young Malaysians if they themselves are no longer young.
I also advocate for the restoration of local government elections. The Local Government Act 1976 made the local government suspensions since 1964 — due to the Indonesia-Malaysia confrontation — permanent. I believe that elections at the local level can indeed engage youths, especially in small towns and villages. Since these elections will involve local community leaders and will entail the future of their local communities, the young people in those communities will most definitely get involved. This provides a more familiar platform for youths to experience the political process and for them to visibly see how governments function, in policy and in execution.
Last but not least, I believe in having more comprehensive political and democratic process education in our schools. Even though our civic studies classes do touch upon the fundamentals of how the Malaysian democracy works, I believe there is a strong need for students to be further educated on the founding principles of our country like the social contract, Article 153 of the Malaysian constitution as well as the special provisions for Sarawak and Sabah. Whether by augmenting existing subjects like history and civics or by preparing new courses, Malaysian youths must properly understand our countries founding principles before there are able to contribute effectively to our nation.