The Role of Youth Organisations in Malaysia

Speech by DAP Organising Secretary and Editor of the Rocket, Mr Lim Kit Siang, at a forum on “The Role of Youth Organisations in Malaysia” organised by the Klang Organising Committee for the National Youth Week Celebrations at the Letchumanan Hall, Klang on Wednesday, 31st July 1968 at 7.30 p.m.

Malaysia is a nation of youths. Sixty per cent of our population of close to 10 million people are under 25 years of age.

As such, what the Malaysian youth movement does or does not do is of vital importance to our country, because the majority of our people – as represented by the youths – are in the process of shaping their outlook, aims and purpose in life.

Will the young Malaysians grow up into a tough, realistic, dynamic and strong-willed generation, or will they become soft, spineless, rootless and purposeless?

Will they become patriots of Malaysian nationalism, or will they be fanatical defenders of communalism, whether of the Malay, Chinese or Indian variety?

Will they become constructive citizens of Malaysia, or will they become useless members of our society, the unthinking followers of the flower set, hippie-ism and the LSD?

All these questions are being decided now. The youth movement can play a big role to ensure that the right answers are reached.

As I see it, these are the four roles of the youth movement, youth organisations and youths in Malaysia.

(1) Instill civic, public and social consciousness among the youths
The Malaysian education system is too examination-orientated. There is little emphasis on character building.

There is a rat-race to mug, to pass examination, to get certificates and degrees, and total neglect of instilling the values of service, social commitment, justice, equality and humanity.

Youths are becoming absorbed with things rather than with convictions, with the verb “to have” rather than “to be”, with goods rather than with character and destiny.

I wonder how many youths know who is the Assistant Minister of Youth. I wonder how many youths are informed of social, political and economic developments taking place in the country.

Youths must also be the conscience of the nation. They are young, and youths are idealistic. Idealism is not a curse, but a virtue, so long as it is tempered with realism.

I am therefore disappointed that no youth organisation came out to join the national call for mercy on behalf of the 13 condemned youths who were to hang at the gallows for offences committed during their teens. Only after the Prime Minister, Tunku Abdul Rahman, had publicly urged for mercy did the Malaysian Youth Council came out with an appeal for mercy.

(2) To develop qualities of leadership and organisation among youths

The destiny of this country is in the hands of youths, who comprise the majority section of the population.

They must be prepared to lead the country.

This is only be achieved if youths are allowed to plan, programme and organise their own activities, functions and programmes.

In 1967, the Ministry of Youth, Culture and Sports defined youth as “young people of both sexes between the ages of 15 to 30 years.”

This is too rigid, and I would recommend the ceiling to raised to 35.

But the most famous offender of this definition is none other than the 50-year-old UMNO Youth Leader, Inche Senu bin Abdul Rahman.

There are many other example. The Vice President of the Malayan Youth Council and Vice President of World Assembly of Youth is 43 years old Mr Siow Loong Hin. The President of the Malaysian Association of Youth Clubs, Tunku Abdullah, is also 43 years old.

The leader of the Malaysian delegation to the current WAY Conference in Sofia is 36-year-old Mr. V. David.

Probably, every year, Malaysia is represented by the “oldest” youths at the WAY and other international youth conferences.

I am not suggesting that the persons above are not enthusiastic about youth movements. But I am suggesting that they should relinquish their positions and give way to youths below 35 years, so that they can exercise leadership roles and gain leadership experience. I would seriously suggest that the Ministry of Youth circularise to all youth organisation suggesting that all their officials should not be above 35 years of age. Those exceeding this limit can serve in advisory capacities.

I also propose that the Government set an example by having a youth as a Minister of Youth, and as Assistant Minister of Youth. The present Assistant Minister of Youth, Dato Engku Mohsein is 40 years old. The Minister is of course 50-year-old Inche Senu.
Let us not have a middle-aged youth movement in Malaysia.

(3) Be effective spokesman and champion of the aspirations and problems of youths

The Malaysian youth movement should not confine itself to organising socials, dances, picnics, games, etc.

Even more important, it should represent the aspirations and wishes of youngsters, and channelise their energies into creative and constructive directions.

To do this effectively, youth leaders and the youth movement must capable of analyzing the causes of youth problems, and make recommendations for the solution.

In Malaysia, the major causes of youth unrest and frustration are lack of proper education and unemployment.

Every year more and more youths are roaming the streets, without a job, without a hope, and without advice.

In the past few years, the Malaysian economy has gone down hill. In the rubber estates last year, 16,000 workers were retrenched. When it is considered that the government’s Labour exchange could find job for only 12,000 people a year, and that tens of thousands of school leavers rush into the labour market a year, the magnitude of the problem can be imagined.

The rising tide of frustration among youths is a primary cause for the doubling of the rate of juvenile delinquents in three years, from 208 cases to 400 in 1967.

Youth movements should apply their minds to suggest ways to solve this grave problem.

One possible solution is to form youth brigades and send youths of all races to open and develop land schemes, and turn it into a bold experiment in multi-racial community development and living.

Such projects can be carried out all over the country, as large tracts of Malaysian land are still in virgin state. They will also contribute to the economic well-being and prosperity of the country.

There is no lack of solutions, only a lack of proper men and proper minds.

(4) To be in the vanguard of Malaysian nation-building

The primary task that should engage the attention of youth movements and leaders.

It is my contention that after eleven years of independent nationhood, we have not yet built a nation of Malaysians. We are still a nation of Malays, Chinese, Indians, Ibans, Kadazans and others.

Legally and geographically, a Malaysian nation has been in existence for over a decade. But we are still a long way from the day when these legal, international and geographical attributes are matched by the most essential element of all; the people thinking of themselves as Malaysians first and last.

Otherwise, why was it necessary to pass a law to compel respect to the national anthem, which symbolises our nationhood, sovereignty, and independence?

Otherwise, why as it necessary to launch loyalty week and solidarity week campaigns?

Malaysia is a nation of many racial stocks – Malays, Chinese, Indians, Ceylonese, Eurasians, Pakistanis, Ibans and Kadazans, and others who have come together to make this land their home.

To unite these various racial groups together under one national identity and consciousness is no easy task. But whether Malaysia succeeds as a nation, which also means whether the youths of this country can lead a peaceful and happy life, will depend on whether this process of instilling Malaysian consciousness and identity among the people is succeeding. What worries me and many Malaysians is that with every passing year there are fewer and fewer people who feel, think and act as Malaysians.

The racial flare-up, riots and bloodshed in Penang, Perlis, Kedah and North Perak last November, ostensibly over the devaluation of the old dollars, should be warning to all Malaysians how brittle and fragile our racial harmony is.

The only guarantee against Malaysia breaking apart on the rocks of racialism is for the majority of Malaysians to completely Malaysianise their thinking an outlook, and regard themselves as Malaysians more than as Malays, Chinese, Indians, etc. This is an important task which youth organisations can make a great contribution. They must make it the foremost programme of their activities, to ensure that Malaysia does not crack up from racial conflict. Youth organisations must consciously, deliberately and systematically aim at Malaysianising youths of our country.

Towards this end, they can do, among other things, the following:

(a) Dissolve all communal and racially-based youth bodies.

(b) Organise functions and activities at all levels of the nation to bring about maximum contact and interchange of ideas and views between the youths of the various racial groups, so as to break down the present segregation in social life,

(c) System instill Malaysian consciousness and identity among the youths;

(d) Sponsor studies to find the root causes of racial outlooks and attitudes, and then taking suitable steps to tear down racial prejudice and bias.

Audited on 2021-04-05