"Young people should not just be viewed as leaders of tomorrow, they should also be acknowledged as leaders of today", former Malaysian Youth and Sports Minister Syed Saddiq said in a Clubhouse session held on Tuesday night, Mar. 16.
Young people have "merit"
Speaking on the invitation-only app in a session hosted by Mothership, Syed further cited the examples of leaders such as Canada's Justin Trudeau, France's Emmanuel Macron and New Zealand's Jacinda Ardern, saying that despite not having the level of experience like others, young people have merit.
Got 3 packets of Nasi Lemak today from friends at @MothershipSG— Syed Saddiq (@SyedSaddiq) March 16, 2021
They must not be happy seeing me workout everyday 😆
Cheat day. It's okay.
Tonight i will be on ClubHouse with them at 9pm. See you there! pic.twitter.com/xXnER7kKqK
This is because they are often "disruptive" and "dare to think out of the box", he said.
The Muar Member of Parliament (MP) said:
"They dare to come up with unconventional solutions to resolve conventional problems. And what they lack in experience, they make up with idealism, passion, and a push in the drive for change.
We are impatient, and that impatience is good, because we want to ensure that change happens. We want to see it through, and we want to rebuild our beloved country or region together."
He further said there should be "a competition among countries to 'youthify' their leadership".
Attracting around 250 listeners when the session first started, the number gradually rose to around 650 at its peak, and remained roughly the same when it ended about 1 hour and 45 minutes later.
Held while he was serving his Stay-Home Notice after he arrived in Singapore to attend physical lessons at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy (LKYSSP), Syed received questions from both the moderators and listeners, who appeared to be largely Malaysian in demographic.
Meeting with Jokowi
Syed recounted his meeting with Indonesian President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo three weeks into his appointment as Youth Minister, saying the latter was "quite shocked" that Mahathir, who was 92 years old then, could appoint someone who was as young as 25 years old.
But Jokowi then said if he was to be reelected as President, he would do the same and appoint someone young. Jokowi did appoint GoJek founder Nadiem Makarim as the Education and Culture Minister, who was 35 years old at that time.
"And he is doing a great job," Syed said.
He further said it's time to challenge the "grey hair norm of wisdom", or the notion that "age is the defining factor of success". Just because someone is young, it doesn't mean they are "incompetent" or "subpar", he said, adding:
"It's time for us to bump up young leaders into leadership positions so they can bring an impact in moving our region forward."
He then said that he thinks it's time for longtime leaders like former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad -- who is someone he holds a great deal of respect for despite criticisms against him -- and opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim to "trust young leaders (those in their 40s and 50s)... to spearhead Malaysia". He said:
"They've all contributed to Malaysia in many ways, but now I think it's for them to play a more advisory role and allow younger leaders to move forward."
Malaysian politics is "unbelievably uncertain"
Syed also claimed that it's "truly saddening" to see Malaysia go down a path where "even participating in democracy is unbelievably difficult".
Recounting the difficulties in registering his youth-led political party Muda -- he claimed they have been initially rejected for "capricious reasoning" -- Syed said the problem with Malaysian politics is that it's "unbelievably uncertain".
Despite not yet hearing back from the Registrar of Societies, Syed said the party is moving ahead with its plans, with an announcement of its lineup planned soon.
He added, of the leadership:
"We're not getting any position or pay. We're taking a huge risk. But we love our country, and we're going for the long game, not just for the short game, so we'll keep on pushing.
If all else fails, we'll take this to the court."
Syed also also said that they have enlisted former attorney-general Tommy Thomas and the former president of the Malaysian Bar Ambiga Sreenevasan to represent them.
Still optimistic for Malaysia
Nevertheless, despite ongoing political wrangling among the various political factions in the country, he said he still feels "optimistic" for Malaysia, and that he believes "behind every cloud, there's a silver lining". He added:
"While things look tough, I think it toughens leaders up as well, and there will be better, younger leaders who will come forward to hopefully spearhead reforms and change."
When asked if there was any difference in his life since he is no longer a minister, Syed said while there was "a big difference", he has no regrets about it.
He went on to say that he could have taken the easier path and chosen to work with the current government when the change in government happened with the Sheraton Move last year -- which he opined was "bad for Malaysia" -- so he could maintain his ministerial portfolio and the benefits that came with it.
But he chose not do so as his "conscience would not be clear".
"I'll never be able to sleep in peace as I know I'll be doing the wrong thing," he added.
"The people elected me for a very specific reason, and to be a part of the (Pact of) Hope coalition, not to just change government in the middle of the term."
Urged young Malaysians not to lose hope in the country's political future
When a listener expressed his pessimism at the country's political future, citing the collapse of government that took place at the end of last year, which was triggered by then-Prime Minister Mahathir's decision to step down, Syed urged young Malaysians not to lose hope.
"It's tough at the moment, but instead of suffering from apathy, and not care, channel that anger at the ballot box when (the) election comes," he said.
"No party is perfect, but by now, you'll have a plethora of options, channel your opinion, your anger, your happiness at the ballot box.
Your voice matters and your voice will be the determining vote for whoever gets to govern."
He further elaborated on apathy among young people, which he said is the reason why politics "get old and older" as it's always "the same people who dominate" in political circles. He continued:
"They'll say, young people, they speak up in social media, but they don't turn up to vote, so why should we care about them?
Change that narrative, young people do care. We love our country, we may not know much about politics, or we don't practice politics every day. However, when the crunch time comes to election, we'll be the first in line waiting under the hot scorching sun to deliver our vote and verdict on you as our politician.
So don't give up, speak up, continue to share your opinions, express your concerns, never be afraid. Whether you want to criticise the government or opposition, that's ultimately your right."
Hopes to see Malaysia's institutions of democracy grow stronger
Syed expounded on the progress he would like to see in Malaysia as well.
When asked by a listener what he would do if he were to be the prime minister of Malaysia, Syed said the first thing he would do is to "decentralise power from the prime minister, cabinet and federal government", and make it so that government agencies and institutions are independent.
This is because ideally, he wants Malaysia to be in a "self-driving mode", so that whoever becomes prime minister, and whichever party wins power, the "institutions of democracy will be strong enough to ensure that will be no abuse (of power), no corruption, because the institutions are strong enough".
The aim would be to have a prime minister who is no longer "supremely powerful", as there would be checks and balances, giving the example of the U.S., where President Trump was held accountable by democratic institutions.
"By reforming our institutions, putting them under parliament to ensure that they are strong enough so there is less political interference... so even if the prime minister steps down, Malaysia will keep on progressing."
He also said he would like to see a Malaysia based on multi-racial and moderate principles, where reforms are policy and not agenda-driven.
Additionally, he said he would like to strengthen the country's diversity, as he believes "multiracialism is the way forward". He concluded:
"I have faith in my country, especially in the younger electorate. I believe we will get there, and when we do, I think this will be the golden years of Malaysia."
Top image adapted via Syed Saddiq's Twitter