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  • Writer's pictureMalay Mail

Myopic to hyperfocus on youth votes despite Undi18, says PKR’s Wong Chen

By Soo Wern Jun (24 May 2022) KUALA LUMPUR, May 24 - Opposition parties should not obsess with chasing new voters between 18 and 21 as this strategy is unlikely to pay off, PKR’s Subang MP Wong Chen has warned. Despite the so-called Undi18 constitutional amendment that added this group to the country’s voters, Wong said the recent Johor election showed low turnout for the voter streams catering to this category of first-time voters. “We (PKR) will look at the youth votes realistically as the turnout being slightly lower than middle aged voters.

“So, what you want to do is get the middle-aged voters to come out more, so you go to core issues, and that's a big challenge really,” Wong told Malay Mail during an interview.

Wong explained that past experience has shown that youth participation in politics was typically low, and voters did not usually become politically active or vote until they were older and more affected by government policies and the realities of life. This was already the case even before the constitutional amendment to lower the voting age from 21 to 18, he explained when noting that previous elections showed the typical age of a new voter to be 28.

“Why? At 21, it’s their first time to vote, most of the time they don’t know that they have a right to vote, so they don’t register.

“They get their first job at 23, some maybe earlier, but they get married at 26 or 27, their first child at 28. And then, they realise life is really tough, (their) job doesn’t pay that well, that’s when they become politically aware, it has been like that,” he said.

As such, Wong cautioned against banking on youth-based party Muda and its president, Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman, delivering votes from the age group, despite their apparent popularity on social media platforms.

“You may like Syed Saddiq or even TikTok, but would that get youths out to vote? I don’t think so and that is unfortunately the numbers you saw in the Johor state election.

“So, it’s not whether or not Syed Saddiq was contesting or not, (it) doesn’t matter because he was campaigning.

“It was a wrong political calculation to put too much weight on the youths. We were all hoping, hopefully the youth votes will come and rescue us, but the wave didn’t come,” he said. He added that the Johor state election sent worrying signals about the group, as even Muda struggled to secure support from young voters that were supposed to be its target demographic.

PKR’s focus on youth voters When asked if PKR has plans to try and capture youth votes, Wong said the party has leaders who could appeal to the age group. He conceded that the party did not have someone the same age as Syed Saddiq, 29, but would still field candidates in their 40s who still could connect with young voters.

PKR also has outreach programmes specifically appealing to the young, Wong added.

“That’s why Rafizi (Ramli) is running the Ayuh Malaysia campaign, for people who are empathetic to politics or don’t understand, but just want a better life.

“All Ayuh Malaysia campaign is designed for youth votes, and economic voters,” he said.

The Ayuh Malaysia movement was launched last March to draw the support of fence-sitters in preparation for the 15th general election.

The campaign will also attempt to encourage more volunteers who are eager for change to come forward and play their roles in the election. Ayuh Malaysia, according to Rafizi, was not solely an initiative by PKR, but by the young leaders in the party to draw the participation of all Malaysians.

Based on the Election Commission’s (EC) January 14 electoral roll, 5.8 million Malaysians aged 18 and above as of December 31 have been automatically registered as new voters as Undi18 came into effect.

In Johor, this was reflected through more than 750,000 new voters and brought the state’s total voters to about 2.5 million, from 1.8 million in the 14th general election. The bulk of the new voters were those who were already 21, but did not previously register.

According to news reports, based on political observations, the low youth voter turnout at the Johor state election was seen as due to many Undi18 youth voters who were found to lack political literacy and have a weak understanding of the current political situation. Only about 15 to 20 per cent are sensitive to the current political situation.


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