15 July 2024

In a dining hall at Malaysia’s International Islamic University, 22-year-old undergraduate Hajar Wahab stood next to a makeshift polling booth, as she showed a fellow student how to mark and cast an election ballot.

Hajar is part of an army of student leaders across Malaysia aiming to battle political apathy and educate first-time voters on the voting process ahead of a tight election race on Saturday (November 19). She said while the fatigue was understandable, it was important for young people to voice their frustrations in the national arena.

“It should further drive you to vote,” Hajar told Reuters. “Get mad!”

Others like a digital marketer and first-time voter Muhammad Imran Hazem Ashari, 22, have taken a more practical approach, saying he would “vote for any party that could give us stability.”

Young voters form a sizeable portion of the six million people newly eligible to cast a ballot, following reforms that lowered the voting age from 21 to 18 and allowed automatic registration. Voters under 40 now make up about half of the 21 million electorates.

“Young voters feel that it’s an important election that they should not miss, particularly young people who are voting for the first time,” said Ibrahim Suffian, the director of the independent pollster Merdeka Centre.

At stake is government stability: since the previous election in 2018, Malaysia has had three prime ministers and seen the collapse of two administrations, while two major opposing coalitions have splintered. The infighting has exhausted voters, with two local elections held in the past year seeing lower-than-average turnout.

Both state polls saw decisive wins for incumbent Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob’s ruling coalition, as disillusioned voters stayed away from the ballot box.

Rival blocs will likely need to form alliances, as no single party or coalition will be able to win enough seats to form a government on their own, polling data has shown.

Eddie Putera Noordin, a 55-year-old artist, said he felt it was “a crime to vote”, as he had no confidence in any of the candidates or parties contesting.

Incumbent premier Ismail Sabri’s alliance Barisan Nasional is seeking a stronger mandate, and was distancing itself from the multibillion-dollar 1MDB corruption scandal that erupted when Najib Razak, the now jailed former leader of Barisan, held office.

Several other smaller parties are also contesting in an election that will see a record 945 candidates vying for 222 parliamentary seats, a factor that could split the vote several ways.

By Reuters