"Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We're the ones we've been waiting for. We're the change that we seek," Barack Obama once said.
In our generation, one Malaysian man has worn many hats in a short span of time: the son of a middle-class family, a student, a gamer, a law graduate, a part-time lecturer, a researcher, a debate trainer, a part-time karaoke-r (it's true), a politician, a minister, and a cloud kitchen co-founder. His name is Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman.
You all know his story—he first came into prominence in the country's wider political scene when he made his debut contesting the 2018 general election (GE14) and was elected to the Parliament. Shortly after, he was appointed the Minister of Youth and Sports, Malaysia's youngest ever federal minister since Merdeka, in the Pakatan Harapan (PH) government. At 25 years old, he was also the youngest cabinet minister to be appointed.
Young but driven, he always dreamed of making a change. They say you shouldn't do anything without a plan, well, he had plenty, including spearheading the historic passing of the Constitution (Amendment) Bill 2019 for the Undi18 Bill, to lower the minimum voting age from 21 years old to 18 years old, with almost unanimous support. But in February 2020, in one swift Sheraton Move, the PH government fell, effectively removing him from his ministerial position and disrupted his plans, among other things.
At this point, he had already experienced plenty of put-downs and name-calling, in large part due to his age. Instead of throwing in the towel and calling his political career a day, he did what any other determined change seeker/maker would do—he founded his own party, the Malaysian United Democratic Alliance (MUDA), Malaysia's first youth-based party, in September 2020.
On March 13, 2022, it was announced that MUDA had secured one seat in the Johor polls in the party's maiden election. Upon his return from Johor, Tatler caught up with the Asia's Most Influential honouree in an exclusive interview.
Tell us about yourself.
I'm the youngest son of my mother, a teacher, and my father, a labourer. I studied at the Royal Military College (RMC) before getting a Bachelor of Law from the International Islamic University of Malaysia (IIUM) and doing my Public Policy studies at the National University of Singapore.
Before joining politics, I was a part-time lecturer in IIUM, a researcher for a local think tank, and also a debate trainer. I had the privilege of travelling across 25 countries to teach debating and public speaking. Then I made the leap into politics. Today, I’m a member of the Parliament (MP) of Muar and a proud civil servant for Malaysians.
What were your parents’ initial thoughts on your decision to go into politics?
It wasn't easy because I was earning comfortably and I also received a scholarship to pursue a Master’s in Public Policy at Oxford University. Coming from a middle-class family of educators, my mother told me that I can’t let go of this opportunity, that I must take it, that this is a once in a lifetime opportunity and they’ll never be able to bear the cost of funding my studies at Oxford University.
So, it wasn’t easy convincing my parents but I’m blessed to have the most supportive parents ever who've stood by my side through thick and thin. They too have been victims of the system and threatened on many occasions to weaken my resolve. If they were a different set of parents, I’d never be where I am today.