As its traditional market shrinks, can Umno capture the new one?

by Sheridan Mahavera
The Malaysian Insider
16 November 2014

The math is against Umno. If the party does not change its ways and focuses only on pandering to its traditional vote base of kampung folk, it is unlikely to survive beyond the next election.

This prognosis comes not from a political analyst or a Pakatan Rakyat leader, but from its own leaders in Umno Youth.

The term mathematics is what Umno Youth exco member Shahril Hamdan used to describe the changing face of the Malaysian voting public, which is becoming more urbanised and younger.

Shahril was echoing what his boss Umno Youth chief Khairy Jamaluddin said at the movement’s town hall meeting yesterday – Umno’s support base of rural voters, its fixed deposit, is a “shrinking market”.

The emerging market is the millions of youth who are moving to urban areas in their respective states to make a living, Khairy said.

By his estimates, up to 70% of the five million new voters who will cast their ballots in the next general election will be youths.

The respected pollster Merdeka Center had said in an August 13, 2013, report that more than 64% of new voters in future elections would be Malay.

Using the government’s own statistics, Umno Youth’s Young Professionals Bureau also estimates that by 2016, 75% of the population will live in urban centres.

The bureau argues that the trend coincides with the loss of support Barisan Nasional is seeing in urban seats.

The bureau estimates that another factor behind that trend is the growth of young professionals from 450,000 in 1970 to 2.3 million in 2010.

TUmno Youth exco member Shahril Hamdan says it is hoped that solutions-based politics will capture the hearts and minds of young voters. – The Malaysian Insider file pic, November 16, 2014.Umno Youth exco member Shahril Hamdan says it is hoped that solutions-based politics will capture the hearts and minds of young voters. – The Malaysian Insider file pic, November 16, 2014.he bureau itself was set up because the movement realised what a crucial voting bloc young wage earners have become and will continue to be.

“They may register to vote in (rural areas like) Pokok Sena, Rembau or Setiu but they live and work in places like Seputeh,” Khairy said of the Kuala Lumpur constituency which has been pro-DAP for more than a decade.

“So we cannot just say forget about Seputeh.” He was referring to the fact that what these youth went through where they worked and lived is often brought back with them to the kampung where they vote.

The bureau is part of Umno Youth’s solutions-based politics that it hopes will capture the hearts and minds of 20 and 30-somethings.

“We can’t just use rhetoric or overt politics in tackling these people,” Shahril, who heads the bureau, said when met on the sidelines of the town hall meeting.

The bureau tailors its programmes to fit the critical, facts-and-figures-based attitudes of professionals and their challenges of having to survive the urban rat race.

It holds soft-skills courses such as on how to communicate effectively in English and Bahasa Malaysia, job interview training and resume “clinics” to help participants prepare better resumes.

“The point is to offer products that can help them in their lives,” said Shahril, a 29-year-old professional in the oil and gas sector.

“Once they see that we can make a difference in their lives, they will change their minds about us.”

Another characteristic that Umno Youth discovered about young urbanites when it did a study a few years ago was that this demographic group wanted leaders who could debate and defend their positions against opponents.

Shahril said part of his job was to also respond with their own facts and figures to criticism from the opposition or the public.

This includes taking PR youth leaders head-on in independent forums.

Shahril himself has shared the stage with the likes of Serdang MP Dr Ong Kian Ming, Bukit Gelugor MP Ramkarpal Singh and PKR deputy youth chief Fahmi Fadzil at various forums.

“When we give out facts and figures, such as on the Economic Transformation Plan (ETP), they will have an even hand to compare,” said Shahril.

“So at least people who were totally against us will probably change their minds a bit and be open to us. That’s better than them being totally opposed to us.”

Another Umno Youth exco Ibdillah Ishak claimed that the solutions-based, progressive approach that Khairy pioneered has helped get back support from urban Malay youths.

“After the 13th general election we have seen urban Malays return to us.

“If you look at the opposition’s programmes, like Anwar Ibrahim at Universiti Malaya, it was not attended by that many people, unlike in 1998,” said Ibdillah, who heads the social media bureau.

But even more critical than these bureaus or Khairy’s brand of progressive politics is whether Umno as a whole adopts this new way of thinking and whether it sees the changing voting landscape.

Khairy admitted this in the town hall meeting.

At the end of the day, voters may respond positively to Umno Youth. But when an election comes around, it’s the whole party that it is being judged.

“If voters look at the party as a whole and it’s the same old story and it’s the same old party, then what are we to do?” – November 16, 2014.

  1. #1 by Bigjoe on Sunday, 16 November 2014 - 5:06 pm

    Its alarmist, the fact is even as young people are biggest protestors against the current regime, they are the worst in actually registering and turning out to vote.. The fact is if young people register and turn out to vote what they say they are against, UMNO/BN should already be out of power…

  2. #2 by bryanbb on Monday, 17 November 2014 - 1:56 am

    The Malay community need to break the spell of UMNO on their mindsets..
    Emancipate themselves from mental slavery ,none but themselves can free their minds,
    Have no fear for ethno religo diversity., embrace it gradually and whole heartedly with the passage of time..
    Banish the prophets of doom and gloom and their unending messages of negativity,
    Free your minds and the rest will follow and fall in place

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