This essay first appeared in The Edge newspaper.
By Nik Nazmi Nik Ahmad
Malaysia is changing for the better.
There will of course be many analyses as to the hows and whys of the historic 9 May 2018 General Elections.
I want to focus on the future.
GE14 was about the youth
One thing I will say is that it is very clear that young Malaysians—with the rest of the country—voted for change.
They also actively participated in bringing change about.
Countless Malaysian youth worked on campaigns or acted as volunteers.
Moreover, Pakatan Harapan: KEADILAN, DAP, AMANAH and BERSATU fielded an unprecedented number of young candidates: 104 of us, including 23 for Parliament and 81 for the various State Assemblies.
I am grateful to say that 13 were elected MPs and 45 as ADUNs.
I am confident that my newly-elected legislator-colleagues will be effective voices of the Young, New Malaysia.
The GE14 was something that all Malaysians—especially the young, can be proud of.
We took our country’s future in our own hands.
A message to the Malaysian Diaspora
To our Malaysian Diaspora, I am sorry that many of you were unable to vote.
I vow to you that this will not happen again.
We nevertheless felt your support for us from afar. We will not let you down either.
My message is simple: come back.
I hope that you will eventually return to contribute to our great national cause of reform.
Your country needs you. Your country wants you.
Pakatan Harapan must keep its promises to the young
What is most important is that the new administration led by Dr Mahathir Mohamad keeps its promises to young Malaysians.
It has had a good start, including the zero-rating of the GST.
But we must also fulfil the other pledges made in our manifesto, especially for the youth.
We must not forget we promised to postpone the repayment of PTPTN to all graduates whose salaries are below RM4,000 per month, to build one million affordable houses within two terms and providing a marriage incentive scheme.
We promised to revoke and replace the University and University Colleges Act 1971. The same must be done for all laws or practices that limit civil liberties and political freedoms.
We certainly cannot fail in the commitments we made to the youth. These include creating 1 million jobs with a minimum monthly salary of RM1500 within 5 years (200,000 of which will be in Sabah and Sarawak), a RM1 billion annual Young Entrepreneurs’ Empowerment Fund, as well as to halve broadband costs and ensure high-speed internet access to all towns and villages across the country.
I hope that the new government will make these matters their priority.
The problems of youth bankruptcy, unemployment, skills obsolescence, of violence against women and children as well as discrimination against minorities must be tackled fearlessly.
The Pakatan Harapan Youth will certainly not rest until the government has delivered the platform it was elected upon.
There will likely be bumps along the way. But the people have given us their trust and we must get down to business.
Malaysia must catch up
We must also plan for a world that will inevitably change.
The global geopolitical situation remains uncertain—although Malaysia has blunted the worldwide march of authoritarianism.
The 4th Industrial Revolution—driven by automation and Big Data—will without doubt cause major disruptions plus dislocations to national and regional economies.
This is to say nothing of a world whose complacent social mores have been rocked by the return of identity politics and the #MeToo movement.
Malaysia, to put it mildly, has a lot of catching up to do.
Our internal rivalries pale when we consider the difficult challenges our country will face in the decades to come.
It is time for us to grow up.
Nobody will care about Malaysia’s hang-ups in the New Great Game: of unrelenting competition for resources, investment and influence.
Institutional reform is needed
The decades of inertia under the previous regime has made the task at hand all the more complicated.
Still, it is not impossible. It will take unity and discipline.
That is why, I feel, PH’s stress on institutional reform is so important.
Our public institutions must be free again.
There must be an end to corrupt practices that were once normalised.
We must get to the bottom of the scandals of the past.
Difficult choices—including over our education system—will need to be made.
These will only succeed if we have the support of Malaysia’s diverse peoples.
The latter can only happen if our institutions, including the media, are independent.
All Malaysians must be confident that their rights are protected by disinterested arbiters—our judiciary, law enforcement and civil service—even as our country evolves.
Institutional reform may be scary, but we must not shy away from it.
Indeed, our future prosperity relies on it.
Take the “creative economy”, which has lately become a political buzzword.
Recognizing its importance was something that the Pakatan Harapan Youth pressed for in our “Tawaran Harapan Anak Muda” and was eventually included in our Manifesto.
Many young people dream of becoming the next Jack Ma. They have their own plans for start-ups and new killer apps, with little or no stimulus from the state.
Indeed, Malaysians have always been able to produce world-beaters.
But our country cannot be the start-up hub it aspires to be if attitudes do not change in the public and private sectors.
Government support is of course essential in many cases. This will continue under Pakatan Harapan.
But governments should not just throw money at politically-connected players, or to act as crutches to them.
Rather, it should ensure that young Malaysians with talent, energy and ideas are given equal opportunities.
They need to be protected from corruption, predatory behaviour by vested interests and unnecessary red tape.
Their access to financing, licences, contracts and scholarships must be based on genuine merit.
Their success or failure must be based on their “know how”, rather than “know who.”
The BN governments did not have the political will to do this. That is why all their glossy, expensively-produced plans failed miserably.
This is why institutional reform is so important and why the youth should back it.
This is why the Pakatan Harapan Youth will not let up on this point.
By proving that we can peacefully change our government, Malaysia has chosen progress over stagnation.
But more needs to be done.
The youth must lead the way.
We hope that they will support us, but also check us if we stray.
The choices that we make together, as a nation, will determine the kind of Malaysia and world we leave our children.
NIK NAZMI NIK AHMAD is the Pakatan Harapan and KEADILAN Youth Leader as well as Setiawangsa MP. He is the author of a few books in English and Malay. Before this he spent two terms as a Selangor Assemblyman including as Selangor EXCO.