How representative is Malaysia’s Youth Parliament?

Media Statement by Dr. Ong Kian Ming, MP for Serdang, on the 15th of May, 2015

The inaugural Youth Parliament (Parlimen Belia) recently concluded its first sitting for the year 2015. The establishment of a youth parliament is a positive development in our country especially in terms of encouraging debate among the younger generation on important issues and challenges facing the country. As an example, the representatives of the youth parliament were given space to debate the pros and cons of Malaysia’s possible entry into the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) in the recent session.

But the composition of the youth parliament itself highlights possible shortcomings in terms of its representativeness. In a parliamentary reply I received on the 10th of March, 2015, the following statistics were given:

Table 1: Racial Composition of the 2015-2016 Youth Parliament

Malay Chinese Indian Bumiputera  Sarawak Bumiputera  Sabah Orang Asli Others Total
101 6 7 5 12 1 1 133
75.9% 4.5% 5.3% 3.8% 9.0% 0.8% 0.8% 100.0%

One can immediately see that some groups are obviously under-represented.  According to the initial estimates of the number of youth in each state, where each 100,000 youth would be given one representation, Sarawak was supposed to have 10 representatives. In the actual youth parliament, only 5 positions were allocated to Bumiputera Sarawakians.[1] Chinese youth, which make up 23.5% of the 15-40 age group, according to the 2010 census, comprise only 4.5% of the youth parliament. Indian youth, which make up 7.6% of the 15-40 age group, comprise also 5.3% of the youth parliament.

Indeed, the under representation of minority groups in the youth parliament may have been even more skewed if a number of them were not directly appointed. In the original estimates, the youth parliament was supposed to have only 119 members. As many as 14 additional members may have been appointed, presumably by the Minister of Youth and Sports, whose ministry is responsible for this initiative.

In addition, there is very little information on the identity of these youth parliament members since its own website does not show the results of the online youth parliament elections nor does it list down the names and background of the youth parliament members.[2] In this day and age of transparency, for an entity which is supposed to represent the younger, tech savvy generation, why is it so difficult to put on a website the identity of the youth parliamentary representatives with perhaps their Twitter handles, Facebook pages and a brief background description?

It seems to be that outside of a very small inner circle, there is very little information about the activities of the youth parliament being disseminated to the larger youth population. Even the youth parliament’s official Twitter account (@MYparlimenbelia) has less than 6,000 followers.[3]

One area where the youth parliament is MORE representative than the actual parliament is the percentage of female representatives. 23 out of 133 representatives are female (17%) which is more than the female representation in the Dewan Rakyat (10%).

The youth parliament is a good idea and a good start in allowing more democratic discourse especially among the younger generation, but it should not evolve into an insider’s club that is not representative of the larger youth population in the country.

[1] It is not stated how many other youth representatives from the other races were from Sarawak