Malaysia has drafted 85,000 teenagers for a new mandatory national service programme, telling reluctant recruits not to be “softies”.
Young people will find out from tomorrow whether they have been randomly chosen by a computer search that used quotas based on gender, ethnicity and location.
The draftees participate in three months’ basic military training as well as community service and will take lessons in leadership and responsibility starting in February, defence minister Najib Razak said today.
“There is no escape,” Najib said. “The programme will not only benefit the nation, but it will benefit participants personally.”
Officials say the plan will help stem religious extremism and instil patriotism in mostly-Muslim Malaysia’s young people. But critics fear it will be used to indoctrinate participants with pro-government rhetoric and steer them away from a fundamentalist Islamic opposition party.
Recruits – who were drawn from a pool of 480,000 people born in 1986 – will be placed in 42 camps.
Responding to doubts by some parents and teenagers over whether the programme was necessary, Najib said officials have planned a “productive” programme that would not be be ”a waste of time”.
The programme would be shorter and would less physically demanding compared with national service training in many other countries.
Najib cited the example of neighbouring Singapore where every able-bodied male must do two or two and a half years full-time military duty. They then undergo annual training for 13 years.
“Singaporeans don’t complain,” Najib said. “Don’t tell me Malaysians are such softies to be complaining.”
Most of the participants have just graduated from high school and those who plan to further their studies will have the next several months free. But many resent the national service plan because it will prevent them from taking up temporary jobs or travelling on holiday.