Lately, there has been a lot of talk about the youth vote in Malaysia.
There has been a lot of attention on what young Malaysians care about politically, as well as what could get them out to the polling booths – or make them stay away.
To get answers to these questions, KEADILAN Youth has been trying to engage young Malaysians through a series of events called Teh Tarik Sessions.
The first of these began in mid-August, when Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail came to Setiawangsa, a marginal seat in Kuala Lumpur held by Barisan Nasional.
From there, we have gone to small towns in Kelantan, Perak and Johor, as well as Felda plantations in Negri Sembilan.
Soon, we plan to go all over Malaysia – from Perlis to Sabah – to talk about what KEADILAN and Pakatan Harapan can do for the youth.
The Teh Tarik Sessions are designed to be two-way dialogues. They are not in the typical ceramah format, but more attuned to a generation that is used to lively engagement on social media.
We serve attendees teh tarik (preferably “kurang manis”) and broadcast these sessions live on the internet.
A lot of the issues that they raise are well known.
Falling commodity prices and opaque practices in Felda plantations; the flooding of foreign workers and a lack of well-paying jobs, which force young Malaysians to bigger cities in the country or even abroad; being forced to take on crippling debts to sustain their livelihood; discrimination faced by the Orang Asli community – the list goes on.
Many also complain about the impact of massive budget cuts, particularly on the education and healthcare sectors.
In rural Negri Sembilan, low- and middle-income families spoke of being “asked” to pay RM10 for school stationery.
A family in a kampung in Perak complained about having to reject an offer for their child to further his studies overseas because the parents were expected to advance the money for the first four months of preparatory studies at a local private college.
Doctors told me how they spent their own money to minimise costs for poor patients.
How did it come to this?
In 1991, when I was in primary school, Wawasan 2020 was the order of the day.
In drawing and essay-writing competitions, my friends dreamt of flying cars and shining cities.
Malaysians were also told that the country would finally come of age. Not just an economically developed nation, but also one united as a Bangsa Malaysia: liberal and tolerant, democratic and progressive.
We are just over two years away from that magic date, but we seem to be more far away than ever from the objectives mentioned in Wawasan 2020.
Ironically, Umno-BN is now shifting to a new goalpost – 2050 (“TN50”) – pushing the dream farther and farther away.
KEADILAN and PH Youth’s pitch in these Teh Tarik Sessions is this: let’s not wait until 2050. We have the opportunity in the next general election to change our country – to uplift our generation and our children’s.
For Sabah and Sarawak, we want to go beyond the Malaysia Agreement 1963.
We want more revenue to stay in these states, and to increase their responsibilities in key portfolios.
We also want to promote greater decentralisation for schools and district education offices, while ensuring greater investment in educational infrastructure in impoverished parts of the country.
We will offer free higher education at public universities, with a living stipend for students from low- and middle-income families.
At the same time, we will also provide more routes to vocational and technical education to improve the quality of our workers.
We also believe that wages in Malaysia need to increase. There must also be incentives to encourage profitable companies to provide living wages to their workers.
There has to be greater coordination between the government, private sector and unions to increase wages and productivity for workers.
And, our country needs a roadmap to reduce foreign workers, and offer incentives to encourage the hiring of skilled local workers.
We need more affordable housing, whether bought or rented, for Malaysian citizens in the Klang Valley, Penang and south Johor.
The government should be looking out for first-time homebuyers who want to live in their homes, not absentee speculators who flip their properties for profit.
The destruction of our public institutions also means that we need to focus on restoring their integrity.
Freedom of information legislation, introduced in Selangor and Penang, needs to be introduced at the federal level.
The Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission needs to be made truly independent, with its own prosecutorial powers.
Committees in Parliament and state assemblies – similar to SELCAT in Selangor – need to be formed to allow the overseeing of government authorities.
This is our offer to young Malaysians.
I know that many of them have found our country’s politics thus far disheartening, its parties – on both sides of the fence – wanting.
But, change has never come from people – especially the young – sitting on the sidelines, not voting and refusing to engage in the political process.
Here is an old cliché but one that rings true: the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.
As for PH Youth, we hope to promote the politics of hope, not fear; unity, not division.
All we ask, is for one chance – five years – to set the country back in the right direction.
We believe that young Malaysians can, and will, make a big difference.