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15 December 2020

Age is just a number: Syed Saddiq’s Quest for Young Mindsets

PETALING JAYA: Getting older politicians to change their ways and give younger people a chance is no easy feat, but Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman sees it as his responsibility to do just that.

The Muar MP insisted that being young was not only about one’s physical age. Rather, it was a state of mind that could be achieved by all age groups.

“You can have someone who is as young as 21 and 22 but still with the old mindset of cronyism, corruption, abuse of power and wanting to ‘game’ the system.

“At the same time, you could also have someone in their 60s or 70s who can think like a young person; who believes in equitability, justice and egalitarianism in pursuing a more prosperous and united Malaysia,” he said.

The former youth and sports minister called on his senior colleagues in Parliament to adopt younger mentalities, saying it was important for people to acknowledge the youth as assets.

Former youth and sports minister, Syed Saddiq says it is important for people to acknowledge the youth as assets. Photo credit to freemalaysiatoday.com

Having experienced more than his fair share of putdowns in the Dewan Rakyat due to his age, Syed Saddiq knows that effecting change among his older colleagues is easier said than done.

However, he said he refuses to “stoop down to their level” and remains optimistic about the country’s future. After all, the Undi 18 Bill, with which he sought to bring down the Malaysian voting age from 21 to 18, was not passed in one night.

Yet it was a major success. The bill was passed with almost unanimous support, the first constitutional amendment to receive such backing with 211 MPs voting for it.

It is a feat he is really proud of. “Some would think that being appointed as a minister at the age of 25 would be the biggest thing, but personally, it was when we created history with bipartisan support to amend Malaysia’s constitution,” he said.

“This is so significant because in the entirety of Malaysia’s political history, bipartisanship has never been recognised. We have always been divided by political walls, we live in political camps and it is very hard for people to cross these isles to work with one another.

“When one is in the opposition … you are an enemy of the state, and that mentality is wrong. So to amend the constitution not once or twice, but three times in the span of a day was a major achievement,” he said.

The three amendments were: to reduce the voting age from 21 to 18 years old; to implement automatic voting registration; and to reduce the age of candidacy to 18, all of which effectively brings in around 7.8 million new young voters.

Behind it all, Syed Saddiq attributes his energy and drive to his “workaholic” mother, a teacher in Johor who taught him to embrace the saying “where there’s a will, there’s a way”.

He added that his time in the Royal Military College also helped, not only teaching him discipline but to improvise with creative solutions during his entrance exams.

“There were about 200 people (for the eyesight test) but I was the first in line. Back then, you didn’t have amazing phones with great cameras, but there were decent phones,” he recalled.

“So I took pictures of all the big boards for the eyesight test, went to the back of the line, memorised the letters from the top to the bottom and went back to the front. The doctor thought my eyesight was perfect.”

That little bit of trickery aside, Syed Saddiq’s vision for the country is clear. He believes that young Malaysians’ values are determined by their capabilities to contribute to society, not simply the year they were born in.

Allowing them to hold top positions in corporations and government, he said, would result in a more “diverse decision-making process” beyond traditional factors of race and religion.

“Whether we like it or not, the power structures in Malaysia, unfortunately and tragically, are still largely controlled by those much older than us.

“I think if you are able to change the mindsets of the older generation, you are able to change the systems and the power structures overall.

“If we are able to change that, that is when you see a lot more glass ceilings, which lock young people up, being broken down.”

Adrianne Fernandez and Ethan Lee who are foundation in arts students at Taylor’s University contributed to this report.

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