Geo-Economics and Politics

Meet 4 young leaders changing politics in Asia

Change-maker: Syed Saddiq Abdul Rahman, Minister of Youth and Sports of Malaysia Image: REUTERS/Olivia Harris

Sean Fleming
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This article is part of: World Economic Forum on ASEAN

From Thailand's answer to Emmanuel Macron to Grace Natalie, who runs a new political party for young people in Indonesia, we look at four inspiring young leaders who are changing the shape of politics ahead of our ASEAN meeting in Ha Noi this month.


Grace Natalie, Chairperson, Indonesian Solidarity Party

The leader of the Indonesian Solidarity Party (PSI), Grace Natalie, poses for a photograph in her office at the party's headquarters in Jakarta, Indonesia March 19, 2018. Picture taken March 19, 2018. REUTERS/Darren Whiteside - RC138C1E4E40
Image: REUTERS/Darren Whiteside

A former journalist and TV news anchor, Grace Natalie is one of the co-founders of the Indonesian Solidarity Party (Partai Solidaritas Indonesia, or PSI). She is also the party leader. Already dubbed the "millennials’ party", the PSI is one of four new parties hoping to make an impact in Indonesia’s 2019 elections. One of its main hopes is that it can appeal to Indonesia’s youth – one-third of the country’s electorate is aged between 17 and 24. Two-thirds of PSI’s 400,000 members are younger than 35.

The party may have its work cut out, though, as voter turnout among young Indonesians is way below the national average, according to a survey conducted by the University of Western Australia, which – in a polling of 258 people – concluded that while 90% of people aged 30+ voted in the 2014 general election, less than half of those aged 17-29 cast their ballot.

PSI has committed itself to doing things differently, from top to bottom. Rather than expensive offices, it conducts its business from members’ houses and relies on donations and crowd-funding. It has even live-streamed interviews with potential electoral candidates on Facebook and YouTube.

“No other party is offering what we are in terms of transparency,” Natalie told a Reuters’ reporter.


Nurul Izzah Anwar, Vice-President, People’s Justice Party

Nurul Izzah Anwar, a daughter of opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, arrives at their party headquarters in Petaling Jaya outside Kuala Lumpur May 7, 2013. Anwar vowed on Tuesday to lead a
Image: REUTERS/Bazuki Muhammad

Already a member of parliament, and vice-president of the People’s Justice Party (known locally as Keadilan or PKR), Nurul Izzah Anwar is also tipped to take over as party leader.

Perhaps unsurprisingly given her political pedigree (both her parents have held high office) Anwar can already point to significant achievements. She was instrumental in establishing the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement Caucus, as well as the Women's Caucus. The latter being dedicated to supporting and increasing the participation of women in Malaysian political life.

In an interview with the Malaysian online news service, the Star, she stressed how important this issue is: “We have below 15% women represented in Parliament, and the numbers have not improved over the years. So in Keadilan, we came out with a (promise of) 30% representation in terms of candidacy and policy-making.”

She stresses the importance of providing choice, and developing the right support networks for women to feel able to participate: “Ensure the environment is conducive for them, whether it’s through flexi-work policies, or more childcare centres, because the most important thing about empowerment is the right to choose.”

Aged just 38, she advocates a programme of reform and is committed to establishing a free and open press. “Malaysia needs a very vibrant media, vibrant journalism, as a sufficient reminder to politicians to always toe the Malaysian line,” she said.


Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, Party Leader, Future Forward Party

Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, the founder of Thailand's Future Forward Party, smiles during the launch of the party in Bangkok, Thailand, March 15, 2018. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha - RC1683FA5690
Image: REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha

He’s been compared to France’s Emmanuel Macron and Canada’s Justin Trudeau, but former manufacturing CEO Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit is younger than both. Earlier this year, he founded a new party – Future Forward – and he too has his sights set on the youth vote.

According to a statement the party issued earlier this year, “Thailand has been caught in a deep political rift for more than a decade, causing enormous economic and social damage. Political polarization has hindered dialogue and consultation…”

“Every side has to come together and think,” Thanathorn said in an interview with Thai newspaper Khao Sod. “We have to heal the wounds on all sides.”

Thanathorn was recently charged with distorting facts in a video posted on Facebook, which carries a potential five-year prison sentence and demonstrates some of the challenges his new party may face when navigating its way through the Thai legal and electoral systems.

Natalie Grace and Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit are attending the World Economic Forum on ASEAN 2018.


Syed Saddiq, Youth and Sports Minister

 Syed Saddiq Abdul Rahman, Minister of Youth and Sports of Malaysia capture during the session: Open Forum: ASEAN 4.0 for All? at the World Economic Forum on ASEAN 2018 in Ha Noi, Viet Nam, September 11, 2018
Image: Flickr

He stole the show on the opening day of our ASEAN meeting, according to some who were there. And Malaysia’s minister for Youth & Sport, Syed Saddiq, has a message for young people across the continent – “think out of the box … find that ever-burning passion, push all the way and use the most unconventional means."

His appointment to high office in July made him the youngest minister to serve in the Malaysian government, aged just 25. He has a law degree from the International Islamic University, and was due to go to Oxford University to obtain a Masters in Public Policy. But he turned that opportunity down after the elections in May.

When asked by a student for advice on how to adapt to the fast-changing circumstances, Saddiq replied: "I don't believe that young people should just adapt. If it's about adaptation, I'm pretty sure I wouldn't be here today, because adaptation means you conforming to the convention and convention unfortunately usually under-privileges young people because… of age and experience.”

The energetic and charismatic politician has already won the Asia's Best Speaker award at the Asian British Parliamentary Debating Championship three times. He secured his seat in parliament when he was elected to represent the Muar constituency, beating Barisan Nasional's incumbent candidate Datuk Seri Razali Ibrahim. Razali was deputy youth and sports minister from 2009-2013.

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