Umno deputy youth chief Khairul Azwan Harun said Facebook has become uncool for youths and said online political interest is not definitive indications of who voters support. — Picture by Choo Choy MayKUALA LUMPUR, Oct 15 — The drop in young Facebook users’ interest in political parties is due to these potential voters getting tired of politicking, said the Youth heads of the parties.
The youth leaders were cautious about how social media engagement levels could be used to predict turnout and outcome of the 14th general election (GE14). Malay Mail Online had asked them specifically about Facebook users in the 21-30 age group — who are most likely to be new or first-time voters.
Khairul Azwan Harun, vice-chief of Umno Youth that still leads in Facebook users’’ interest at 4.4 million nationwide, even after losing 3.3 million’s attention since last November, believes that Facebook is “becoming too mainstream and unpopular” for those aged 21 to 30.
“Youths today are looking for other social media platforms, ones that their parents and grandparents aren’t using. Frankly, Facebook has become uncool, there’s too much fake news, and the youths are smart enough to recognise the fake from the real. They’re becoming more suspicious of the sensational,” he told Malay Mail Online when contacted.
Khairul Azwan was commenting on research firm Politweet’s report that found the 21-30 age group to be the second highest among local Facebook users nationwide in losing political interest, with an almost 37 per cent drop during October 2016-January 2017. When broken down to Barisan Nasional and the Opposition, the decline in the same period was 40 per cent and 25 per cent respectively.
Khairul Azwan hoped the dwindling interest would not translate into poor turnout among youth voters in GE14, stressing that youths should be involved in the nation’s decision-making process and said “it would be hard to complain” that youth issues are neglected if they do not fulfill their basic civic duty to cast votes.
He cautioned against equating Politweet’s findings with sentiments on the ground, saying that it merely shows many local Facebook users are less engaged politically and noted that it cannot be a conclusive indicator of who they actually support.
“The real world and social media are two very different platforms. You can have 100 people engaged with you on social media, but half of them may not agree with you,” he said.
Umno Youth’s social media bureau chief Ibdilillah Ishak believes first-time voters “can bring a major change” in election results, singling out Politweet’s findings of opposition party DAP’s loss of 23 per cent interest among Klang Valley’s Facebook users as something that “will definitely affect BN’s marginal seats positively”.
MCA Youth chief Datuk Chong Sin Woon said the youth are fed up with issues being manipulated and left unresolved by political parties. ― Picture by Choo Choy MayMCA Youth chief Datuk Chong Sin Woon said he was not surprised at the decline in young Facebook users’ interest in political parties “as there are just too many issues being politicised”, adding that: “Some are fed up as issue being manipulated and lost the focus and issue left unresolved.”
“We have heard a campaign to cast a spoil vote or not to vote has been carried out online but I’m not sure how it would affect the turnout,” he told Malay Mail Online.
While saying that the younger generation’s dwindling interest would definitely affect marginal seats, Chong said: “No one can predict which camp would be affected”.
Gerakan Youth chief Tan Keng Liang said his observations indicate that the federal opposition was losing the interest of more Facebook users as compared to BN. — Bernama picGerakan Youth chief Tan Keng Liang, whose party had lost 86 per cent of the attention it had on Facebook from November 2016 to January 2017, said Malaysian youths had all along lacked interest in politics as they disliked political stunts and squabbles, preferring instead to see what parties can offer to help the country.
Tan predicted turnout for young voters in GE14 would drop by two to three per cent, especially in the constituencies where they were registered in the last election as they may either not travel back just to vote or had switched constituencies to their new urban bases such as Kuala Lumpur.
“Youths, mainly for those aged 20 to 30, they are still mobile, usually they will go for job opportunities in cities, they have not settled down, their votes move from place to place,” he said.
“From statistics given by Politweet, I think it will be in favor of BN, last round interest in opposition will be much more. I think it is definitely due to TN50, even my own Facebook page a lot of responses was on TN50 earlier this year and late last year,” he said, claiming that the government’s National Transformation 2050 (TN50) initiative has given youths an avenue to have their voices heard and views considered as compared to the opposition.
PKR Youth chief Nik Nazmi Nik Ahmad believed that more and more Malaysian youths are getting interested in political parties again. — Picture by Yusof Mat IsaNik Nazmi Nik Ahmad, whose PKR retained relatively stable interest from Facebook users with only a 10 per cent drop last November-December, expressed optimism that youths were again becoming interested politically and believed their turnout rates in GE14 would be the same as in GE13.
“I think many young Malaysians who were excited about GE13 felt a bit disheartened afterwards. But we see interest picking up again particularly as they feel squeezed by the economy and are hoping for a better Malaysia.
“The only challenge is that EC has stopped political parties from registering voters, unlike before 2013. This was how Pakatan Rakyat then managed to register so many voters. We are trying to encourage eligible voters to register but the process is more cumbersome,” the PKR Youth chief told Malay Mail Online.
Amid optimism drummed up by the federal opposition then that it would take over Putrajaya in Election 2013, Malaysia had then recorded a historic voter turnout of almost 85 per cent out of over 13.2 million registered voters nationwide. It is unknown how many of the over 11 million voters cast their votes for the first time in GE13, but about 2.6 million on the entire electoral roll — likely to be mostly youth — were newly registered ahead of the elections. BN lost the popular vote for the first time, but retained power.
The Election Commission had previously said over 14.3 million Malaysians were on the electoral roll as of this March, while 3.8 million who were eligible to vote had yet to register.The EC had last month expressed concern over the youth’s reluctance to register, with only 2,700 out of 30,000 met in its roadshows at universities and colleges signing up as voters.
What the youth wings are doing
A voter casts her vote on voting day. ― Picture by Choo Choy MayAware of the political fatigue which has set in among Malaysia’s younger generation, the youth wings of these political parties said they have already taken measures to pique their interest.
Khairul Azwan said BN Youth wings are focusing more on providing solutions for youth issues and were the ones who had actually proposed ideas for current government initiatives such as technical and vocational education and training (TVET), computer coding classes, job fairs, affordable housing policies.
Chong said MCA is working on strengthening its social media campaign to lure more support, especially from the younger generation, adding that it has gained some ground since the last general elections.
Nik Nazmi said PKR Youth was similarly engaging more social media users, citing as examples its “Teh Tarik sessions” and his “Nik Nazmi Show” that are aired on Facebook, also believing that the Opposition would be able to win over youths by offering “radical policies” to address their “unhappiness over unemployment, low pay, high debts, inflation and budgetary cuts”.
Tan said he has asked his Gerakan Youth leaders to “talk less” and focus on doing community services and meeting and helping people directly, observing that Facebook users’ interest was geared towards this direction: “There seems to be ‘likes’ for posts for community services, but when you share out news about political issues, people are not bothered to put a ‘like’ or share.”
He said Gerakan eschews the use of official pages for the likes of Gerakan Youth and Gerakan Selangor, saying that it was instead opting for a more personalised approach such as where each individual youth leader would themselves show local communities their localised efforts instead of focusing on national issues which he said was less impactful.
Comments from the youth chiefs of opposition parties DAP and PAS were unavailable at the time of writing.
The 14th general election must be held by August 2018, but it may be called earlier.