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Elections loom in 6 states but will Undi 18 turn out to vote?

Indifference and political apathy appear to be the trend among some first-time voters.

Ahmad Mustakim Zulkifli
3 minute read
First-time voters queue to cast their ballots at a voting centre in Kuala Lumpur during the 15th general election on Nov 19, 2022.
First-time voters queue to cast their ballots at a voting centre in Kuala Lumpur during the 15th general election on Nov 19, 2022.

As 18-year-olds in six states gear up to cast their votes for the first time this year, questions remain over the direction of their support, with indifference and political apathy at the top of the list for some.

The so-called Undi 18 group – over a million strong comprising those aged 18 to 21 – became eligible to vote for the first time at the 15th general election last year.

Now, with state elections looming in Selangor, Penang, Negeri Sembilan, Kedah, Kelantan and Terengganu, they will join other voters in heading to the polls once more. 

But a number of youth in Selangor with whom MalaysiaNow spoke appeared more focused on pursuing their studies and living out their aspirations.

Fresh from receiving their SPM or Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia results, they said they did not care much about politics or politicians in general. 

UNDI18- Muhd-Arif-Haikal
Muhd Arif Haikal

"We don't pay much attention to political issues," Muhd Arif Haikal of Hulu Kelang said. 

"In school, we mostly talk about friends or our respective futures." 

He added that this was the case at home as well, as none of his family members discussed politics with him either. 

Marcus Francis Anandan from Cheras agreed. 

"We don't talk much about it," he said. "If we do, it's not serious."

Marcus, a former student at St John's Institution in Kuala Lumpur, added that he did not know whom he would vote for. 

"I'll need to see the current situation," he said. 

Marcus Francis Anandan

Nur Ain Sofea of Bukit Antarabangsa said that political discussions among her friends usually ended up in arguments. 

"So I prefer not to talk about political issues," she said, adding however that she was excited to be heading to the polls for the first time. 

"It makes me feel like a grownup, like my political opinions deserve a voice."

Nur Ain Sofea

Hope and votes

Political observer Mak Khuin Weng said that young people in urban areas might support Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim, who is seen as a liberal. 

However, he said that hope in Anwar often came hand in hand with indoctrination about the "evils" of Umno. 

"So there is a conflict here that cannot be solved with propaganda alone, and this may lead to a loss in confidence of that 'hope' message," he said to MalaysiaNow. 

"What happens when Undi 18 voters lose confidence? They may choose not to vote," he added, referring to Umno's participation in the coalition government despite decades of enmity with the other parties. 

He also said that the government's move to meet with social media companies about political censorship indicated concern about the direction of the Undi 18 vote. 

Umno deputy president Mohamad Hasan, when officiating the launch of the women, youth and Puteri assemblies recently, also voiced concern over the waning support for Umno among the younger generation. 

"We seem to have failed to gain their trust despite around 5.8 million new voters entering the electoral roll for the 15th general election. 

"There was no significant increase in votes for Barisan Nasional between the 14th and 15th general elections," the defence minister said. 

According to Mak, the Malay party lost the support of young voters after sacking former health minister Khairy Jamaluddin. 

"Ismail Sabri Yaakob walking around with Khairy Jamaluddin and casually chatting while Ahmad Zahid Hamidi cannot do the same is very telling of where Umno stands with voters," he said.