Too young for politics?

WHAT a whirlwind of a general election we just saw. 

Expecting a new government by Sunday, Nov 20, we ended up witnessing five whole days of hullabaloo until the Palace finally named Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim as the 10th prime minister (PM) on Thursday, Nov 24. 

But before that, while meetings after meetings and claims after claims were made by the higher-ups, heated discussions also took place among the ordinary Malaysians. 

That is nothing new, one might argue. Malaysians talk politics all the time at coffee shops and golf courses. 

True, but what was different this time around though, endless discussions were also heard among the younger generation. 

At the gym, young men and women talked about the 15th General Election (GE15) between their workout sets. While we still thought that they were not even aware of current issues, the barely adults sat in small circles discussing who won the most seats and why it was enough to form a government, all while in their sweaty gym shorts. 

At the mamak over shisha sessions, they compared notes on who, in their opinion, were the best and worst candidates, and not without passion. Some expressed excitement, disappointment as well as shock on who won and who did not. 

Some analysts, however, blamed young voters for having caused a hung Parliament, as reported by Bernama recently. Dr G Manima- ran, among others, said young voters had little knowledge about the formation of a government as well as the election process. 

On the contrary, this writer was amazed at how invested these very young people seemed to be in the country’s politics. I overheard them even “dissecting” the candidates for the PM and finance minister posts, including their track records, from all the research they had done over the Internet. 

Sure, a hung Parliament was tiresome, but that also showed how matured GE15 voters were. Long gone are the days where we only voted for the “strongest” coalition. Voters felt they had more freedom to choose whoever they thought was the most convincing in their campaigns. 

Speaking of which, some have gone a step too far with their social media campaigns. In their effort to reach out to the next generation, they instilled fear and divisiveness not only among the new voters, but to young children as well. 

On Twitter, many parents expressed concern on how their children, as young as 10 and 11 years olds, asking them if it was true that if a certain party won the GE, the tudung would be banned, girls would be forced to wear skirts to school and tahfiz schools would be banned. Pretty much if you vote for that party, you will go to hell. 

When asked where they learned this from, the children said they talk about politics among themselves at school, and mostly based on what they saw on popular social media platform TikTok. 

I braved myself into the unfamiliar territory known as TikTok, just to see if these claims were true and yes, there are still a few such videos on the platform. The videos are similar, very short in duration, showing hands turning from thumbs-up to thumbs-down, with captions such as “vote for PH… are you girls ready to wear skirts?” They used the same background music, which might be catchy for young children. 

We might find them downright silly, but these videos are enough to affect impressionable and susceptible 10-year-olds. 

Twitter user @naddiana said her eight-year-old asked her if they would not enter heaven because they supported Pakatan Harapan (PH). Another user @etteisontwid- der shared a similar incident, while in the elevator with a Chinese lady, nonetheless. 

Parents who have encountered similar situations should report to their children’s schools (and the police), and teachers must pay more attention to their students’ conversations. Similarly, parents have no other choice but to seriously monitor their children’s social media activities. 

On Nov 23, TikTok was on high alert for content violating its guidelines in Malaysia after authorities warned of a rise in racial tension on social media following GE15, which was then still inconclusive. In a statement, TikTok said it had been in contact with Malaysian authorities on severe and repeated violations of its community guidelines leading up to GE15. 

Reuters reported that social media users have reported TikTok posts which threatened a repeat of the May 13, 1969, riot. Such threats could also be seen on other social media platforms. 

While instilling awareness about social issues among our children is important, we need to be mindful that it could lead to political links and be careful with our approaches. 

Otherwise, we are only producing a divided, racist and violent generation. 

If adults could fall for political propaganda on the Internet, imagine what it could do to children who are not yet fully developed mentally and emotionally. 

Now that the leader of reformation has been sworn in as the PM, with his party members fighting for justice and inclusivity, it will be interesting to see how they tread these waters. 

  • Farezza Hanum Rashid is the news editor at The Malaysian Reserve.

  • This article first appeared in The Malaysian Reserve weekly print edition

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