Meet the faces behind Muda

·13-min read
Meet the faces behind Muda
Meet the faces behind Muda

INTERVIEW | Four months after Muar MP Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman was expelled from Bersatu for his loyalty to former prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad, he declined to join Pejuang and announced a youth-led party instead.

Gathering a line-up of young professionals, activists, start-up founders, religious preachers and academics, he formed a multiracial, policy-driven platform that would eventually be called the Malaysian United Democratic Alliance (Muda).

Contrary to popular belief and despite his high profile, Muda’s inception was not a one-man effort.

According to the party's secretary-general Amira Aisya Abd Aziz, she sent a message to Syed Saddiq a day after the Sheraton Move happened, asking him to start his own party.

The text message read: “Form a new party of young, smart people. I’ll be with you. May Allah bless.”

This led to a discussion among young people from diverse backgrounds, leading to a consensus that it was the right time for a youth-led political party in Malaysia.

So inspired was Amira that she quit her job at the Education Ministry to dedicate her life to her passion for justice.

The 26-year-old didn’t live an easy life growing up. She was raised by a single mother in a squatter area with her four siblings and grandmother.

“Growing up in the squatters area, I watched how the country’s unfair system across all sectors causes socio-economic injustice.

"I have watched, one by one, my childhood friends tumble down the path of drugs, some dropped out of school at a very, very young age, and many did not make it out of the circle of poverty.

“I always knew that I wanted to be involved in the policymaking process of the nation and to be able to change the system that is very biased towards the elites. I understand that everyone plays a different role to create change but actual, impactful change can only be made in the Parliament.

Muda secretary-general Amira Aisya Abd Aziz
Muda secretary-general Amira Aisya Abd Aziz

“I am doing this for Malaysians who have been victims of the system that favour the elites and have little sympathy and empathy for the poor.

“I am doing this to create a Malaysia where nobody will ever feel oppressed by their own country - regardless of race, religion, and background,” Amira said during an interview with Malaysiakini.

The Sheraton Move was the perfect trigger to introduce a youth-led political party in Malaysia, according to Muda vice-president Dr Thanussha Francis Xavier.

The 31-year-old medical doctor, who hails from Taiping, Perak, felt disheartened that the people’s mandate was betrayed and that the former government was toppled due to the actions of selfish individuals.

Although Syed Saddiq spearheads Muda, it was the collective effort by 11 other passionate individuals -- apart from Amira and Thanussha -- that led Muda to what it is today.

The others are Afiqah Zulkifli, Amir Hariri Abd Hadi, Dr Mathen Nair, Teo Lee Ken, Lim Wei Jiet, Luqman Long, Mutalib Uthman, Mohd Fakhruradzi Tajuddin, Shahrizal Denci, Siti Rahayu Baharin and Tarmizi Anuwar.

In an interview with Malaysiakini, Thanussha, Lim, Amira, Amir and Shahrizal spoke about their journey into politics and together as a newly formed political party:

Tell us more about yourself and how you got into Muda:

Shahrizal: My name is Shahrizal Denci. I am 40 years old, was born and raised in Ranau, Sabah. I graduated from University Malaysia Perlis (Unimap) with a Bachelor of Computer Engineering.

After university, I worked for three years in a German semiconductor company based in Kulim Hi-Tech, Kedah. I then came back to my hometown in 2014 to start a small farm business.

Fast forward to today, we are a wholesale vegetable supplier for most of the hypermarkets in Sabah.

Muda co-founder Shahrizal Denci
Muda co-founder Shahrizal Denci

Amir: I grew up in Balakong, Selangor. I am currently pursuing a Master of Science in Politics of Asia at SOAS University in London. Prior to this, I was in UiTM pursuing business management.

I began (my journey into politics) as a student activist. I was then appointed as a coordinator in the Anti-Sedition Act Movement before joining Suara Rakyat Malaysia (Suaram).

