New voters, fence-sitters and last-minute decisions

For this GE14, the number of voters has increased to 14.8m

By ALIFAH ZAINUDDIN / Pic By AFIF ABD HALIM

ZUR Hanis Hamim is a graduate student in applied linguistics of Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia. In between her classes and dissertation, she does part-time freelance jobs from tutoring to copy editing.

The temporary employment helps to pay for her tuition fees, student loan and is enough to support her life in Kuala Lumpur.

The 26-year-old lass is learning the hard truth about life, responsibilities and the hard facts about adulthood.

For Saravana Kumar, also in his 20s, he is coping with life’s many facets. The assistant manager at a hotel in Johor Baru works just as hard since he has a study loan, rental and other related expenses to pay.

The demands of living in Kuala Lumpur and Johor Baru are almost identical. Big cities require deep pockets.

One other trait both Zur Hanis and Saravana share is that they are first-time voters and are looking forward to the 14th General Election (GE14).

Zur Hanis and Saravana are among the 1.6 million newly registered voters who will be casting their votes for the first time and participating in the democratic process of choosing the next government.

These new voters are said to be critical in deciding who will govern the country for the next five years.

But like many who will cast their maiden ballots, Zur Hanis and Saravana are divided over who they would pick and are more “neutral” to any political inclination.

A survey by local think tank Institut Darul Ehsan showed that a large number of undecided voters fell in the 21 to 30 age bracket.

The findings revealed that only half of the 4,486 respondents had decided on who they would vote for, while the rest needed more time to choose.

Nearly 20% said they would decide on the election day itself.

With the upcoming GE14 expected to be a close race between Barisan Nasional (BN) and Pakatan Harapan, political observers said both sides will do all they can to woo the “fence-sitters”.

ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute senior fellow Dr Lee Hwok Aun said the ruling and Opposition coalitions have each presented sweeping manifestos, covering broad swathes of the population, while also targeting a few special groups, demographics and regions.

“Young voters will be one of the decisive groups, and they are being assiduously courted by both sides. My sense is, young voters largely do not hold strong partisan views and they are keeping their options open.

“Even though millions have still not registered to vote and there is quite widespread apathy and disillusionment, they are a substantial share of the electorate, and their interest should pick up as the election season heightens,” Lee told The Malaysian Reserve.

For this GE14, the number of voters has increased to 14.8 million, 1.6 million more than the last election. These new voters are seen as a critical group and they are largely in the younger group.

Galen Centre for Health and Social Policy CEO Azrul Mohd Khalib said the new and younger voters are looking for solutions to their struggles as they cope with the higher living costs and inadequate wages in an economy which is perceived to be advantageous to those of the higher and middle incomes.

“They want to look for solutions which deal with these problems. Not recognising everyday realities and economic hardships faced by ordinary voters will cause anger. Not providing solutions could lose votes,” Azrul said.

Both BN and Pakatan Harapan have so far made several declarations to address the cost of living issues, including to raise the minimum wage, offer new jobs, create affordable homes and abolish the Goods and Services Tax.

Azrul said while both sides will be eager to display their abilities to deliver on their manifesto promises, voters must demand for clarity and substantiation on the items in the policies, including how to finance such promises.

Civil liberties lawyer Syahredzan Johan said sentiments on the ground are mixed — there’s discontentment with the current administration and scepticism with the Opposition.

“It left many undecided. People are going to leave it quite late because of these sentiments.

“The dissatisfaction with the current administration is palpable, but whether that will translate into votes for the Opposition is something we will have to wait and see,” he said.

Syahredzan said in addition to the two major coalitions, there is also the third bloc in the form of PAS and also liberal movements like the “Undi Rosak” campaign.

“We are not sure as to how much role they will play, whether they will be spoilers or key makers in this election. We will see all these in the coming few weeks,” he added.

It will be an interesting next few weeks as the parties try to convince the fence-sitters they are the best to lead the country for the next five years.