MUAR, Nov 10 — Muar saw an uprising during the 2018 general election that mirrored similar scenes being played out across Malaysia: Constituents voted out their long-time MP in favour of a young, rising star from Pakatan Harapan (PH).
Since then, incumbent MP Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman has spearheaded many initiatives, notably the historic Bill known as Undi18 and automatic voter registration, both of which received overwhelming bipartisan support in Dewan Rakyat.
Fast forward to 2022, and it seems that disenchantment has set in among the constituents of Muar.
But, perhaps surprisingly, this is more apparent among younger voters than older folks who remain keen to make their vote count — and a look at the numbers reveals why this might make all the difference on November 19.
According to statistics provided by the Election Commission (EC), Muar has 68,925 registered voters.
Of this number, 4,037 are between the ages of 18 and 20, or the equivalent of 2,049 male voters and 1,988 female voters.
Meanwhile, there are 14,433 voters between the ages of 21 and 29, or the equivalent of 7,447 male voters and 6,986 female voters.
Political fatigue high, political literacy low
Take, for example, 23-year-old Muhammad Amirul Aimin Mohd Annuar.
The first-time voter said he does not care for politics but knows voting is important.
“My sister was the one who registered me,” he said when asked about his voter status.
He admitted not knowing about Undi18 and automatic voter registration, adding that politics never comes up in conversations with friends.
But the food delivery rider, with a vocational training certificate in welding, has dreams and wants better job opportunities.
“Developed yes, but little by little. Many more are still having a hard time,” Amirul said of the situation in Muar.
“Not many choices already. I used to work in Kuala Lumpur. It was worse there. The cost of living was high.”
With politics seemingly the last thing on his mind and the Covid-19 pandemic dealing his job in Kuala Lumpur a huge blow, Amirul said he just wants to make a decent living to support himself.
Muhammad Hamka Edi speaks to Malay Mail during an interview in Muar November 3, 2022. — Picture by Hari Anggara
Muhammad Hamka Edi, 27, who runs a stall at the Jalan Yong Peng-Muar junction, said that he registered to vote ages ago and will choose “whoever can bring our nation forward” on election day.
“I do not lean towards any political side. As long as our country gets better, I will choose who can make it better.
“To me, Syed Saddiq has a good ideology. He is really good,” he said, before adding that experience is key too.
Hamka, however, said he was frustrated by unkept promises, referring to political parties’ manifestos.
“The sense of hope is not as high as it was during GE14.
“Despite everything promised, after Covid-19 hit, things became messy, and many promises were not kept,” he said.
Hamka has been running the stall since 2018, and also works part-time as a cashier, while caring for his ailing mother.
He said he felt pessimistic about his personal prospects.
“I take care of my mother as my father is no longer around,” he said, adding that he needed a monthly income of RM2,500 to cover his expenses, but that was only because he is single.
“I want to start a family someday, God willing. That too, if there is rezeki, as we say.”
Student A. Puvanesan, 18 says he is unsure of what he wants as a voter, and that the most striking image that comes to mind when elections are mentioned is political flags and banners everywhere. — Picture by Hari Anggara
Similarly jaded were three teens whom Malay Mail approached: 18-year-old A. Puvanesan and A. Arun Kumar and D. Athithia, both 17.
“Yes, I want to vote. Let’s see.
“What I know is that people vote, and then they will do some help for the people,” Puvanesan said in a nonchalant tone, when asked who he would be voting for.
He currently works as a security guard while waiting for college entry, saying that he wants to study automotive engineering in Kuala Lumpur and hopes to own a car workshop one day.
He admitted to being unsure of what he wanted as a voter, and that the most striking image that came to mind when elections are mentioned is political flags and banners everywhere.
Student A. Arun attends ceramahs to understand Malaysia’s politics better. — Picture by Hari Anggara
His brother, Arun, said that he usually eavesdrops on older folks talking politics, as current affairs are not a topic for discussion among his friends.