Alongside other student activists, we proceeded to form the Liga Rakyat Demokratik in 2015, where I was the secretary-general. I never thought of joining politics until after the Sheraton Move.

Lim: I was born in Muar, Johor — coincidentally, Syed Saddiq’s (hometown) — and will be turning 31 years old this year. I studied law at Universiti Malaya and I've been practising as a lawyer for the past five, six years.

Although I was a very keen follower of political developments, I never imagined I would be involved personally in politics.

I did not have family members who were directly involved in a political party and did not come from a very affluent, rich background. So, it was only after the Sheraton Move in 2020 where it was kind of a very low point in my life.

I felt that there was a real need to do something to stand up because if young people whose future is most at stake don’t stand up, we are going to be doomed.

I knew Syed Saddiq before that because he was a university debater and I was also a university debater. The idea of a new political party was discussed, agreed to and it was adopted. Therefore, I somehow became involved in it.

What is your party position, and which area do you work in specifically?

Thanussha: As one of the vice-presidents, my duty is to develop Muda as a national party.

Muda vice-president Dr Thanussha Francis Xavier
Muda vice-president Dr Thanussha Francis Xavier

Shahrizal: As one of the co-founders, I serve as a vice-president in the central executive committee, and am the chairperson of Muda Sabah.

For the past year, I have worked in multiple areas in Sabah to educate the locals on what Muda is about.

Amira: I was entrusted with the role of secretary-general after Amir — who was holding the post — left to study in the United Kingdom. As the secretary-general, it is my duty to oversee the smooth operations of the entire party.

Especially as a new party, with almost the majority of its members being newcomers to politics, it is extremely important for the secretary-general to go down to the ground and work together with state leadership.

Having said that, my home is in parliamentary area Tebrau. I do want to contribute as much as possible to my hometown and have done several activities in Tebrau.

But to me, it is most important to look at the best way to serve Malaysians regardless of which area they come from.

Amir: I resigned from my former position as secretary-general to continue my studies in London. However, we are in the early phases of setting up the Muda United Kingdom.

Even before Muda was legalised there was an extraordinary struggle to get the party registered. What was that like?

Amira: I supposed I’ve always known that registering a party will not be easy but I never thought that it would be as hard as it was.

We had to mobilise our party without resources and simply by the will of our members to fork out their own money and sacrifice their time to keep the party going.

But the silver lining in all this is we knew that the government was scared of what we were bringing to the table.

We have been treated like criminals. We were questioned by the police so many times, just for practising our right to speak against oppression.

I had to go back and forth between the Registrar of Societies and the court just to fight for our democratic right to actively participate in politics.

They (the government) thought they could weaken us but they were wrong. Everything they have done has only strengthened our will to fight until we are able to make significant and positive changes to Malaysia’s political landscape.

Lim: If you're a lawyer, you would know that it is quite a straightforward process to register a party. But when the authorities, whether intentionally or unintentionally, put up so many roadblocks for you, it is very frustrating.

It's very frustrating because we spent so much time and resources on achieving something so simple as registering a party — when we could have dedicated all that energy towards messaging or crafting better policies or helping the public on the ground, and so on and so forth.

Muda vice president Lim Wei Jiet
Muda vice president Lim Wei Jiet

Amir: Not only were we unregistered, we formed a party from scratch — not just in supporters but with leaders who are new to politics. There was no money, no office, and many who were involved in the political field were sceptical.

We also formed Muda during a pandemic and were unable to meet state and Parliament leaders to form the party from the grassroots. A lot of our work was done through online platforms such as Zoom.

Thanussha: It was also extremely difficult to plan for the future in terms of political alignment and seat negotiations as we did not have our own flag. The purpose behind the delay is clear - to hinder our growth.

However, we had faith in the judicial system, and in our supporters — and we persisted.

What is the party structure like?

Lim: Under our party constitution, we have a president - who is Syed Saddiq. We have five vice-presidents. I'm one of those particular vice-presidents. We have a secretary-general, a treasurer and central committee members.

