Friday, April 10, 2009

Youth vote: BN losing battle to opposition

Thursday, 22 January 2009 08:23
The Straits Times

It was bad enough for Barisan Nasional to lose the Kuala Terengganu seat, but even worse news for the ruling coalition is that voting patterns show more young people are leaning towards the opposition.

Detailed voting data from last Saturday's Kuala Terengganu by-election shows BN has lost the most support from among those aged below 35.

This group includes youth from BN's traditional voter base. While the Chinese in the Terengganu constituency continued to show steadfast support for BN, the area's youth preferred the conservative Pas.

“We are on a rising tide,” said opposition DAP MP Tony Pua.

Some 25 to 30 per cent of Malaysian voters are expected to be below 35 by the next general election, due in 2013, said political analyst Ong Kian Ming.

Another concern for BN is that the younger generation did not mind voting for Pas, whose Islamic ideology traditionally appeals more to the older generation.

BN won the seat in Kuala Terengganu, or KT, in the general election in March last year partly because many young voters there had shunned Pas.

But the tide seems to be turning now. Pas won the KT by-election with a credible majority of 2,631 votes. And according to Ong, the level of support for BN fell the most among those below 35. It dropped by 4.4 percentage points, against a fall of less than two points for other age groups.

“This is significant when one considers the larger number of unregistered but eligible voters in Malaysia,” he said.

Most unregistered voters are believed to be young, having just reached the minimum age of 21 to become eligible. Data from the Election Commission shows that unregistered voters number about four million to five million, and many do not bother to register. Malaysia has 11 million registered voters.

The sole bright spark for BN in the Terengganu by-election is the increase in support from the Chinese community. It rose to 68.4 per cent from 67 per cent in the March general election, showing the rural Chinese are still a strong voter base for the 13-party BN coalition. But even among this group, support had fallen among the youngest voters.

The analysis of the KT by-election confirms that the pro-opposition trend of the March general election is growing, despite BN's attempts to stem the tide.

With Malaysia's youthful population and rapid urbanisation, this could be a greater challenge to BN in the future. For the opposition, the KT result represents a big stride ahead.

“It shows that BN, in its current form, is no longer viable. But it also shows that the alternative is still in its infancy. We have won just half the battle,” said DAP MP Liew Chin Tong.

He was referring to the persistent wariness among older Chinese voters of the puritanical Pas agenda.

The young voters have consistently shown that they are more concerned with issues such as justice, governance and equality.- MI

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