MALAYSIAN DEMOGRAPHICS IN 2019

With the legal voting age lowered from 21 to 18, 8 million new voters will be eligible to cast a ballot in the 2023 Malaysian elections. But what issues does the young generation care about?

A girl looks at the Petronas Twin Towers shrouded in haze in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, September 11, 2019. REUTERS/Lim Huey Teng


The population of Malaysia is large and diverse in terms of both culture and religion.

In 2010, the census placed the population at 28 million, making the country the 42nd-most populous in the world, despite its modest acreage. Of the current population of approximately 32 million, only 50.4% is Malay, with the rest consisting of various other ethnic and religious groups, including large populations of Chinese and Indians.

In precolonial times, Malays represented the majority of the population.

However, in the mid-19th century there was an influx of Chinese immigrants and Indian laborers brought by British colonizers, resulting in the population tripling from 0.75 million in 1891 to 2.3 million in just two decades.

When the country gained its independence in 1963, approximately half of the population was made up of ethnic Chinese and Indians. The large intake of these ethnic groups was motivated by the desire for cheap labor to extract tin and rubber, Malaysia being the largest producer of both products worldwide at the time.

The colony was so beneficial for the British that it earned the nickname “The Dollar Arsenal of the British Empire."

The sheer number of Chinese and Indian migrants marginalized native Malays, who tended to live mostly in remote rural areas and worked in agriculture.

Today, Malaysia's real income growth demonstrates strong inclusiveness across economic groups. From 2002 to 2014, the growth rate of the bottom 50% has been much larger than that of the top 10%, which is in turn much larger than that of the top 1%.

While the population as a whole increased sharply from 14 million in 1980, to 20 million in 1994, and to 29 million in 2011, growth rates have now slowed, and the government is looking to improve these rates through social policy.

Growth is expected to increase in the next 40 years, bringing with it significant changes in ethnic composition. The number of Malays will continue to rise, reaching approximately 64.4% in 2020.

With regard to employment, overall unemployment stands at around 3%, but is over 10% among those aged 15 to 24. As a result, it is common for young people to relocate when searching for jobs.

It is estimated that up to 50% of youngsters now living in rural areas will eventually urbanize. Still, moving is not a guarantee of employment, and those who relocate often have difficulty finding work.

While more than 173,000 holders of tertiary qualifications entered the workforce between 2010 and 2017, fewer than 99,000 high-skilled jobs were created in this period.

The government recently lowered the voting age from 21 to 18, giving Malaysian youth a louder voice in politics. As a result, there will be close to 8 million people eligible to vote for the first time in the next election, due to be held in 2023. This is a significant increase in 2018's voting population of only 15 million eligible voters.

Only about 65% of young voters aged 21 to 30 believe the country is moving in a positive direction, so understanding the concerns of this segment of the population will be crucial to future governments.

Saddiq Abdul Rahman, Minister of Youth and Sports, apparently understands this.

Not only did he champion lowering the voting age but he supports raising the minimum monthly wage for interns from 300 ringgits (USD72) to 900 ringgits. He is also working improve vocational training programs, which are currently managed by six separate ministries.

Older voters from the three main ethnic groups, Malays, Chinese, and Indians, tend to vote for parties that represent their religious and ethnic interests, while younger voters seem less concerned in this regard.

The issues attracting the attention of younger voters include women's rights and sexual freedom, and there is enormous concern in this demographic with the economic reality of earning a living. As of April 2019, 31.5% of the population aged 15 to 64 remained outside the labor force.