The enormous number of first-time voters at GE13 and the explosion of Malaysia's young population have contributed to a question that concerns both parties. Barisan Nasional and Pakatan Rakyat have both made pitches to youth in their manifestos. But who is better for the young?
The premise is rather simple. Pakatan Rakyat promises education-related giveaways. Barisan Nasional promises expanded education and fostering the growth of business opportunities for the young.Pakatan's manifesto is silent on 'youth', but offers two sets of policies clearly aimed at the young. The first would be to sack one million foreign workers in low-wage industries, and then hand over their jobs to Malaysians – including early school leavers. This would favour low-wage jobs in an increasingly sophisticated economy.
Pakatan also promises free education, including subsidies for cost-of-living expenses – all the way through university – and abolishing PTPTN. There is no indication of how this will be funded. Perhaps the Opposition will be able to pay for all of this, but as the rest of the manifesto promises enormous increases in spending, this will result in a rise the national deficit and rob future generations and current economic growth.
Pakatan Rakyat has spent five years accusing BN of using goodies to gain votes, yet that is precisely what they have on offer for youth.
Barisan Nasional's approach is less centred on goodies and more intent on producing the next generation of Malaysian business. BN offers an approach that requires youth to invest in their education while still providing the tools that the young will need to move on to becoming economically successful.
BN has proposed strengthening education while still making it available to the poor. BN allocated RM6.4 billion in 2012-2013 for BR1M, 1Malaysia Book Vouchers and schooling aid. BN has allocated RM1.7 billion to upgrading technical schools, and is promising to train the next generation of high-tech workers by increasing the emphasis on science and maths – long a Barisan fixation.
Yet BN is clearly concerned with what happens after schooling is complete. Thus, BN's manifesto also promises funding, training and incentives for start-up commercial ventures centred on young people, along with incubators that can nurture tomorrow's leaders. These promises follow BN's track record, including the New Entrepreneur Foundation, or RM200 million fund (SAY 1Malaysia) for training young people who have fallen through the cracks.
It is also notable that BN has wisely costed each of its measures, while promising to reduce the deficit. Favouring today's youth will not come at tomorrow's cost.
BN's focus is on giving youth the tools they need to grow, learn and enter the markets when they leave school, so that they have a chance to do better in life, create jobs and contribute to growth.
Pakatan, meanwhile, is appealing to the youth that the Opposition pact should be their choice. Their own policies show otherwise.