IT has been a longstanding trend for Malays to lag behind when it comes to voter registration, says Merdeka Center’s programme director Ibrahim Suffian.
He says in surveys conducted by the centre in the past, many younger voters cite not having the time to register.
“Perhaps this indicates that for many, politics remains something that many are not interested in.
“It is a prevalent theme that younger people are less committed to political parties and partisan politics,’’ he says.
Statistics from the Election Commission (EC) show that Malays make up about 43% or 1.8 million of the unregistered 4.2 million voters.
For Umno Youth deputy chief Khairul Azwan Harun, that percentage is not that high.
He says Malays make up about 55% to 60% of the population so “this correlates with the data given’’.
However, he says, they should not take things for granted.
Umno Youth, he says, has a specific bureau that helps new Umno members register as voters and over the past year, the bureau and leaders including himself have travelled all over the country to encourage young people to register as voters.
When they have programmes where there is engagement with the public, he says, it has become part of their SOP to get the EC to set up voter registration booths there.
“We will remain steadfast in ensuring the youth, regardless of background, vote if they are eligible. This is their Malaysia as much as it is ours,’’ he says.
For Fui K. Soong, CEO of the Centre for Strategic Engagement (CENSE) a public policy consulting firm, the deciding factor in the next general election will be the Malay votes.
She says for now it is hard to say who the Malays are going to vote for because the ground is split.
To her, it is very significant that 43% of the Malays are not registered voters.
“I think for the young people, they probably feel that Malay power and Islam is already a given.
“It is only a question of whether it is more of this or more of that, so for the young Malays if they are not into politics, it doesn’t matter to them.’’
She says even with the Malay political elites fighting about who should lead the country – whether Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak, Datuk Seri Hadi Awang or Datuk Seri Azmin Ali or some other personality – the “template’’ doesn’t change.
The template of the Malay ecosystem, she says, revolves around Malay power and religion and the players are still more or less the same with the elites (like G25, academics and top civil servants, Sisters in Islam and Perkasa), the political elites such as Najib, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, Hadi Awang, Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, Datuk Seri Dr Zahid Hamidi, etc and the royal houses.
“Now the political elites are shouting at each other. Some are saying this guardian (leader) is not suitable, some are asking for more religion (asking for someone who is more focused on religion) but none of them are trying to do away with the ecosystem. So does it really matter if young Malays don’t have any political affiliation?’’
Fui believes what would motivate young Malays to register is if Umno or PKR or PAS comes under threat.
For Merdeka Center’s Ibrahim, it is very significant that of those who turned 21 since the last general election (GE13), only 23% have registered as voters.
“This is critical because young people would be affected by policies determined by politicians.
“The frequently quoted situation is the UK Brexit vote where younger voters largely voted to remain but were outnumbered by older voters whose turnout was much higher.
The same could happen here in the next general election,’’ he says.
He says their failure to register as voters would have an impact on the coming general election (GE14) because many young people would be affected by government policies in the future but they may not have taken part in the political process that determines the outcome of the election.
‘’This could include policies related to the expansion of the tax regime, changes to the education policies or job opportunities.’’
Ibrahim believes the increased difficulty to register voters now is because political parties are no longer allocated assistant registration officers.
“In the past elections, parties were instrumental in registering young voters as they had the biggest incentive to recruit voters.’’
Since 2013, EC has not allowed political parties to register new voters citing there were “too many problems” with this.
For Ibrahim, what EC should have done is to work on addressing those problems rather than imposing a blanket ban on parties from registering.
“It is a great disservice to voters,’’ he says.
There are differing views on whether GE14 will be more exciting than GE13.
For Umno Youth’s Khairul, he feels there is greater excitement on the ground now for the upcoming general election compared to GE13 because of the “gravity of choice” put before voters.
However Ibrahim and Fui disagree.
Ibrahim says the level of political competition seems to have dropped off with the fragmented political opposition.
“I suppose many people want to see a strong contest because it means voters will get political parties to offer them “goodies” to curry favour.
“The fact that the opposition has fragmented means that the competition level and voter expectation have dropped.’’
(Opposition parties, PKR, DAP and PAS formed a loose coalition called Pakatan Rakyat and in the GE13 they agreed not to contest seats the other party was contesting in to ensure straight fights with the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition.
In the states where Pakatan won, they formed the state government together. But all this came apart last year when PAS and DAP had bitter differences over the Islamic State issue, ending in severed ties. The pact has since been replaced by another coalition called Pakatan Harapan but without PAS in it, it is much weaker.)
Fui says GE13 was emotionally charged.
She says NGOs were pushing the younger folk to register as voters as they were anti-establishment and harboured angry sentiments because of the alternative views they read on social media.
“People were expressing their views against the government on social media like never before. People were registering as voters on the basis that they were going to change the government.”
Since then, many things have changed, says Fui, with the most significant being the break-up of Pakatan Rakyat.
“That is the turning point – people’s hopes for change were dashed.’’
She says during GE13, although the opposition put up a multi-racial and needs-based platform, once it was over, they went back to their grassroots and served their own community. Fui says Malay-based parties went back to the same template of looking at Malay issues, Malay rights and religion because otherwise they could not hold on to their power base, while DAP went back to serving the Chinese and PKR the urban Malays.
“They no longer go on the basis of having an ideology based on multi-racialism because that would be hard to do.”
As a result of this, she says, the Indian community – especially the younger people – are going back to MIC because they were not able to find space in the opposition.
“That is the only community where I see the young people coming back to Barisan Nasional.”
As for the Chinese, she believes they are going to vote for DAP not because they are pro-opposition but because they see DAP as their “strong political negotiator”.
She says the mood is different this time around because people have already taken to the streets before, they have heard all the arguments made over social media and they have also seen that all political parties have their share of baggage.
“So I don’t think people would be flying back from Australia, the United Kingdom and Canada like they did in GE13 just to change the government.” – The Star