Monday, February 15, 2016

From teh tarik to community projects, opposition parties find ways to woo students

With the general election expected to be held within two years, opposition parties are actively reaching out to new voters, especially university and college students, even if many of them prefer to be fence-sitters. From simple chat sessions with students to internships, campus programmes and community projects, politicians hope to shape young people's minds when they cast their votes in the next elections. PKR's Fahmi Zainol said the party through its Mahasiswa Keadilan Malaysia (MKM) would mainly hold apolitical programmes to attract more university students to join them. "We hold programmes that are universal, everybody can join and no party image is shown because our programmes are not only about politics. "For instance, at the moment we are conducting a survey on Mara loans, so we invite a few individuals who know about Mara to be part of the survey and to collaborate with students in public and private universities. "And many students are joining in to find out more about this issue," he told The Malaysian Insider. Although the PKR brand is not highlighted at these programmes, Fahmi said young members of the party were chosen to spearhead programmes to build trust with university students. "We have two methods: go on the ground and meet the students, and use social media to approach them. "In my case, sometimes they don't see me as someone from PKR but as a Universiti Malaya (UM) student. And even though we don't use PKR's name in our programmes, they know that this is a UM student who is also from PKR," he said. For Islamist party PAS, their programmes are tailored for different needs. PAS Youth vice-chief Khairil Nizam Khirudin said the party via its youth wing would hold heavy-content programmes like forums or "teh tarik" sessions featuring party leaders, where young people could ask questions on current developments in the country. "Those who are abreast of political situations in the country want us to be constructive towards the government rather than slam them. "That's why young blood in PAS are constructive, not extremists," he said. He said the party's teh tarik sessions would sometimes attract more than 50 university students interested in getting first-hand answers from party leaders. Khairil added that they also organised activities not related to politics, such as futsal tournaments and snooker games, and also set up clubs like the "Alternative Riding Club" for bikers. The youth wing of DAP (Dapsy), meanwhile, has three main programmes tailored for university students: internship, Sekolah Demokrasi and Impian Malaysia. Its internship allows students to get involved in political work with the party's MPs and assemblymen, said Dapsy's varsity affairs director, Leong Yu Sheng. "Sekolah Demokrasi is a three-day workshop to learn about social democracy and other political ideologies, while Impian Malaysia is for students who want to be part of voluntary work for communities in need," he explained. There are also informal teh tarik sessions with DAP leaders from time to time. According to Leong, the response to the programmes is encouraging. "Participants love the programmes especially the internship programme. "Most of the feedback from participants is that the internship programme gives them substantial exposure to national issues." Challenges in wooing the young The ban on politics in universities, and students who do not want to be attached to any political party, are among the challenges faced by the parties in their efforts to woo these young, first-time voters. "We can't deny that when I'm in a political organisation, it's hard to get close to young people, especially students, because some of them are afraid to be seen as pro-opposition, mainly out of fear that the privileges they enjoy will be withdrawn," said Fahmi (pic, left), adding that such benefits include scholarships or being allowed to stay in college. "So we tell them that joining our programmes does not mean signing up as future party members. "No need to be PKR member, we tell them; we don't even encourage them to join PKR, as long as we can shape the way they think in deciding what's right or wrong. "If they join us, it's a bonus," he said. Khairil agreed that influence students' minds is a big part of their programmes. "At the end of the day, logo does not play the most important role, the arguments do; for instance they know what kind of arguments will come from PAS Youth, ones that are in line with Islam. "For us, we want all students in Malaysia to be politically aware and we want them to choose PAS when it is time to vote." He said PAS supported student movements like Gabungan Mahasiswa Semenanjung, which was more inclined towards Islam. Leong said the fear of DAP was among the setbacks the party experienced in efforts to attract university students. "We are unable to enter the campuses to promote our events due to strict government intervention, especially in public universities. "Secondly, the anti-DAP propaganda spread by Umno and their media machinery among the Malay community did terrify the participants from joining our activities," he said, adding, however, that if elections were to be held in campuses, DAP would be able to win over Umno. He said it was easier to approach students who believed in freedom, justice and solidarity. PAS is confident in its future leaders, said Khairil, adding that the number of students joining the Islamist party was still strong. He said PAS did not lack leadership as those joining the party would be absorbed at many levels from central to branches. "It's because of divine intervention. Allah opens the young people's hearts, especially student leaders, to join us," he said, when asked how they convinced students to join them. "We don't have to invest money. They come to us, and secondly, because of our programmes like the youth leadership academy, where they are taught leadership modules," he said. – February 16, 2016.]]>

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