KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 1 — Both Barisan Nasional (BN) and Pakatan Rakyat (PR) need to present fresh faces in their lineup of candidates for this year's general election in order to attract the rising number of new voters, say political analysts.
They agreed with arguments for both coalitions to drop veteran politicians who are waning in popularity and carrying with them political baggage, or risk a backlash from voters who are tired of underperforming and scandal-ridden MPs.
File photo of voters lining up to cast their ballots in the Sarawak state elections in 2011. The general election this year may see BN and PR put up more fresh faces.
"It is a must for BN that they present a new line of candidates to replace the old ones who should have retired. If not it will stop the public from giving their support," said Universiti Putra Malaysia (UPM) political scientist Professor Dr Jayum Jawan.
"For BN, the focus naturally will be on the states which are currently ruled by PR. We will see a lot of changes (in candidates) there, especially in Selangor and Penang," offered Asri Salleh, political science lecturer at Universiti Teknologi Mara (UiTM) Terengganu.
New voters make up one in five among Malaysia 13.1 million registered voters, with a total of 2.9 million registering between this year and 2008, when the last general election was held.
This new breed of voters, armed with free access to information through the Internet and social media, will most likely be more demanding of the MPs who can relate to them through forward-thinking policies and not rely on the old politics playbook.
Both Asri and Jayum also agreed that unlike BN, PR's list of candidates will need to be shuffled for the next polls because most of those who contested in 2008 were parachute candidates brought in from out of their constituencies.
Asri gave the example of PKR's Balik Pulau MP Yusmadi Yusoff, who he claimed was one of the many idealists fielded by PR who had failed to warm up to the locals.
"The eyes of the public have been opened ... national issues, although still a big part, can no longer guarantee a party's win. Candidates play a more important factor," said Dr Azizuddin Mohd Sani, a political analyst from Universiti Utara Malaysia (UUM).
Azizuddin pointed to the concept of "winnable candidates" which is constantly on the lips of BN leaders lately, signalling that candidates are now more prized for their ability to win seats rather than for their seniority and political clout.
He gave the example of former MCA president Datuk Seri Ong Tee Keat, who he claimed is loved by his Pandan constituents but not by his party's leadership, which will present a dilemma to the party in Election 2013.
Recently, Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) Consultation and Corruption Prevention Panel chief Datuk Johan Jaafar had proposed that election candidates be vetted by the agency to ensure that they are "clean" from corruption.
With Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak throwing his backing behind the suggestion, many now feel that being cleared by the MACC will boost a candidate's winning chance.
Therefore, Jayum urged BN to drop its veteran politicians, pointing out that they carry a lot of political baggage and will be under the scrutiny of the MACC, causing concern for members of the coalition.
"If they are not dropped, they will be liabilities for BN. If Najib is brave, he will replace them with new faces," Jayum said.
However, Azizuddin and Asri disagreed, saying said that it will be hard to unseat veteran lawmakers who will still be kept by the coalitions, especially BN, since they carry with them immense political influence and support.
"When these old politicans are dropped, they themselves will lose their influence," Jayum said, urging Najib to not fear sabotage if the old names are not picked to contest.
BN leaders contacted by The Malaysian Insider could not disclose the number of fresh faces who will contest in Election 2013, but promised that there will be new names in the candidates list which is currently being vetted by BN chairman Najib.
"In every election there must be new faces," said MCA president Datuk Seri Dr Chua Soi Lek.
Johor Umno information chief Datuk Samsol Bari Jamali and Gerakan secretary-general Teng Chang Yeow stressed that a strong candidate criteria is a much more important issue for the coalition than age.
The BN leaders explained that young leaders in BN are groomed to replace veteran politicians when they retire.
"Young candidates are important as successors, and one of the responsibilities of political parties is to get the successors ready, for the sake of the party's future," Samsol Bari said.
On the other hand, PKR has made it clear that the party recognised the importance of the youth vote and will field the most number of young candidates in comparison with its PR partners PAS and the DAP in the polls.
Young leaders will make up at least 35 per cent of PKR's candidates list for the general election as the party moves aggressively to beat BN in the crucial contest for the youth vote, said secretary-general Datuk Saifuddin Nasution Ismail.
Wanita PKR chief Zuraida Kamaruddin told The Malaysian Insider that PKR aims to put up many young men and women as possible because of their youthful outlook, which will distinguish them from BN candidates.
"We give priority to the young ones ... The youths bring with them fresh new ideas and good administration skills," Zuraida said.
However, Zuraida explained that besides two to three major names, PR will not be making drastic changes in their candidate choices considering the young age of the coalition.
The race for the youth and middle ground votes is expected to be neck-and-neck between the ruling BN and the federal opposition as over 80 per cent of Malaysia's 29 million population are 45 years and below while at least half are aged below 25 years.
Najib has been readying his troops in BN and during the Umno general assembly last month, the prime minister sent out a clear message to party members to tackle these key demographics to secure their hold over Putrajaya.
In his opening speech at the assembly, the Umno president led thousands of members into vowing to do everything in their power to win over the hearts and minds of Malaysians.
He pointed out that today's electorate is significantly younger than before, and smarter "in being able to distinguish between what is real and what is not".
The BN chairman had also privately warned party leaders not to be over-reliant on the rural, ethnic Malay voters and move instead to the middle ground, warning that they could go the way of US presidential candidate Mitt Romney if they rested on their laurels.