Column-GE14: Who Will Our Young Voters Choose?

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KUALA LUMPUR -- Nearly five million young voters will vote for the first time in the impending 14th General Election, according to the Election Commission of Malaysia.

These first-timers comprise 34 per cent of Malaysia's total voters. While Barisan Nasional and Pakatan Harapan can more or less foresee the choice of the nation's experienced voters, the coalitions have no idea who the young voters would back.

These first-time voters constitute a bulk of those perceived as fence sitters and they are the ones who will play a pivotal role in determining the victors come GE14.

A case in point is the US Presidential election in 2008 when Democratic Party nominee Barack Obama became the first African American to be elected to the White House.

His campaign strategy targeted youths which enabled him to garner the support of some 12 million young voters.

However, during the 2016 Presidential election, the Democratic Party's Hillary Clinton lost to Republican nominee Donald Trump as she had failed to get the support of young voters.

Compared to Obama who enjoyed the support of 60 per cent of the young voters, Clinton only managed to get 55 per cent of the young voters to back her.

So what is the voting trend among Malaysia's young voters going to be like during GE14?

Will they cast their vote in favour of their respective family's political leanings? Or will they bow to pressure from their friends and vote accordingly? Or will they be influenced by the social media school of thought?

I myself belong to the young corps of first-time voters and the coming polls will see me exercising my right as a citizen. However, I have yet to decide which way my vote will go. I am very sure that there are many other voters in the same boat as me.

The question foremost on our minds is this: What do our political parties have to offer in respect of issues that matter to our generation?

In actual fact, what our generation is concerned about is our future. Will we be able to get a good job after we graduate? Can we afford to buy a house and still have enough money left to send to our parents in the kampung?

We are also deeply concerned about the problems besetting youths these days.

I am happy to note that BN has come up with the Transformasi Nasional 2050 (TN50) initiative and that it would take into consideration the views of the young generation in working towards building the nation's future.

This is a good strategy because BN is being seen as making an effort to plan the future of the young generation. This is probably why BN has of late been getting positive response from youths.

For example, during the Sungai Besar by-election in Selangor in 2016, 38 per cent of the young Chinese voters in the parliamentary constituency supported BN, compared to 15 per cent in GE13.

A similar trend was also evident during the Kuala Kangsar by-election in Perak in 2016, which saw an 18 per cent hike in support for BN among young Malay voters.

The outcome of student elections at 20 public universities over the last two years has also reflected a sharp swing in support for pro-government student groups that managed to wrest control of nearly all the seats previously held by pro-opposition groups.

Pakatan, on the other hand, does not seem to be focusing on the nation's future; instead it is intent on getting a 93-year-old former prime minister to lead the country if it comes into power.

Malaysia's young generation may have a problem with this because today's issues are not the same as those experienced 20 or 30 years ago.

Pakatan's strategy comes into conflict with the hopes that are being harboured by the young generation.

In a recent speech by Malaysian Volunteers President Isham Jalil, he said: "The future belongs to the young generation. They are the biggest stakeholders of the future. Let's not repeat past mistakes and force our future generations to perpetuate old practices and habits. Old habits may be hard to discard. Come, let's replace our past mistakes with fresh aspirations."

Based on what I wrote in this commentary and as an observer from the perspective of my generation, I am of the opinion that BN would be able to garner more support from young voters than Pakatan in the coming polls.

(This commentary carries the personal opinions of the writer and does not necessarily reflect BERNAMA's stand or views on the matter.)

-- BERNAMA