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UMNO Youth chief Khairy Jamaluddin debunks the perception about the movement not being youth-friendly, saying the wing is where future leaders are moulded. The youth and sports minister also talks about how the younger generation are more discerning with the advent of social media and the need for more effective engagement to combat “fake news”. In conjunction with the 71st Umno Anniversary, Khairy tells the New Straits Times what he thinks of the wing he leads and what’s next for the party.
Question: What is Umno Youth’s role in preparing for the party’s future and sustainability?
Answer: Umno Youth is the stepping stone for many members before taking up leadership posts in the parent body.
The understanding of the party’s culture, identity and ethos is shaped when one is in Umno Youth, and it is where one proves his mettle.
Umno Youth acts as a conveyor belt of people who will take on leadership positions in the party and move on to become party elders.
It is important that we instil the right DNA — inclusiveness and politics of service — in them.
To ensure the party’s survival, we must be seen as receptive to change and rejuvenation, and not a dinosaur party with Jurassic means and ideals.
That is why we are making ourselves relatable to the younger generation, one that is more discerning, has more access to information and misinformation, and go straight to matters which concern them the most — jobs, healthcare, welfare, economy, cost of living and housing.
If people can see that Umno is the only choice that takes to heart actual issues, people will continue to support us.
Q: What is the wing’s main strength when it comes to wooing the youth?
A: An evolution from the time when Umno Youth was merely a pressure group, I think we have reinvented ourselves as an organisation that can provide real solutions with people-centric programmes.
We have always come up with new programmes and ideas that are fresh for our target group. For example, we’ve introduced BN Youth Job Fair in the past, which is still being organised. Through this initiative, thousands of youths with different backgrounds have secured jobs.
We also pushed through the idea of how the government should help the younger generation, especially young couples, own a house. As a result, the government came up with schemes such as Transit Homes and PR1MA.
Umno Youth is always ahead of the curve, and we are looking towards the digital future and we have introduced a new initiative, Jom Belajar Koding, which gives lessons on the basics of coding to people who otherwise would not want to go for classes for it.
Umno Youth is a big umbrella of people with various backgrounds — the religious conservatives, liberals, moderates, nationalists — who want to see improvement in their communities.
Q: What are the major issues that would hold back the wing from being relevant to the younger generation in the next few years and in decades to come?
A: Sentiment and perception that Umno is not a youth-friendly party.
So, the party must address this and find ways to rejuvenate itself. To overcome this, we have a slew of wonderful programmes which need to be effectively communicated to the youth.
I have always believed in “cadrerising” young leaders so that there is a steady stream of people who can lead the party and the wing at any stage of the election cycle or a political term.
Q: As a party wing representing youth, do you think the challenges are going to be greater in future?
A: Yes. Young people are becoming more self-aware, outspoken, well read and are quick to believe whatever they see on social media.
We have our own mechanism to counter fake news, but it is important that the people see us as an effective party in providing service to the people.
I have always stressed the politics of service instead of being mere pressure groups. I don’t see any point in chest-thumping if we are unable to assist Malays in areas that they need help the most, such as jobs, the economy and the rising cost of living. We need to preserve our cultural identity, but Umno Youth cannot be defined by this alone.
Q: The prime minister has launched the Barisan Nasional machinery, Jalinan Rakyat Plus (JR Plus), last month. What is the role of Umno Youth in this? A: Umno Youth is a part of JR Plus, which allows for better synergy and cooperation as BN reaches out directly to voters.
Under this latest cooperation model, Umno Youth has to reach out better to the youth.
We must ensure that we are able to garner support from this segment.