No Country for Old Men
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Will the biggest group of young voters in Malaysian history decide whether or not a nonagenarian will become the Southeast Asian country’s prime minister?
That’s the lingering question in Malaysia these days following a recent announcement by the country’s 97-year-old former prime minister, Mahathir Mohamad, that he would be running for reelection for his seat in parliament. The announcement essentially opened up the possibility that he could also win a third term as the country’s leader. As Deutsche Welle reported, Mahathir served from 1981 to 2003 and from 2018 to 2020. The Guinness Book of World Records named him the “world’s oldest current prime minister” in 2018.
His name will be on the ballot on Nov. 19, a ballot that follows constitutional amendments that lowered the voting age to 18 and inaugurated automatic registration, increasing the number of eligible voters by 6 million, wrote the Guardian. Citizens under 40 are now the largest voting bloc.
Mahathir will likely keep his seat but he is not a shoo-in for the premiership. His political group is last in the polls, according to Reuters. He is also running against opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, another former prime minister Muhyiddin Yassin, and current Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob, who assumed office amid a political crisis in 2021 stemming from the coronavirus pandemic and subsequent economic turmoil, as Chinese newswire Xinhua explained.
Anwar and Ismail’s political parties are now expected to garner around a quarter of the vote each. Barisan Nasional is the most important group in the United Malays National Organization, which has ruled the country for all but two years since independence from Britain in 1957.
Hanging over the vote is the fate of ex-Prime Minister Najib Razak, who was in charge as corrupt officials and others embezzled billions from the 1Malaysia Development Berhad state fund, the Diplomat noted. Najib is now serving a 12-year jail sentence. Mahathir has argued that Sabri and his allies will pardon Najib if they win.
Endemic corruption is a major issue, CNBC reported. Combined with high inflation and unemployment, many voters are desperate for change. Additionally, Malaysia’s government routinely cracks down on Western movies like “Thor: Love and Thunder” and other offerings of pop culture that they deem offensive to orthodox Muslim values, the South China Morning Post added, as about 61 percent of the country’s 33 million people are Muslim. Critics have also said that Ismail scheduled the election during the monsoon season in order to suppress the vote and walk away with the prime minister’s job, CNN reported.
Such concerns are why the youth vote is expected to become so important. The young in Malaysia want change. They have the numbers to force it now.