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How far will jobless youth rock the ballot box?

POLLS FOCUS Hoping for a regime change on the back of youth disenchantment in the event of a snap general election? You may be disappointed.

However, according to analysts, brewing issues such as growing youth unemployment are bound to punch some holes in the ruling coalition's vote bank.

While Malaysia's unemployment figure has been at a steady low of three percent, the United Nations estimates that more than 10 percent of Malaysians aged 20-24 are jobless and looking.
More worrying, however, is the growing number of unemployed graduates, who make up 60 percent of the total unemployment figures.

About 60,000 unemployed graduates registered with the Malaysian Labour Exchange in March 2009, with the number growing to 81,046 in October the same year, not including the 70,000-odd diploma holders searching for jobs. 

The reasons for this vary - poor employability and attitude of local graduates rank high on the employer side while low salaries top the list of grouses of job seekers - but the fact remains, the hundreds of millions of ringgit spent by the government on this has not borne fruit.

This is not a fact lost on the BN, with its Youth wing chief Khairy Jamaluddin acknowledging in a speech last year that about 80 percent, or almost three million new voters in the next general election, will be youth voters.

Apathetic and not politically-aware

NONEThis, he said, will bump the proportion of youth voters from 41 percent in the 12th general election to 49 percent, of whom 75 percent have told BN Youth researchers that they plan to vote.

Interestingly, Khairy (right) had noted, 62 percent of these youth are fence-sitters, while a more recent study by the BN Youth wing found that about 60 percent of young people polled were concerned about their career prospects.

But whether or not this will result in a swing against the ruling coalition remains an open question.

In fact, the relatively low level of political awareness among Malaysian youth may indicate growing unemployment could have little impact on their voting decisions.

azlanThis is particularly for those in the rural areas, which make up the bulk of the state and parliamentary constituencies in Malaysia, said Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs (Ideas) chief executive Wan Saiful Wan Jan.

"Young people in cities like Kuala Lumpur may be politically active, but I don't think this is the case outside of the big cities.

"(In the more rural areas) when the youth are discontented, they become apathetic. So the challenge is to get those youths to register to vote... but their apathy will not result in them voting for a change of government," Wan Saiful said.

BN moves to show it is in touch with youth sentiments

Those who are more politically-aware, too, would be hard-pressed to find.

The Pakatan Rakyat policies have thus far focussed on re-skilling and retooling.

Its Buku Jingga policy manifesto makes cursory mention about how it intends to address fundamental flaws in the labour market, including the inflow of foreign workers and quality of education.

On a short-term basis, however, the estimated 62 percent of fence-sitters are targeted aggressively by the BN, which is holding nationwide job fairs in what appears to be an effort to show that the ruling coalition is in touch with youth sentiments.

10th malaysia plan forum 180610 lim teck gheeHalf a million young people turned up at its three-day fair in Kuala Lumpur in June, with the number snowballing as the fairs move across the country. 

Job fairs may signal good things for fence-sitting first time voters, but Centre for Policy Initiatives chief economist Lim Teck Ghee (left) believes that their parents are not too easy to convince. 

"I don't think youth will be the catalyst for change in Malaysia...(but), it is concern for the future of their children that will increasingly motivate a mass movement, involving all age groups and communities, to seek changes and reform, including a change in the government.

"There has to be an end to patience and goodwill, especially when the potential of the younger generation is being sacrificed by incompetent and self-serving leaders," Lim said.

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