In political rallies, a younger set reflects Malaysia’s divide

12 May

By Jahabar Sadiq

The crowd cheering at the opposition rally in Batu Kawan stadium, Penang,  May 11, 2013. — The Malaysian Insider pix

GEORGE TOWN, May 12 — Dressed in black and her hair flecked with blonde dye, Geetha looked like she was likelier to enjoy her Saturday night at a club rather than a rally.

But she was one of thousands of youths who walked for miles to the Penang state stadium in mainland Batu Kawan last night for the Pakatan Rakyat (PR) rally to protest last weekend’s general election results.

The crowd was mainly young and multiracial, some who wore hotpants and some in headscarves, but all were in black and carrying party flags to listen and cheer PR leaders explain their dispute with the results.

For Geetha, the rally was a chance to return to her Penang home state and go for the rally as she missed the Kelana Jaya stadium rally that drew thousands on a wet Wednesday night.

“I didn’t want to miss this, so I made sure I am here,” she chatted while walking down the road narrowed by haphazardly parked motorcycles, cars and lorries to the stadium.

She and the thousands at the stadium are the first-time voters who most likely voted for PR rather than the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) in the May 5 general elections.

Although BN took back Kedah and its lynchpin Umno gained nine more federal seats to 88 compared to Election 2008, the ruling coalition only took 133 parliamentary seats in Election 2013 against the 140 five years ago.

In elections for 12 state assemblies, BN only took a combined 275 seats in Election 2013, down fro 306 five years ago – reflecting PR’s rising popularity especially among the youths, who form a major part of the electorate.

Some 13.3 million voters were eligible to cast their ballots in Election 2013, reflecting a jump of 3.4 million voters from the 2008 general elections. An estimated 40 per cent of the total electorate are below 40, says the Election Commission (EC).

The BN government had been targetting these youths in the run-up to the polls, allocating some RM100 million for its 1M4U campaign to attract youths.The BN government had been targetting these youths in the run-up to the polls, allocating some RM100 million for its 1M4U campaign to attract youths. It had signed up beauty queens and pop singers as ambassadors and even set up a radio station for them.

Another initiatives included a rebate scheme for smartphones and RM250 cash handouts for those earning below RM3,000 apart from providing almost free motorcycle driving licences to them.

There were also social media campaigns through Facebook, YouTube and Twitter to get the youths to support BN apart from activities organised by component parties and news coverage in the mainstream media.

Most of the crowd at the stadiums in Kelana Jaya and Batu Kawan are within that target market for BN but from their buzzing vuvuzelas and cheers that rocked the stadiums, their hearts and minds lie with PR.

“We need change. It is pure and simple,” said Sunny Lim, as he waved a giant PAS flag in the stadium in Batu Kawan.

“We are young, we are colour-blind and we want a good government,” he added, joining his friends in a lap around the stadium to cheers from the stands.

He and the others there are BN’s challenges in the next five years, to go beyond cosmetic changes and walk the talk in a society that is getting younger and willing to forgo a good night out for political rallies.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: