The 300 000 youth votes of Sarawak has been seized upon as giving some hope to the drab politicial landscape-accoridn to a local academic. However there is some miscalculation: majority of these 300k voters (if they are registered) are working outside their home town/long house. Going home to vote is too costly for most of them. So: don’t put too much hope. That explain why the East Malaysian voting rates are some 10% lower than those in West Malaysia(70%+)! 2nd: the youth are largely unpolitical-so unless something happen to them to wake their political interests-they will not even drop by to register as voter or cast their vote-as acknowledged by the academic. So there need to be other sources of hope.
The forthcoming Sarawak state election will serve an interesting fare. It will not only showcase how the ruling Barisan Naisonal (BN) will perform, but also the impact of an estimated 300,000 young voters.
Dr Jeniri Amir, a political analyst at Universiti Malaysia Sarawak, said this was a big figure compared to the 980,000 voters in the states, as it could affect the outcome in some constituencies.
“This means a quarter of voters are young voters. The numbers are quite significant and that is why there is some concern among the political parties as their past pattern indicated they were anti-establishment,” he said in an interview here.
Some reports said there could be about 450,000 youths who have yet to register as voters.
Dr Jeniri said young voters were well exposed to the new media and knew exactly what they wanted, particularly those living in urban areas.
“They, together with the rural young voters, are very much concerned with issues related to good governance and clean leadership, as well as employment.
“They are more idealistic type of voters, with far-reaching effects,” he said, adding that lack of employment in the state had caused many of them to migrate to places like Singapore, Johor and the Klang Valley.
“As an example, there are about 40,000 Ibans, mostly secondary school leavers who are currently working in Johor,” he said.
However, the state leadership was not taking it lying down, said Dr Jeniri, who cited the ‘Empowering the Graduates Programme’ to absorb nearly 4,000 fresh graduates into the state civil service and state government-linked companies.
Apart from that, initial findings from a study conducted by a local university on young voters in the state also showed 60 per cent of Bumiputera respondents were satisfied with government policies, compared to just 20 per cent among the Chinese.
“There is also another interest finding where most of the youths interviewed said they didn’t have any interest in politics, and could not be bothered over whether to vote or not,” he said.
According to him, despite efforts by the Election Commission to boost registration among them, it received poor response, with only about 200 youths registering.
Dr Jeniri said the study also found that among the root causes of the problem was poor dissemination of information related to government policies and programmes, and not reaching the target group, especially in rural areas that lacked internet access.
Therefore, he said, in order to tackle this issue, a programme called ‘Festival Mesra Belia Sarawak’ was organised in every district to engage the youths through various activities such as sport and music.
“To what extent it works, has yet to be seen.”
Dr Jeniri also pointed out that most of the young voters did not place age of the candidates as paramount criteria for electing their representatives but were more concerned with new faces with credibility.
“They did not say they want young candidates. What they want is new face, regardless of age. Even candidate’s qualification is not so important as they want those trustworthy and with integrity,” he said.