No room for young politicians in Malaysia?

Dr Mahathir, Muhyiddin, Anwar and Zahid – FMT Pix

By John Isaac

UNLIKE young politicians elsewhere who have risen to become leaders of their respective nations, in Malaysia, the young and aspiring political leaders have yet to stand out on their own, or are still under the shadows of the old guard.

Sanna Marin, 34, became the youngest prime minister of the world when she took over the leadership of Finland last December. She is among the few prime ministers who are below 40, after New Zealand’s Jacinda Ardern, 39, and Oleksiy Honcharuk, 36, (Ukraine).

For the record, Malaysia’s political landscape is still dominated by the old guard, mostly made up of sexagenarians to almost centenarians.

Parti Pejuang Tanah Air (Pejuang) president Dr Mahathir Mohamad, at 95, is the most senior of them all, followed by Umno’s stalwart Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah, 81, who was among the central figures in the recent “who has the majority” imbroglio.

Everyone else are in their golden years too, namely PPBM president and prime minister Muhyiddin Yassin (73), Umno president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi (67), PKR president Anwar Ibrahim (73), PAS president Abdul Hadi Awang (72) dan Amanah president Mohamad Sabu (66).

Still, there are a small number of younger politicians in the country, including Science Technology and Innovation Minister Khairy Jamaluddin (44), Deputy Finance Minister Mohd Shahar Abdullah (39), former Youth and Sports Minister Syed Saddiq Syed Rahman (27) and former Pandan MP Rafizi Ramli (43). Yet they all very much remain behind the scene or are not being groomed to rise in the political hierarchy.

Khairy, Syed Saddiq, Rafizi and Mohd Shahar – FMT Pix

Nonetheless, there is a realisation that the country’s political landscape lacks the young minds and hearts, prompting several young leaders, including Syed Saddiq to create platforms like MUDA to draw meaningful participation from youths.

However, can they break the paradigm of old leaders holding court and rise like their foreign counterparts above?

Political analyst Dr Syahruddin Awang Ahmad notes that the domination of the old guard is closely linked to the influence of the political elites and the paternalistic culture of Malaysian politics.

In a nutshell, the veterans want to remain at the helm of their parties and in the political landscape leaving no room for young leaders or the second liners to rise in the ranks.

“The general perception is that the veterans still have their say, that their deeds cannot be forgotten, and that they are indispensable.

“They have a grandiose self-perception that if they are no longer on the country’s political radar, there will be political instability,” the Universiti Malaysia Sabah (UMS) Geo-Politics and Electoral (GeOpeS) researcher told Bernama.

Therefore, for young leaders to emerge from the political conundrum they have to voice their thoughts that the seniors should pass the baton to them sooner if the party that rules is to stay relevant with the times and the aspirations of the people.

Meanwhile, Senior Fellow of the National Professor Council Jeniri Amir observes that young leaders have not been given due recognition in the country’s political landscape, probably due to the lack of confidence and trust in young leaders.

“The lack of potential leaders in the leadership succession is the result of the previous leadership. It goes back 10-15 years when the young leaders then were not given the opportunity to rise in the party hierarchy.

“They should have been given the exposure early on. When there are too many veterans in the playing field, it leads to a big divide like what is seen today,” he said.

Jeniri added the credibility and the credentials of young leaders and second liners cannot be just based on educational background, and that their political experience, communication skills, and ability to win over the heart of the masses, also needs to be considered in their political resume.

Grassroots support

Meanwhile, geostrategist and former Universiti Teknologi Malaysia (UTM) lecturer Azmi Hassan noted that Malaysian politics very much revolved around grassroots support with voters going for established names, in other words, veterans.

“The youngsters who have to start from the ground face lots of hurdles, especially with party stalwarts providing no opportunity to shine. It is not to say that the young leaders are not capable, but there are too many restrictions placed on them by their seniors.

“With the cadre system in political parties, it takes time for young leaders to rise in the hierarchy, and by the time they reach the pinnacle they are senior citizens.

“However, if the party can groom them from the youth wings, they could rise in the ranks fast. Sadly, the older and the more experienced seniors in the youth wing, too, often do not give them way to progress,” he said.

Azmi also noted that voters need to play a role in choosing a new leader and in bringing about changes, like what voters in Finland and New Zealand did.

Also, the political succession in Singapore, where the second liners and successors were made known to the people earlier, could be emulated here, he said. – Bernama