‘Serve here’: Floods put Malaysian youth party in focus | Political news

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia – Malaysia’s worst floods in a decade claimed 54 lives, leaving more than 70,000 people homeless in seven states in the Southeast Asian nation after torrential rains in December and early January.

Western states, including the capital Kuala Lumpur and the wealthy state of Selangor, were worst hit after a month of single-day rains, but about seven states across the country were affected.

Faced with a seemingly slow official response, Malaysians scrambled to help each other.

On Twitter, hashtags such as #DaruratBanjir (flood emergency) and #KerajaanPembunuh (murder government) started trending.

Flood evacuee Amin Mohamed told Al Jazeera that there was no indication that government agencies should help, and his family was rescued by a group of kayak volunteers.

“Without any warning, we didn’t have time to pack anything. We just went to the highlands to wait for help, but no one came,” said a resident of the Selangor state capital, Shah Alam. “Thank goodness a few kayakers came early in the morning.”

A family stands on the first-floor balcony of a three-storey terrace house, watching the brown floodwaters that engulfed the street and engulfed their homeA family in Taman Sri Muda watches the floodwaters from their balcony.Volunteers rush to help as government is accused of being slow [Fazry Ismail/EPA]

The flood is the worst since then December 2014 At least 21 people were killed at the time, and then-Prime Minister Najib Razak was criticized for taking too long to deal with the disaster when he returned from a golf vacation in Hawaii.

This time, Ismail Sabri, the country’s third prime minister since 2018, under fire Because his PN government was slow to respond. It took 36 hours for the authorities to deploy search and rescue missions to the affected areas and provide the victims with basic supplies such as food.

‘spontaneous’

In Taman Sri Muda, the hardest-hit community in Shah Alam, a group of kayakers organised a spontaneous operation when a nearby river burst its banks and the water level rose to at least one metre , to rescue the family trapped on the roof. .

Adib Harith, 22, gathered 20 people to help eight kayaks and boats after seeing a tweet about a stranded family in desperate need of medical help.

“It was a spontaneous incident. I saw someone tweeting that her family was trapped and they asked for someone to come and rescue them because some of them were sick,” he said, adding that his team rescued them in December nearly 200 people.

Several gurdwaras, or Sikh temples, around the capital were also mobilized, with volunteers cooking hot meals for flood-hit families and distributing supplies across the country.

Jasbir Kaur, vice-president of Gurdwara Sahib Petaling Jaya, said the temple began its rescue operation on December 19 with volunteers from all walks of life helping.

“There was no plan, it was Malaysians who came together to support the victims with the aim of feeding and helping anyone affected by the floods,” she told Al Jazeera.

Among the volunteer group beyond are many young Malaysians.

“It was a horrific experience. We had thousands of young people, not just Sikh youth, but all the young people around the Klang Valley.

But despite what the ruling party lacks, the disaster has provided an opportunity for the recently registered youth party, Muda, to show its mettle.

President Muda and former youth and sports minister Syed Saddiq were at the scene with volunteers from the party to help with the rescue operation.

He shared his experience on social media.

“We can’t wait for the authorities when people are starving and waiting for help to arrive. When we go down to the hardest hit areas, we can hear people crying for help in total darkness. Victims are stuck on rooftops for days waiting for help,” he said. said in an interview with Al Jazeera.

Muda successfully raised $520,000 in cash for its flood relief efforts, using the funds for logistics, cleaning supplies and supplies for those affected. The party’s goal is to provide about $71 apiece to 300 of the poorest households and distribute school supplies and replacements for appliances such as refrigerators and cookers destroyed by floods.

“More important than brand”

Muda co-founder Dr Thanussha Francis Xavier said the floods highlighted the need for governments to improve their disaster response capacity, with both the National Disaster Management Authority (NADMA) and state governments seen as being slow to respond to the crisis.

Following the criticism, Prime Minister Ismail pledged $335 million in flood aid and aid to the victims, including $2,000 to the next of kin of the victims.

“To this day, the coordination of who is leading this crisis remains vague. It is unacceptable that NADMA abdicates responsibility for managing the crisis without taking any consequences for it,” she told Al Jazeera.

Two weeks later, the cleanup continues, with damaged furniture and piles of rubbish littering streets in the worst-hit areas.

Three Malaysian soldiers in camouflage uniforms clear debris after floods devastated the Hulu Langat area near Kuala Lumpur Troops are deployed in some areas as homes are flooded and landslides cut roads [Fazry Ismail/EPA]

Analysts say political competition could complicate matters.

NADMA is under the PN-led federal government, while Selangor is run by rival alliance Pakatan Harapan.

“Like it or not, disaster management or the government’s response to natural disasters is political,” BowerGroupAsia director Adib Zalkapli told Al Jazeera. “In order to score points, the politicians have to get the flood victims back to normal, and the competition among politicians is fierce, especially in Selangor, which is a Pakatan Harapan stronghold.”

In what was deemed a government inaction, Muda used social media to raise funds, volunteers, 4×4 vehicles and boats.

“This is bigger and deeper than any political strategy or branding,” said Dr Sanusa, who is also the party’s deputy chairman. “We realize that if we don’t act quickly, people will be hungry for another day. Helping those in need, especially during a crisis, should be everyone’s political brand.”

The floods come as Malaysia prepares for elections in May 2023, but is expected to be held as early as this year.

For the first time, 18-year-olds are allowed to vote – a law support Syed Saddiq’s struggle to win the hearts of the country’s youth during his tenure. The move means an estimated 3.8 million people will be able to vote (in the last ballot in 2018, the number of voters was 14.9 million).

Analysts say that while not all young people share the same vision for the country or a commitment to democratic reform — in fact, they appear to be as divided as older generations — they grow up in a more dynamic and engaged society. era of civil society.

“Apart from short-term electoral fluctuations, youth remain critical to political change, especially in cultivating new political sensitivities and initiatives that affect not only their peers but society as a whole,” said Meredith Weiss, an expert on Malaysian politics, wrote in a paper this month at the Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore.

“Youth alone cannot save or revive shaky Malaysian democracy. But they play a key role in doing so, and over time Malaysia has emerged better positioned to democratise governance as more people expect beyond the status quo of unfreedom.”

@syedsaddiq I’m volunteering and we try to have some fun in between. Volunteering is fun. Part of the fun. Become part of MUDA. #fyp ♬ original sound – hi

Muda’s flood response caught the attention of the authorities.

Police said they would investigate volunteers who descended to flood relief areas without prior approval, while a smear campaign emerged on social media in which several videos of alleged Muda members drinking and partying were shared in an attempt to discredit the party.

Muda denied the allegations, and Syed Saddiq said he hoped the party’s commitment during the floods would be seen as an example of how politics can be different.

The 29-year-old MP, who represents the southern town of Muar in parliament, hopes the party can demonstrate a new approach to politics in a multi-ethnic country where membership of some parties is based solely on race and all politicians are The Stripes often resort to race and religion to win support.

“Muda is committed to nation building, we only focus on solving the nation’s problems. We are here to serve all Malaysians, regardless of race and religion, that’s why there is no limit to joining the party. Gaining power through religion and emotions only endangers the nation harmony,” Said said.

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