LOCAL REPORT: MILLENIALS AND A NEW MALAYSIA
Retelling the historic moments after GE14, from the bright and observing eyes of Malaysia’s very own millennials
Historic moments after GE14 told by Malaysia's very own millennials.
The younger generation of Malaysian millennials (born 1993 1997) cast their first votes during this election. Say you’d like to play devil’s advocate; you can call on the stereotypical behaviour of millennials, known for hopping on the fastest trend wave—in one day, out the next week. Call on the never-ending jokes of millennials spending their money on avocado toasts, their
perceived lack of loyalty to jobs that tie them down, or how they travel the world Eat, Pray, Love-style on their parents’ savings. Stereotype all you like, but the fact still remains; the millennials are the future.
Statistics show those aged 21 to 39 this year made up 41 per cent of registered voters. Saying we owe this new change in the democracy to the new millennials may sound farfetched—what about the other 59 per cent who braved the hot sun and queues despite health problems and old age? The seismic shift was one that built up over a decade of unjust feelings. When talk was all that could be done, GE14 presented an opportunity—one where the masses could be united and swayed, one where the people kept a sharp eye on phantom voters and ballot castings by putting in time and effort as a PACA volunteer.
Ask any Malaysian what made them brave the sea of citizens at their polling stations; or the ones overseas who bite their fingernails anxiously waiting for postal ballots to be delivered to and fro on time; or those who booked flight tickets back to their homeland immediately after the date of GE14 was announced—just to cast their vote. What they had to say rings true in every country: it is our civic duty and right to exercise our privilege. Saying the winds of change began to blow when parliament dissolved on 7 April 2018 is an understatement. Before the rush of the GE14 fever in April, there was fervent hope sweeping across the nation—will this year’s election make a difference? Or, if you’d like to trace it back to exactly a year ago in 2017 when your social media feed overflowed with informational videos and detailed step-bysteps on why, how, and when you should register to vote to be eligible. Fed by millennials, eaten up by millennials, the information spread far and wide.
Despite the fact that half of the nation hopped out of their front door by 7.30am on 9th May 2018, polling stations were crowded. Queues upon queues lined the front of schools and snaked out to classrooms and fields. The shift in the air was palpable as well—people seemed to be friendlier and chattier; smiles were bestowed upon each other in an understanding nod of the head. One young man practically skipped out of the polling booth after casting his vote; a lady pulled out her phone and started tapping away on the screen, presumably to update her WhatsApp group: “I’ve voted!” The closer the queue moved to the polling stations, the tenser the mood was—I’ll admit I was so nervous trying to recall every precautionary step I should take in the polling booth (Make sure they pronounce your name right! Look for smudges or stains on your voting ballot! Loudly protest if something goes wrong! Do not
Call on the never-ending jokes of millennials spending their money on avocado toasts, their perceived lack of loyalty to jobs that tie them down, or how they travel the world Eat, Pray, Love-style on their parents’ savings. Stereotype all you like, but the fact still remains; the millennials are the future.
It was a historical moment some placed high hopes on, while others daren’t hope. “Malaysians demonstrated to themselves something many had never thought possible
cross anything else outside the box!) I completely zoned out when the polling agents read my I.C. number out loud.
What’s the first thing you notice about a person? On a normal day, I’d be drawn to physical features that stand out—a beautiful, hair colour, or a set of solid toned arms. By 5pm on 9th May 2018, one would almost think a severe case of very specific frostbite (the tip of the index finger, to be exact) swept across the nation, judging by the Internet’s social feed. I caught myself eyeing every person’s left index finger. I wasn’t the only one. “I’m checking out everyone’s index finger now,” my friend Yee Teng said, vivaciously eyeing every passer-by, post-GE14. A group of us decided to take advantage of the empty roads on an otherwise busy Thursday for lunch at a shopping mall. “And I’m silently judging them—if it’s not stained, it means they didn’t vote.”
“They may have been ineligible,” said Hui Mei, the other voice of reason in the group. By then it was almost a societal imprint: if you’re not foreign, if you look old enough to vote, and didn’t have a solid reason not to, you’re going to get a subtle stink eye.
Aileen Wong, 25, was not eligible to vote in GE14. “My registration to vote is still processing,” Aileen tells me. “But I just wanted to help out, get myself involved in this significant moment.” Hence, she took on the role of polling and counting agent (PACA) stationed at Wangsa Maju.
Training takes place a month beforehand, which includes an in-depth session on how to carry out tasks expected on the voting day. “It was fairly easy, I’d say.” Yee Teng, also a PACA volunteer, tells me over lunch. She attended one training session and three meetings with her station master. The decision to volunteer as a PACA for at least 12 hours at a polling station versus calling it a day after a two-hour voting process was an easy one for her. “The need to keep it a fair and clean election was definitely my drive. We [PACA volunteers] were told that we are not technically representing either political party, but it was just to keep an eye out for foul play.” The first few hours went by smoothly. When night fell, ballot counting started. Her three moods? “Worried, stressed out, and tense,” she admits. Alleged news circulated around social media that PACAs in a Setia Alam school were being held hostage. “I wasn’t worried about the talk of fake ballots; it was the potential of a riot that scared me. Civilians and residents started crowding around the school when everyone caught wind our KTM (ketua tempat mengundi, which basically translates to the presiding officer), refused to sign Forms 13 and 14. The whole school was on lockdown - you don’t know who is on your side and who isn't"
No one slept before the witching hour. The country was buzzing with a mix of fervent fear, hope, and
We can change the government. That's important, because many millennials, myself included, grew up thinking there was no hope of a fair, transparent government. But now we can tell our next generation, look, we've done it once, we'll do it again. You have the hope that we didn't have.
excitement. It was a historical moment some placed high hopes on, while others daren’t hope at all. “Malaysians demonstrated to themselves something many had never thought possible,” says Jason Yong, 24. “We can change the government. That's important, because many millennials, myself included, grew up thinking there was no hope of a fair, transparent government. But now we can tell our next generation, 'Look, we've done it once, we'll do it again. You have the hope that we didn't have.'”
Now that we’ve conquered one mountain, the next beckons—taller, larger, with a bigger change—swaying the mindset of each and every person. Duties as a contributing citizen are not limited to just voting or volunteering as a PACA, Jason claims. “We always think ‘this is someone else's job’. But the reality is: when you have an education when you have a permanent home when you have money to buy groceries and essentials, you have the means to contribute more to society by whatever way you choose, especially if you live in a central city and have access to the Internet and like-minded people. If you think you are just one person, think again. Think of all the privileges you possess. If not you, who else do you expect to do all the dirty but necessary work in helping Malaysia progress? If you can contemplate making a difference, that means you can. And when you can but you don’t, that’s on you.”
In an ideal situation, the progressive forces driving the country to a new level would be sufficient. Young Malaysian citizens are, after all, the ones that are responsible for driving a change in the country.
A woman waves a Pakatan Harapan coalition party flag in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, on Thursday, May 10, 2018. Tun Dr. Mahathir bin Mohamad appeared set to become Malaysia's prime minister once again after dealing Dato' Sri Haji Mohammad Najib bin Tun Haji Abdul Razak's ruling coalition a stunning defeat, cementing the countrys first transfer of power in six decades.
Voters seen posing with her inked finger at a polling station during election day in Malaysia.
Voters queue at a polling station in Subang Jaya, Malaysia.
Source: Merdeka Centre (August 2017)
Former Beauty Queen, Jo Anna Sue Henley Rampas,29, during nomination day in Tuaran Sabah.