Young M'sians say polls make no difference

Mar 6, 08

Millions of Malaysians are expected to not bother voting in Saturday’s elections, in a wave of apathy that observers credit to a feeling of alienation from the ruling coalition.
After a half-century in power, no one is under any illusion that their vote could dislodge the mighty Barisan Nasional coalition, despite voter gripes over rising inflation, ethnic tensions and high crime rates.
“We should have a right to make a choice. I’m not voting because to me, there seems to be no choice,” said Akmal Hakim, 29, a waiter at a fast food outlet and one of the young Muslim Malays who are the majority of non-voters.
Former deputy premier Musa Hitam estimated that some five million people would not exercise their right to vote, in a trend he said threatened “the very fabric of the democratic process”.
“Some are not happy with the government, yet don’t feel they should come out and vote against the government. Some say they are simply fed up with politics. They are saying, ‘We’ll get nothing out of it’,” he said in a newspaper interview.
“And some are saying, ‘Well, whether we vote or not, they (the coalition) are going to win for sure’.”
Only one choice – the BN
Newspapers are awash with flattering stories on the government, and television and radio broadcasts are continuously interrupted with expensively produced commercials.
“There is only one choice, vote for BN,” declare the posters and bunting which festoon the cities and villages.
“What is the point? We all know who is going to win,” said a 23-year-old Malay taxi driver who declined to be named. “But where is the democracy? Why can’t we see the speeches of the other candidates on TV?”
The Election Commission said last year that among Malaysia’s 27 million people, a whopping 4.9 million above the voting age of 21 years – 70 percent of them aged between 21 and 35 – have not registered to vote.
Some 10.9 million people are registered voters but political researchers estimate that 25 percent of them will not cast their vote this year.
“I am not a registered voter. I don’t care what happens in Malaysian politics. This country holds no promise for me and neither does the government,” said 29-year-old software engineer Nigel Wong.
“And this is coming from a person who used to be very patriotic,” he told AFP.
They have given up hope
The Merdeka Centre research firm said its studies found that young Malaysians have given up hope of bringing about change through the ballot box.
“Malaysian youth in general do not see themselves as being able to make a difference within their community,” said the centre’s pollster Ibrahim Sufian (right).
He said most of the non-voting population were ethnic Malays who, unlike their traditionally government-supporting parents, are more likely to have dissenting views.
“However, expressing negative views affect them adversely so many are not willing to take that risk. There is a greater sense of apathy among them because of the limited channels for them to express themselves,” he said.
Mohammad Agus Yusoff from Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia said there was an abnormally high proportion of some 35-40 percent of voters who were still undecided about who to support.
“Silent voters could make or break some election results,” he told the state Bernama news agency this week.
Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi won in a landslide victory in 2004 but this time faces a more united fight from the opposition which is attempting to deny the government its two-thirds majority for the first time in history.