MALAYSIAN millennials want higher incomes and better job opportunities, but are not interested in politics or find politics too complicated.
That’s what a study by Watan and Merdeka Center on 604 Malaysians aged between 21-30 years old found. Their top issues of concerns are: Unfavourable economic conditions, high living costs, GST, a weak Ringgit and lack of job opportunities.
Nearly half (49 percent) think the country is heading in the wrong direction based on how the nation’s economy is affecting their personal financial condition.
Yet, a significant majority say they are not interested in politics (70 percent), find politics too complicated for them to understand (70 percent) and feel helpless against the country’s political system (69-71 percent).
Many have yet to register as voters as well.
You would expect more interest and action in politics from those who want better economic conditions for the country. As the chart above shows, they’re mostly concerned about inflation/high cost of living, job opportunities, and housing – these are the very decisions made by political parties.
It was the death of China’s Mao Zedong and his centrally controlled economy and collective ownership of wealth, that led to his successor Deng Xiaoping introducing market-based economic reforms. It is now an industrial powerhouse with the biggest middle class in the world.
Politics could be the cause of economic decline as well. Cambodia was making modest strides before the Khmer Rouge took over with their fanatical ideal of a classless communist state based on a rural agrarian economy. Citizens had to grow and harvest rice all 12 months of the year, while intellectuals and professionals were killed in a devastating genocide.
These are only two of the more dramatic examples of how politics have shaped nations’ economic policies. Closer to home, it was the May 13 massacre that led to the country’s accelerated launch of the National Economic Policy, a race-based affirmative action, which, among others, gives preferential treatment to Malay-Bumiputera businesses.
In short, politics plays a big factor in affecting how much money the country and its citizens, including millennials, have.
So what’s with the complete aversion towards it?
One good explanation could be education. Or rather, the lack of, according to Khoo Ying Hooi, who teaches in the Department Of International And Strategic Studies at University Malaya.
“We are not taught to be politically aware,” Khoo said.
Neither are we taught in schools that we have a role to play in the political decisions of the country, Khoo added.
Politics and policies are intertwined. But the link between the two is not often a direct one, according to Masjaliza Hamzah, executive director for youth registration organisation Watan.
“So, unless the connection between the two is made popular in the textbooks or media or in our daily lives, it is hard to expect the average person to know how one influences the other and how it directly affects their lives. And by textbooks, it’s not just about references in university courses but all the way to the primary school level.”
25-year-old chambering student Nik Shafiqah Nik Ibrahim is one millennial who shuns politics, which she describes as what she reads online, which typically goes along the lines of “One party will say something bad about the other party”.
It’s something the trainee in a Kuala Lumpur firm dislikes greatly, saying: “Politics in Malaysia is too corrupted. It’s all about money. No matter which party wins, there will still be corruption.”
Yet, when asked whether she wants better employment rights for workers such as better medical benefits and fair compensation, Shafiqah says: “That one I’m interested, unlike politics.”
When asked who is the person or body responsible in ensuring these rights, Shafiqah says she doesn’t know.
She guesses it’s the government’s.
“My colleagues and I just like to complain about it to each other but we don’t really do anything about it. I think everyone knows their rights but they just don’t know what to do.”
As in any other democracy, millennials like Shafiqah have a role to play to be informed and work towards fighting for their rights.
But Masjalizah warned it’s not their duty entirely.
“Systems and structures must also be seen as serving public interest … Special channels must be created to seek the opinions and capture the voices of young people,” the activist said.
Social media is one of the best platforms for the Malaysian government to engage with its youth, seeing they are already using it to voice their opinions, according to Masjalizah.
Chats via Facebook Live or Twitter allow their opinions to flow from youth like Shafiqah who is unhappy with the cost of petrol, to the ministries in charge.
To continue with a “top-down” approach in policy-making as it is now, will only lead to a “disenfranchised” youth – with less voice, more helplessness.
“If their voices continue unheard, there will be a vacuum,” Masjalizah said.
“For a young nation like us, this will not augur well for the future of the country.”