Malaysia’s newly-minted Pakatan Harapan government may appear at times to be dysfunctional – but robust arguments between politicians are a sign of democratic progress, says Youth and Sports Minister Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman.
“This is a new government, and with a new government comes a new practice where we air our opinions and we can agree to disagree,” Asia’s youngest minister Saddiq, 26, told the South China Morning Post.
Saddiq was commenting on remarks he made last December demanding the resignation of his Cabinet colleague, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department P Waythamoorthy, following bouts of intersectarian violence surrounding a temple near Kuala Lumpur.
At the time, backbenchers lambasted Saddiq for going overboard with his criticisms, but Saddiq stood firm. He said such “disagreements” also occurred in the previous administration, but were not publicised due to limited media freedom.
“Due to strict control by one party, the United Malays National Organisation [which led Barisan Nasional], they were not aired. But in this new Malaysia this happens,” said Saddiq.
“It is a symbol of a new democracy, it is progressive. In the end we don’t have an overarching power, there are sufficient checks and balances within that democracy – I think that’s a signal of a way forward.”
Earlier in the day, the minister spoke at the Post’s Asia Matters event – a new event series which brings together corporate leaders, government officials, investors and experts from Hong Kong and the region to discuss key issues shaping Asian business and society.
At the event, he spoke about youth power, Malaysia’s current political scene following the shock toppling of the Barisan Nasional after 61 years of rule, and the impact of the recently lowered Malaysian voting age.
Soon after Saddiq was made minister, he worked to lower the Malaysian voting age from 21 to 18, expanding the youth voting roll from 41 per cent to 50 per cent of the electorate.
Saddiq also criticised the previous regime for its race-based identity politics, explaining that although his party – the Malaysian United Indigenous Party (Bersatu) – was race-based, it did not constitute the majority of the ruling bloc.
“As a coalition, we are multiracial. The parties that are based on race cannot strongarm each other – my party has 16 seats in Parliament, while other parties that are multiracial have 30 to 40 seats. So the way forward in Malaysian democracy is still governed through multiracialism,” he said, pointing out that the Pakatan Harapan administration had made more multiracial political appointments than the previous administration.
At a startup competition, Saddiq also spoke about efforts to promote youth entrepreneurship in Malaysia, where a quarter of ASEAN startups are based.
“Young people are the ones who dare to take up the opportunity to innovate, think critically and come up with unconventional solutions,” he said at the Jumpstarter event, a startup competition by Alibaba, which owns the Post.
There were about 8,000 startups across ASEAN and about 2,000 of those were based in Malaysia, he said. The government has allocated US$500 million to the cause.
Additional reporting by Zoe Low