Understanding youth participation in politics
Monday, April 02, 2012 - 16:39
Hence, every political party is scrambling for their support. But, to me, young voters are important in all GEs. The only thing is that, in many past GEs, some political parties took them for granted.
And while we are now taking them more seriously, we should not limit our interest in them only for the purpose of the ballot box, but rather, for their full and active participation in politics in the real sense of the word.
In order for this to happen, we have to deepen our understanding on the issues pertaining to youth political participation.
In this regard, the works of many, like the one by R. Spannring, G. Ogris and W. Gaiser (eds), entitled “Youth and Political Participation in Europe”, plus the ones by local researches, are useful references.
Taking stock from these literature, there emerge at least two sides of the narrative.
On the one hand, little has changed, and hopefully has not worsened, that youth political participation continues to decline. This is perhaps due to the complex patterns of the erosion of the social cohesion of our society.
On the other hand, there is an urgent need for us to understand youth political participation in much differentiated ways. We have to develop more appropriate and effective ways and means of capturing and motivating its nature and extent.
We should begin by looking at three areas.
Firstly, we should look at the current social and political conditions as well as the youths’ own accounts of politics.
Beyond the factors which shape the political system and the relationship between politics and citizens, which we understand, there are also youth specific factors that influence their perception to politics, which we may not understand. These specific factors are related to their status as citizens, members of society and position in their life course.
The youth have a complex and differentiated picture of ideals and expectations. If they are apolitical, this outlook may not only point to their own deficits, but also highlight some shortcomings of our democracy and failures of our society in integrating them.
Secondly, we should ask which ways the youth actually get politically active and how they themselves evaluate various forms of political participation. Their answers reflect their image of politics and actual experiences with political participation.
They may view some political parties as limiting rather than opening up spaces for sharing and shaping of ideas and ideals.
Some youth may prefer individual forms of participation, such as political communication and protest, which are more appropriate in their eyes because it permits loyalty to one’s own values instead of being subjected to organisational aims and methods.
To some, self-expression becomes the most important way of political participation. The advent of social media makes this possible today.
And thirdly, it is about political socialisation. It is about the differing effects of parents and peers on their likelihood and preference of political engagement.
Even though parents’ political orientation could shape their political orientation, it is the peers that have a stronger impact on their political behaviour.
The education system plays a major role in increasing awareness among youth by imparting political education and opportunities for involvement in democratic processes and experiences.
Another platform that is becoming more impactful in nurturing young political activists is through civil society organisations.
These are issues that deserve to be taken forward for our society to better appreciate and motivate full and active political participation among our youth.
The young voters know which candidates and political parties who are genuinely passionate and real in addressing the youth voices, roles and concerns, and which ones who are not.
They will give their answers come GE13.
Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah is an advocate of new politics and youth empowerment. He is Deputy Minister of Higher Education and can be followed on Twitter at @ saifuddinabd. Comments: [email protected]