So our structure is formally and structurally not very much different from other parties out there - except that I do think that we are a little bit more decentralised, compared to the other parties.

We have a state lineup (and) Parliament lineup who are very, very motivated, proactive in their own progress and cultivating their own strategies.

Some, you know, have come up with newsletters on their own, others initiated flood relief works from their own branches.

So there is definitely an advantage to being centralised but I think that is also one of the characteristics of being savvy and young in that we were quite flat functionally, in the sense that we give a lot of empowerment and trust to community leaders.

The top leadership doesn't call all the shots. We empower people on the ground to make their own choices, and that has proven to be a very good strategy. I think that our effect on the ground and our ability to reach people is a testament to that trust that we put in young people.

I think this kind of flat structure works well when a party has just started. No doubt, I admit that. The people are energetic and love ideas and everything.

But I do think as the party grows, obviously, there needs to be some kind of disciplinary mechanism, for example, or some kind of structure to ensure execution is done well.

But that doesn't mean that you need to sacrifice empowering state leaders, Parliament-level leaders to make their own decisions and to have some kind of flexibility in how they approach things.

So, we are not going to change that, hopefully. But as the party grows, there will definitely be a challenge in managing human resources, like any kind of organisation.

Amira: The only person in our leadership that has experience serving as an elected representative is Syed Saddiq. Not even three other people have ever been involved in active politics.

We are made up of leaders from diverse backgrounds who have never had experience in politics before but are now jumping into it because we believe in Muda and the idealogy that Muda puts forward.

Do you personally think you may contest in the forthcoming 15th general election (GE15)?

Amir: It depends on the decision of the party leaders. If asked, I will do it. If not, I will help from any aspect that is needed.

Former Muda secretary-general Amir Hariri Abd Hadi
Former Muda secretary-general Amir Hariri Abd Hadi

Thanussha: Co-founding Muda was never about power-grabbing. We all firmly believe in a better vision for Malaysia and thus persisted for more than a year and fought for our registration. If given the opportunity, yes I will contest.

Shahrizal: Personally, I really want to see fresh faces and young blood in Parliament. Whether I might run in GE15 is not up to me — it is a question for the central executive committee to answer.

What are your hopes for the future - with regard to both the country and Muda?

Amira: I hope that the country will be free from the corruption that has so long trapped our country.

I hope for a country with quality and accessible education for all as education is the pillar of the nation. I hope for a country with a booming economy and socio-economic justice.

I hope for a country where no children will ever feel that they don’t belong in their own country. Where nobody will ever feel like they are second-class citizens.

I hope for a day that a non-Malay child or a girl can say that they dream to be prime minister of Malaysia and will not be laughed at.

I hope that Parti Muda will always be the party that will fight for these ideals. They say idealism cripples - but I disagree. We are formed through idealism and I hope we never lose it.

Amir: For us to truly build a nation for all - that is fair and equal, that honours human rights, that does not only make the rich richer but looks after the welfare of all.

As for Muda, for it to stay on the path of the struggle, and not fall into the trap of old politics.

Lim: I really hope that, at the end of the day, Muda will form a sizeable number in Parliament, possibly being part of the government, so that progressive policies can be implemented.

I want a very progressive, youth-centric, tech-oriented approach - an approach that realises the urgency that we're in.

Countries like Vietnam, Thailand and Indonesia are overtaking us already as we speak. There's no sense of urgency to even try to return Malaysia to its former glory or to move forward.

We are in the limbo of being stuck in the past with a prime minister who doesn't seem to be interested in his job. Malaysians deserve more than this.

Malaysians deserve the change now - not five to 10 years down the road. I really do hope that, by then, Muda will already be part of the government, steamrolling and spearheading all these changes that are so badly needed across all facets of Malaysian governance

This is Part 1 of a three-part series on the leaders of Muda. Part 2 will be published tomorrow.

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