Arun also attends ceramah to understand Malaysia’s politics better, saying an environment to learn about such matters is non-existent.
“Surely,” he said when asked if he plans to vote once he reaches 18.
“First, they said the Tamil school here will get its own field, things like that. A hall for the Tamil community here.
“I do not know what more is needed, only when they offer one by one, do we know. I am just learning. I don’t have much interest but after 18, let’s see.”
“I did not take that much interest or study it, but in 2018, when Syed Saddiq came here, only then was I focused and keen,” Athithia said, adding that what happened was a historic moment.
Student D. Athithia, 17, relies on TikTok and social media for political updates. — Picture by Hari Anggara
“When I see his TikTok and every person he helps, he inspires me as a role model.”
Athithia, who relies on TikTok and social media for political updates, also said that he has no interest in being actively involved in politics but wants to help those in need.
Social work? OK. Politics? No.
A. Asvini is 25 and has been politically active for a while now, largely influenced by her father, but said she has a hard time convincing her friends to vote.
She studied media and is currently working for a money remittance department. She voted for the first time in GE14 and was involved in Syed Saddiq’s political campaign.
A. Asvini says she has a hard time trying to convince her friends to vote. — Picture by Hari Anggara
“Of course, you must vote because voting is our right. Our vote is powerful, and we must get what we demand,” Asvini said.
“My friends, both in Muar and other places, are not interested in politics. Perhaps they might not have received what they asked for, so they lost interest.”
She said that her friends are more receptive to her NGO work, telling her that they will support her as long as she is with the NGO and does not get into politics.
“Yes, it is hard,” she said of the situation, despite Undi18 being in place.
“They are thinking not to vote because when they do, some do not get what they want, in particular areas.”
Taxi driver Pak Long does not support feudalism, nor does he feel beholden to Malay leaders. — Picture by Hari Anggara
Every election without fail
A cabbie who wanted to be known only as Pak Long, 70, said that he has always voted and will continue to do so.
“What is important to me is finding a leader who is corruption free. That is all,” he said, adding that voters are currently being used by politicians for their own self-interest.
He said he does not support feudalism, nor does he feel beholden to Malay leaders.
“These days, we cannot look at just one party. We look at credibility and leadership. Whether they can assure, help the rakyat, that is all. All these logos, anyone can use them, and I can say that today, I am in Umno and next day, I am in PKR and all, but many problems occur.
“These are all their games. Political games. Before they get everything, they promise heaven and hell. But when they win, we don’t even see their shadow! So how?
“Voting is my right. I won’t give that up,” he said.
Taxi driver Mohd Sap Md Amin said he was frustrated by what he saw in Umno and the numerous allegations of corruption and charges levelled at some of its leaders. — Picture by Hari Anggara
His friend, fellow cabbie Mohd Sap Md Amin, 70, also agreed, but admitted that he has always supported the Opposition.
Mohd Sap said he was frustrated by what he saw in Umno and the numerous allegations of corruption and charges levelled at some of its leaders.
“Yes, I do vote. I vote during every election. I vote for the Opposition. I have never sided with the government. Ever,” he said, using Barisan Nasional (BN) as the reference for government.
Tan Tian Hock looks at the party mainly, and then the person representing the party, when deciding who to support. — Picture by Hari Anggara
Tan Tian Hock, 60, is a Muar native and an ardent voter. He hopes his children, one of whom has a learning disability, will have a better life, and firmly believes that this can be achieved via the ballot box.
He said he looks at the party mainly, and then the person representing the party, when deciding who to support.
“We rakyat just want to have a good life.
“As long as there is work, things are alright. Everyone wants to live a little well,” he added.
Village sundry owner Aishah Kunchi Ahmad, 71 speaks to Malay Mail during an interview in Muar November 3, 2022. — Picture by Hari Anggara
Similarly, 71-year-old Aishah Kunchi Ahmad, who runs a small family grocer in Sungai Balang, has always voted — even if all the shenanigans can seem overwhelming at times.
“To put it simply, I will go with my heart on that day,” she said.