PETALING JAYA: Malaysia’s “Ge­­ne­­ration Y” voters – those aged below 40 – could be the key to victory for many candidates in the coming general election.

They now make up nearly half the electorate and are its fastest-­growing age group.

In 2013, the number of voters aged 21 to 39 was 5.5 million, or 41.9% of the 13.27 million electorate.

By the third quarter of last year, the figure had risen to 7.09 million, or 47.9% of the 14.8 million voters in the country. Generation Y refers to those in the tech-savvy age group born between the 1980s and 2000.

They are often described as independent and their political loyalties are not fixed because of their wider access to information.

Given their numbers, it is no surprise that both Barisan Nasional and Pakatan Harapan have gone all out to woo them.

Barisan has been reaching out to this group with policies such as the 2050 National Transformation (TN50) initiative.

The Government has engaged two million youths under TN50, seeking their ideas and suggestions on policies and measures needed to achieve Malaysia’s aim of being a top 20 country by 2050.

On Saturday, Barisan Nasional chairman Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak said a special chapter in Barisan’s general election manifesto will be dedicated to youths.

Pakatan has also tried to reach out by engaging with them in va­­rious public forums and promising a number of measures to help them overcome economic hardships.

With the #UndiRosak movement and talk that some youths are disillusioned with both sides, questions have emerged on whether or not the impact of Generation Y voters on polling day will be as big as their numbers suggest.

Meanwhile, the Organisation for National Empowerment (ONE) said Malaysians are currently undergoing a crucial period as politicians from both sides of the divide step up their efforts to win the hearts and minds of voters.

ONE president Danni Rais said there were “fence sitters” who were still undecided which side to support and this made up a significant 20% to 30% of the electorate, accor­ding to figures from research bo­dies Merdeka Centre and Invoke.

“This number cannot be ignored as this category of voters is sizable enough to determine the next go­­vernment. So how should political parties approach them?

“The common answer of all young people when asked what they desire is a thriving future.

“This can only be achieved if everyone moves in cohesion towards the same direction,” Danni said, adding that undecided voters were more likely to assess their electoral choices objectively.

They would also be more responsive to candidates who focus on positivity and delivery rather than those who engage in endless debate over trivial politics, he added.

Danni said young voters will study each point of election manifestos and evaluate their viability.

For example, he said, the Pakatan Harapan manifesto promise “to reduce the cost of living is spot on”.

“However, abolishing GST in favour of the outdated SST system appears questionable when 160 countries have adopted the former and ended SST due to its many flaws and lack of transparency.

“Voters must ask whether the intention of the manifesto has the right prescription for the long term.

“When proposing policies, those running for office must be forward­thinking and not settle for something merely for short-term political gain,” he said.

Danni urged voters not to go in with a negative mindset out of hate for “the other side” but to vote because they believe a candidate can bring about a brighter future.

He stressed that no development can be achieved from negativity, which would only hold the country back.

Originally published on The Star on Wednesday March 14, 2018.