Opposition MPs lukewarm about letting 18-year-olds vote

Should the motion to lower the voting age get passed in the Dewan Rakyat, 3.8 million more people are expected to be added into the electoral roll. — Picture by Shafwan Zaidon
Should the motion to lower the voting age get passed in the Dewan Rakyat, 3.8 million more people are expected to be added into the electoral roll. — Picture by Shafwan Zaidon

KUALA LUMPUR, June 30 — With Malaysian politics still remaining deeply partisan, Opposition MPs refused to explicitly back a government proposal to lower the voting age from 21 to 18.

Several Opposition MPs polled by Malay Mail, though expressing keenness on the idea, said that they needed more information to be convinced to support the motion to amend the Federal Constitution, which requires approval from two-thirds majority of the Lower House, when it is tabled in the upcoming Parliament meeting next month.

Pakatan Harapan (PH) currently does not command the needed support in the Dewan Rakyat.

“Personally, I have no problem with it either way. But to pass the Bill, it requires the amendment of the Federal Constitution Article 119(1)(a),” said Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS) lawmaker Datuk Seri Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar, the former minister of natural resources and environment.

“The amendment requires a two-third majority, which the government does not have. They are required to consult and discuss matters with all MPs in Parliament, but as far as I know, they have not formally approached us for our views,” he said.

The MP for Santubong from PBB accused government MPs of not doing their job, and sending their staff to mitigate important matters.

“This is not the 1980s or 1990s where you ram new ideas down everyone's throat, regardless of how good your intentions are.

“When their members were in Opposition, they opposed everything, even the best of ideas, laws and policies. Now, if truly they are reformist, behave like one. Approach everybody,” he added.

PH failed its attempt last April to amend the Federal Constitution on the status of Sabah and Sarawak in the Malaysian federation, after MPs from Sarawak’s ruling coalition GPS and other Opposition lawmakers abstained from voting.

Pasir Salak MP Datuk Seri Tajuddin Abdul Rahman echoed Wan Junaidi’s sentiments in agreeing with lowering the voting age.

The Umno lawmaker said the country is for the young and they therefore must have a say in how it is governed.

However, Tajuddin said he felt there needs to be awareness so that the young aren’t easily manipulated by emotions, borne out of hatred and ignorance.

“PH’s popularity has dropped. They took advantage of the young, promised all kinds of things but couldn’t deliver.

“(Datuk Seri) Anwar (Ibrahim) promised to abolish PTPTN (National Higher Education Fund Corporation) right after they won, but it’s still there,” said Tajuddin, referring to the PKR president.

The former deputy minister of agro-based and agriculture industry warned MPs against the syok sendiri (self-aggrandisement) culture, where instead of representing the young, they represent their own interests.

“Guide the young to make the right decisions and not lead them astray emotionally with racial sentiments. They must be trained to be mature so whatever they decide on is done rationally,” he added.

Should the motion to lower the voting age get passed in the Dewan Rakyat, 3.8 million more people are expected to be added into the electoral roll.

Currently, voters aged between 21 and 39 make up around 40 per cent of the Malaysian electorate, twice the number of voters over 60 years old, according to the Election Commission’s (EC) data.

EC chairman Azhar Azizan Harun confirmed on June 25 that in the first quarter of the year, 3.8 million youths have yet to register as voters despite reaching eligibility.

PAS vice president Datuk Idris Ahmad said he felt that the EC and the government should focus on making Malaysians automatic voters upon turning 21 instead of lowering the voting age.

“By right, the government or EC should change the way people register to vote and make it an automatic registration when you turn 21,” Idris said when contacted.

“Now we have an issue of people actually having to come to the realisation that they must register first, and only then can they vote,” he said, blaming what he labelled as a lembap (slow) process of voter registration as the reason why many are not interested to vote.

“So the government's focus shouldn't be on lowering the voting age from 21 to 18, but make all 21-year-olds automatic voters. And then when the time comes, all they have to do is go to the polling stations and cast their vote,” the Bukit Gantang MP added.

Former Defence Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein appeared unsure if 18-year-olds are indeed ready for the responsibility of choosing their federal and state representatives.

The MP for Sembrong felt that youths today are easily influenced by what they read on social media, and expressed doubt if they can make informed decisions, given the influx of inaccurate content online.

“Nowadays, people, especially the youth, are too influenced by social media. They need to check what is out there to verify the truth. (Content on) hate and divide seems to be what  people like to read. Whether it’s true or not is secondary.

“No strong feelings, but unsure what is the impact to the country in the long run. Hopefully it’s for the good,” the Umno MP said, when asked on his thoughts about the maturity level among 18-year-olds.

In Malaysia, those aged 18 and above are recognised as adults under Malaysian law, and are able to obtain driving licences, sign legally binding contracts, and marry without further adult consent.

PH announced its plan last September to lower the legal voting age.

Other countries that have since lowered their voting age to 18 include the US, UK, India, Iran, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand, Cambodia, and Australia.

Singapore’s legal voting age is also 21.