It was about two years ago. A wave of youth-led protests erupted in several Muslim countries around the world right before the pandemic. While the primary goal of the protests was to demand democratic reform in their respective countries, the youths also had something else to fight for — an end to political favouritism based on ethnic or religious lines which have often been associated with corruption. Now the movement has finally reached the shores of Malaysia (also in part due to the fallout of the mismanagement of the pandemic by the current and former government) and Malaysian youths are making their voices heard on all fronts.
Young Malaysians Seeking Change
There have been numerous peaceful protests organised by young Malaysians in the past few months that have targeted the government’s inept handling of the newest wave of the pandemic that struck the Southeast Asian nation in late July.
The fallout of this perceived failure by Malaysian citizens saw former Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin forced to resign after a 17-month reign in office. And in September, Ismail Sabri Yaakob took over as the premier of the Malayan nation. This was a major concession for young activists as he stopped government attempts to block a 2019 law to lower the voting age. As a result, the 18-to-20-year-olds of the nation can now vote, giving young people more power in shaping Malaysia’s future democracy.
The influence of this massive change should not be underestimated as it could ultimately lead to a challenge to the country’s racial-based politics — a political climate that has been omnipresent in Malaysia’s political game since the days of its forefathers. In essence, the government has been granting economic benefits to the country’s Malay majority, which is largely Muslim, for decades. Official discrimination has been enacted against the non-Muslim citizens of Malaysia including Tamil and Chinese ethnic minorities. A youth-led political movement was formed last year to end this discrimination once and for all and to promote inclusive politics for all races.28-year old Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul, the MP of Muar has said that young people are not particularly susceptible to racial politics. The former lawmaker and government sports minister also had this to say about the rising interest in politics among youths, “They care more about influencing their actual policy.” As for plans to help the youths of the nation, he says that he plans to register the Malaysian United Democratic Alliance (MUDA) as an official political party in the near future.
Malaysia has also seen a new spirit of civic equality, similar to that found in other Muslim countries. With access to social media, young people are now able to bypass government-controlled news and read about their shared interests without censorship.
Most recently, a two-day virtual parliament was held by 222 young Malaysians last July to “pass” and discuss new laws that affect the youth of the nation. More than 200,000 people watched the virtual meeting. They saw the potential for a new Malaysia that treated all of her citizens equally, with equal dignity, freedom of conscience, and moral standing with equal opportunities for all.