Youth in politics – a positive disruptor?

MALAYSIAN politics is showing no signs of cooling down. Power struggle is a common drive for most political actors at the expense of the people. Much has been said that Gen Y and millennials are known to be disruptors to technology and economy in 2020. More youth are motivated to dis-align with the conventional way of employment and income generation. 

Contemporarily, youth are also known to disrupt politics. So, in jest, while the Malaysian political system is still unstable, we might as well just disrupt it anyway. 

The establishment of Arus (a youth initiative to represent a spectrum of youth perspectives) and Muda Malaysia (Malaysia’s first youth-driven political party) are indicators that youth are not settling with the status quo, and wanting to disrupt the system. 

Disruption is a double-edged sword. It could bring a positive outcome, if that disruption adds value and improvisation. Negative disruption, on the other hand, would lead to revealing more discrepancies, gap and deterioration in the society. 

Hence, we cannot stereotype that all disruptions are bad. 

Somehow, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” is not the best mantra in these disturbing times. If there is something to be fixed, what could it be? A more provocative question underlying is – what is new with youth disruption? 

What is new with youth disruption?

There are many aspirations on the roles of youth in modern democracy being coined out and discussed. Some of the most heard of are basically about: 

a) Policy-driven. Malaysian politics should be leaning towards policy-driven agenda, reducing old-style victimisation, character assassination, privacy intrusion and other wicked motives. 

b) Insertion of technocrats / bureaucrats into political scenes. Political actors should be among the experts and specialists, to craft more robust and comprehensive policies. Malaysia should aim to have ministers who are experts in their ministry’s portfolio. 

c) New governance. Youth are distancing gradually from seniority-styled hierarchy and rigid structure of an administration. Youth aspire for more refreshing ideas within structure in order for them to explore further their potential and imagination. 

d) New politics. Malaysia should herald in political maturity – leaning towards issue-solving, policy debate, inclusivity and diversity. Diversity is a pre-requisite to inclusivity. At the current rate, Malaysia accommodates diverse communities but does not fully welcome inclusivity at every level. Racism still dominates political discussion and exploited for political mileage. This race-based political culture will not bring Malaysia forward. Instead, the country digresses and is trapped in the polemic of unsettling narratives. 

e) Strengthening institutionalism. The country is built by institutionalising key powers in order to check and balance. The separation of legislative, executive and judiciary since the formation of the country is a good start. However, along the way, such demarcation is diluted and goes unchecked. We could see direct and indirect intervention of political actors into key operationalisation of the country. 

To further move the country forward, institutional strengthening is a must. The country’s work process should be guarded with effective institutionalism, regardless of any individual heralding the organisation. Donald Trump might be a reckless individual to lead the United States, but it is the institutions that sail the country strategically in these uncertain times. 

What is expected from youth as an agent of change?

a) Knowledge and industry embedded 

Knowledge is in its ever-changing mode. It expands in line with civilisational change. Youth and youth politicians must thirst for knowledge and surround themselves with knowledge-seeking attitude. At the same time, industrial experience must be embedded to make them relevant as an agent of change. Contemporary politics does not work in isolation. It moves along with changes and new actors along the way and youth must be comfortable to be equipped with these elements. 

b) Diversity in experience (mixture of rural and urban) 

There is a divide between rural and urban communities. The disparity in economic status would also lead to differences of thoughts and perspectives among the youth. The gap is in fact widening as income inequality shows a sharp divide, following the Covid-19 outbreak. However, this should not be treated as dust underneath the carpet. Youth and youth politicians should approach diversity by becoming the bridging factor between all youth of different economic, political and social backgrounds. 

c) 360 leadership (flexibility and adaptability) 

Youth politicians should be well-rounded. This includes flexibility and adaptability to their surroundings. 360 leadership requires youth to be flexible at various positions, not only towards specific positions. Muda should train its members to fit into any position with any responsibilities. This includes society leaders, activists, civil society leaders, policymakers, educators, industrialists and politicians. Such fluidity will make the party dynamic. 

d) Active engagement 

Politics is about engagement. That nature would never change as politics is about connecting and managing human beings. Youth politicians should be able to engage actively with people of all levels in society. Politics of the youth is not only about youth. It transcends all walks of life while having youth as its central focus. Simply put, unemployment and mental illness are not only issues affecting the youth but also major problems among other folks. Therefore, while a common cause could be involving all, it has to be championed by youth. 

In conclusion, Malaysia should welcome change. The country must prepare to be disrupted as disruptions could bring positive (and negative) change along its developmental process. This includes youth as aggressive political actors in the years to come. 

It is not something to be feared. On the shoulder of youth lies a great responsibility to brand new politics, and a new (positive) disruption for the new Malaysia they would want to inherit. – September 25, 2020.

* Zokhri Idris is the co-founder and adviser of Arus Anak Muda.

* This is the opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Insight.

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