What the youth want and expect


Excerpts of a luncheon address at the 16th Malaysia Strategic Outlook Conference 2014 in Kuala Lumpur on Jan 23, 2014 

Khairy Jamaluddin

It doesn’t take much to set up a blog and become a citizen journalist or opinion leader. You can start a movement with very little funding, and through the Internet, gain a following that transcends borders.

Avaaz and Change.org are two examples of independent groups influencing issues all across the world by bypassing traditional hierarchies. In fact, there are several individuals here in Malaysia who have gained a foothold in the political arena through non-traditional methods.

I think that we can all agree that the increase in accessibility is a good thing, as a democracy is only as authentic as the participation of its people. The current shape of participatory politics offers a space where voices of young people can drive the agenda. The question is whether the youth of Malaysia have been fully utilising this space.

Despite the fact that it is easier for youth to amplify their voice with the facilities that they have at their disposal, it must not be mistaken with actual influence.

It is quite apparent from data that we have gathered from social media that the youth are extremely vocal on issues that affect them, such as the economy, subsidy cuts, access to education and transparency, and accountability from government.

But what is lacking is the understanding of what it takes to be real agents of change.

It is clear that the youth want their opinions to be taken seriously, but to do this, there must be political literacy. There must be an understanding of how the government operates, matters of jurisdiction, how laws come into place, and how a representative democracy functions.

Without basic knowledge regarding the democratic process, it is difficult to map out a strategy that will allow them to influence matters at the decision-making level.

This means that participation must not end with vocalisation, but must be followed up with action. As powerful as the voice of the youth may be, there must be a coherent plan to actualise their goals.

It must move beyond discourse and there must be engagement with relevant stakeholders if they are serious about their cause.

I think that it’s important to mention it is possible to affect change without relying on the government.

There are several groups of youths in Malaysia who have started their own initiatives to make this nation better — from individuals organising community gardens in housing areas, to established organisations such as Epic Homes, which builds houses for underprivileged communities.

These are examples of youth leadership at its finest, and these are the people who not only lead discourse on issues, but also find it within themselves to gather resources and mobilise a following to actually address the issues.

In these instances, it is the duty of the government to support them and to facilitate their progress. And this is the approach that I have taken as the minister of youth and sports.

I have taken steps to form partnerships with the youth, from individuals to organisations who are already functioning as true agents of change, so that the ministry serves as an enabler and a source of youth empowerment.

I have been talking about participatory politics, and now, I’d like to talk about institutional politics, which ultimately determines the future leaders of this country.

Earlier, I talked about the change in the dynamics of political power, and the prime minister and core leadership of Umno are aware of this fact. This is why the prime minister has led efforts in transforming the party by implementing changes within its structure to ensure that Umno has increased accessibility to the hierarchies of power.

With 150,000 people voting for the president, and the fact that any ordinary member is allowed to run for senior positions, it is arguably the most democratic party in Malaysia.

I believe in the course that he has charted for this party, and I have made reforms within Umno Youth so that it truly serves the needs of its core demographic.

One of the main problems that the youth face when wanting to enter the political arena, particularly in this party, is the lack of space. There not only exists the entrenchment of ideals, but there is a hierarchy that typically will not give way to younger faces, due to feudal ideas regarding authority.

I am not suggesting that we should dispense with our ideals completely, but I have made changes so that we have a strong line-up of new faces to ensure that we are giving space for the leaders of tomorrow to prepare to lead.

I have formed two bureaus within the Youth Wing that focuses on outward engagement, led by two young professionals who have been given the mandate to form their own teams, to create their own objectives and to map out their own strategies.

This is part of my ongoing effort to ensure that Umno continues to have strong leadership, for it relies on Umno Youth to groom the next generation of party leaders.

Even before I became minister, I established BNYV, an organisation that allows the youth who are interested in contributing to the party to participate in BN without having to join party divisions, a hurdle that used to repel a large number of youths from the coalition. Umno, and BN as a coalition, will continue along this path of transformation and I believe that we are well on the way to becoming a party that is youth-friendly.

But what the youth of today must understand is that despite the reforms and the changing ways in which the hierarchy of power functions, to be a career politician, you must pay your dues.

It is a recurring problem among the young leaders in Umno, that they do not understand the significance of working hard at the division level before ascending to positions of power.

This has nothing to do with tradition or the culture within the party, but it is a necessary rite of passage and a demonstration of leadership abilities.

Every political leader relies on grassroots support, and without engagement with local party members and the community, it is not possible to gain the necessary support to establish your position.

It is not an easy road to becoming a career politician, and no amount of talent and charisma will be able to bypass the requirement that you must invest time and effort before being recognised as leadership material.