To meet the aspirations and expectations of the younger voters whom it has been aggressively courting, the government must have the will to drop deadwoods and feature younger and more credible leaders, failing which, it stands to lose the faith of this crucial voter segment.
THE WAY political parties are coaxing the young suggests that young voters could very well hold the trump card in the coming general election.
The Opposition parties have long relied on young voters to bolster their rank and file. With the explosive increase in the use of information and communications technology (ICT), the importance of young voters increases.
In recent months, the Barisan Nasional (BN), which by virtue of its control of the official and mainstream media and not particularly concerned about the new media, has jumped on the bandwagon.
Prime Minister Datuk Seri Mohd Najib Abdul Razak blogs and tweets and in late May, presided over the Himpunan Jutaan Belia (Millions of Youth Gathering) in Putrajaya.
While the BN gauges the support of the young voters through the Internet and youth festivals, the Opposition parties measure theirs by actively participating in street protests like the one held by the coalition for clean elections (Bersih) on April 28 in Kuala Lumpur.
On June 9, Mohd Najib again connected with the young when he attended a question-and-answer session at the Bukit Jalil Stadium with his twitter friends, promising them that the BN is ever ready to initiate changes to be in tune with the aspirations and demands of the young generation.
These activities have contributed towards raising the interest of youth in political affairs, which could lead to more of them registering as voters.
There may still be time for youth and other eligible Malaysians to register as voters. Deputy Chairman of the Election Commission, Datuk Wan Ahmad Wan Omar, told the media in Kota Kinabalu on June 8 that Malaysians who are eligible to vote should register this month to qualify to vote in the general election if it is to be held in September.
The rise in the number of young electors, could, however, pose a significant challenge to the BN, which has traditionally relied on mature, partisan voters. Unlike the Pan Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS) and the People’s Justice Party (PKR), the BN parties do not have strong youth outreach programmes.
Furthermore, if the notion that young people are anti-establishment and rebellious were true, then the BN would have a harder time steering them in its direction in the coming general polls.
It is here that the role of the young BN leaders from the Twitter and Facebook generation is crucial. Young people, especially the more educated ones, like debates and town hall meetings.
For it to match and, possibly out-talk the Pakatan Rakyat parties, the BN needs more youthful speakers and debaters. Umno Youth Chief, Khairy Jamaluddin, is doing a good job, but there has to be more like him to draw the Opposition fire and steer the young voters in the direction of the BN.
THE last few days have been personally eventful for me, partly because I decided to leave the comfort and safety of my cocoon and became a member of the human race, albeit reluctantly.
Apart from accepting the invitation to join Malaysia Airlines in proving its brand new super jumbo Airbus A380, I also met a couple of business people, thinkers and decision-makers. Some planned, others by chance.
Their views and opinions about politics and the future of the country are varied and telling.
A Chinese businessman who heads a multi-billion-ringgit business empire saw no harm in a change in government at the coming general election, although he agreed that there could be one or two years of uncertainty.
Being big, successful and having benefited from many large government-backed projects, he could afford to be open-minded and adventurous about a change of government. That I understand.
Moreover, his view of the current government is not that glorious. Although he acknowledged that Mohd Najib is trying to bring about change, he has reservations about the commitment of other equally powerful Umno leaders towards the Prime Minister’s transformation agenda.
Then I bumped into someone who obviously recognised me at a nasi kandar restaurant in the city. He erroneously addressed me as ‘Tan Sri’ and asked if I could spare him a few minutes.
When I said yes, he immediately launched into a tirade against some of the most important people in the government for their alleged inactivity, ineptitude and lack of concern for the plight of the ordinary people.
He turned out to be an Umno State Assemblyman from a Pas-ruled state. He said just because his seat is seen as safe, his appeals for financial and administrative assistance have been largely ignored.
He was most upset about the plight of a large number of foreign wives of his constituents, some of whom have been married for 40 years and whose children are already registered voters.
Despite his repeated appeals for their citizenship applications to be speeded up, he received only lip service. Without citizenship and blue identity cards, these foreign women cannot register as voters.
I immediately called a former newspaper colleague of mine who now works for the Prime Minister to relate the encounter. He later told me that he had gotten in touch with the disgruntled Yang Berhormat and promised assistance. But I know that this colleague of mine is not in the Prime Minister’s inner circle.
Imagine, if an Umno State Assemblyman has a lot of damning things to say about his bosses and the government that he supports, why should we be surprised if the Opposition pours scorn on the BN and its leaders?
Mohd Najib and his team must get their act together for the sake of the people as solemnly pledged in the 1Malaysia slogan ‘Rakyat didahulukan, pencapaian diutamakan’ (People first, performance now) instead of having their time and attention diverted by cows and an expensive motorcar plate number.
What ails the BN?
THEN there is a Chinese political consultant whom I have known for many years. He claims that his team is working for the BN and wanted to know what lesson could possibly be drawn from the 1999 general election that would help the BN in the coming polls.
In 1999, the split in Malay votes between Umno and PAS became worse as a result of the sacking and jailing of the-then Deputy Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim.
Upon seeing that the split in the Malay votes might cause the defeat of the BN and destabilise the country, the Chinese voters voted decisively for the ruling coalition. They were spooked by the Malay-led reformasi protests in Kuala Lumpur.
Like their Malay compatriots, a large segment of the Chinese who voted for ‘Mr Nice Guy’ Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi in 2004, became disillusioned with him and voted against the BN in 2008.
A portion of Malays who deserted the BN in 2008 could be coming back to the fold. They see a better leader in Mohd Najib, but that may not be the case with the Chinese.
They are not likely to come back in droves to support the BN. They have tasted power in Penang and other urban areas by siding decisively with the DAP.
They have found political unity under the DAP’s leadership. Whereas under the BN, the Chinese are split between the MCA and Gerakan, under Pakatan Rakyat, they are united under the DAP.
The Chinese consultant estimated that at best the BN could only expect to add another 4% to 5% Chinese votes to the about 25%. But that, he said, could make a difference in marginal seats.
Apart from finding suitable candidates, the BN is also being hampered by inconsistencies in policies and actions among keys agencies, including Bank Negara Malaysia, the Attorney-General’s Office and the Civil Service.
My answer to that is, the people running these agencies have been in their jobs for far too long that they have become a power unto themselves. Unless the Prime Minister is willing to take on these people or replace them with younger and more energetic appointees, he could even lose the support of the civil servants at the polls.
To meet the aspirations and expectations of the younger voters, Mohd Najib must have the gumption to drop the deadwoods and the clowns in the present BN line-up and co-opt younger leaders, even if it means bringing in outsiders. Failing which, the applause and standing ovation that he regularly receives from his youthful audience might not turn into votes at the polls.
By A Kadir Jasin
16 June 2012