THE 14th general election showed how important the ballots of young voters and the influence of social media can be in determining outcomes.
Though young, most of the new voters have higher political awareness and even greater expectations from the candidates they voted in and the government they helped form with their mandate.
A group of them have started an online initiative called OpenPromises to record the promises made by these politicians and to see whether they are true to their word or merely paying lip service.
OpenPromises, which has its own website and Facebook page, is a project led by 25-year-old Kuching-born Nazreen Mohamad, and it went online seven months ago before the election.
Manned by like-minded friends nationwide, OpenPromises has picked up pace in terms of participation and feedback from voters wanting to keep close tabs on the performances of their elected representatives and the new government.
Nazreen, of Malay and Chinese parentage, voted for the first time in GE14. He said there was now rising awareness among voters below 30 for better governance.
“I think the political awareness of this group is a lot higher now. I met many first-time voters, who admitted they did not care before but are now trying to read up more on the political situation in the country.
“Through OpenPromises, we hope to get more ordinary people involved in the democratic process instead of relying solely on politicians. If we work together, we can improve the country in our own way.”
According to him, OpenPromises got its inspiration from TrudeauMeter, a website tracking the performance of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau against a list of 226 promises he made before winning the election in 2015.
TrudeauMeter itself was inspired by activists in Egypt, who upon the election of their first democratic president Mohamed Morsi in 2012, started a Morsi Meter to track his performance.
Although the concept of promise trackers is not new, Nazreen said Malaysians are now open to such a concept – thanks to digital technology.
He explained that while the TrudeauMeter focused on only one person (Justin Trudeau), OpenPromises aims to keep track of promises made by not only Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad but also all the 222 parliamentarians.
Tracking politicians’ promises
With the state election coming up within the next three years, he said an OpenPromises Facebook group focusing on Sarawak has been set up for voters to give their feedback.
Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari Tun Openg and Pakatan Harapan Sarawak chairman Chong Chieng Jen are among the leaders featured on an OpenPromises website page dedicated to politicians. Visitors can find the list of promises made by a particular politician by clicking on the latter’s mugshot.
Nazreen said just after GE14, OpenPromises was among those who reminded Dr Mahathir of a promise made by Pakatan Harapan that a Prime Minister cannot hold any other portfolio. This resulted in Dr Mahathir dropping the Education Minister portfolio a day after he named himself to the post.
OpenPromises has also put up a reminder on its Facebook page regarding a promise by Nurul Izzah Anwar to bring English rock band Radiohead to Malaysia if Pakatan won the election.
The Permatang Pauh member of parliament has reiterated her commitment to fulfil this promise.
“After Pakatan Harapan won the GE14 and formed the new government, we got a lot more engagements, especially on our Facebook page. Besides myself and the team members, many others are also sharing with us the promises they tracked from the politicians,” Nazreen said.
“In fact, our postings are not just about politicians’ promises but also anything about governance and politics. We try to maintain neutrality and we want to engage people in discussions online.
“It’s our belief too that this website is viable for people who want to do more organised research – maybe journalists or NGOs who want more data on some politicians or even politicians who want to check on their fellow politicians.”
Nazreen said the next step for OpenPromises is to update its database and come up with a summary on how the elected representatives have been performing so far.
The self-taught programmer, who graduated with a degree in political science (international relations) from the University of Nottingham Malaysia, is being assisted by a group of friends, all under 30, and also by contributors, including one aged above 60.
“Our long-term goal is to make an impact. By making the process more transparent, we hope to make the elected representatives more aware of their track records and improve themselves,” he said.
“There is higher chance the YBs will follow up on their promises if they are recorded. If the promises were just reported in a news article, the information might be there but it’s really hard for you to link, track and see the actual progress.
“This is part of political education. The outcome of the recent general elections really led to a lot of people becoming more aware and educated about politics in the country,” he noted.