Undi18 co-founder and activist Tharma Pillai on the impact of Malaysia's Undi18 Bill, the biggest lessons he has learnt, what drives him, and more

In the first edition of our rapid-fire questions series with a 2022 Gen.T honouree, we sit down with Undi18 co-founder Tharma Pillai to discuss the impact of Malaysia's Undi18 Bill, what drives him in life and why he doesn't let his ego get in the way of his life mission.

How do you think Undi18 will impact the social fabric of Malaysian youths and the way in which they view politics?

Tharma Pillai (TP): Democracy is not magic, it's a philosophy that has to be culturalised. Due to Undi18, there will be a big shift in our educational institutions. Secondary school and university students start seeing themselves as voters or soon-to-be voters. Teachers and lecturers will respond to this too. We are already seeing this shift in the increase of student activism in universities lately. I believe this process will enable current and future generations of young Malaysians to be more aware and ready to engage in the political process.

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What are some changes we can expect to see in the way policies are made/written following the passing of the Undi18 Bill?

TP: As a result of the Undi18 Bill, Malaysian youth will now become the largest electoral bloc, with 51 per cent of voters being between 18 to 40 years old. Inevitably, policymakers will value the challenges and issues faced by young Malaysians more heavily when designing policy. The question is then, what are Malaysian youth demanding from our leaders?

What are some of the biggest lessons you’ve learnt, be it from success or failure, from advocacy?

TP: Do not let your ego get in the way of the cause. Many changemakers are obsessed with feeling like a good person, instead of building a just society. However, building justice often means making tough decisions, making compromises and working with people you don't like.

Off the top of your head, what are three things that drive you?

TP: Love, legacy, and learning. I love Malaysia, this is my home, and I want to make this a better nation for me, my family, my children, and my grandchildren. I want to leave a legacy that I can be proud of. We only have one life, we might as well make it a meaningful one. I want to keep learning and growing. That's why I keep pushing myself to take up new challenges to continue to evolve as an activist and leader.

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What’s next for you?

TP: I always say, Undi18 is just the beginning. Lowering the voting age is merely the start of the journey to fix Malaysia's democracy and systems. We want to build a genuine grassroots movement for democracy and good governance among youth across Malaysia, not just the Klang Valley. And we continue to advocate for systemic reforms to make Malaysia more democratic.

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