PETALING JAYA, July 17 — Pakatan Harapan (PH) may claim credit for the ambitious move to lower voting age from 21 to 18 but the ultimate benefit may accrue to Islamist Opposition party PAS, according to political watchers.
They told The Straits Times that while all parties stood to gain from the larger electoral pool, the country’s ethnic groupings could skew these towards some more than others.
“As the global Islamisation wave intensifies and as PAS has been unrelenting in its efforts including towards the very young, it is only expected that PAS will be the chief beneficiary of lowering voting age to 18,” Singapore Institute of International Affairs senior fellow Oh Ei Sun was quoted as saying
The report said DAP stalwart Lim Kit Siang had noted that the move was akin to political suicide as it will add an army of voters in the next general election who will be anti-establishment
However, he said it will spur PH to improve and use the unhappiness as motivation.
The report also noted that less than a quarter of the Malay voters chose PH at the last general election, pointing out that a surge of voters from the community would dilute support for the ruling coalition.
It said the birth rate for Bumiputera that include Malays and natives, who also largely voted against PH, is about double that of other communities.
Independent opinion pollster Merdeka Center estimated that the proportion of Bumiputera voters will rise from 62 to 64.1 per cent with the voting age set at 18.
“Insiders say that Malay party Umno, which is the country’s largest party by membership, is confident of benefiting as it has agreed to team up with PAS in a ‘Malay unity’ pact to topple PH,” said the report, adding that this was despite the Umno-led Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition losing young voters at last year’s polls.
The report also quoted Rome-based John Cabot University’s associate professor of political science Bridget Welsh as saying BN won 45.5 per cent of votes from voters aged 21 to 30 in 2013, but this fell by more than a third in 2018.
“PH picked up 46.1 per cent of support from this cohort and PAS took 25.6 per cent. Significantly, this was the Islamist party’s largest share across all age groups.
“But the tide has turned since then, with by-elections this year showing 40.7 per cent of those under 30 voting for the Umno-PAS alliance. Of these, over half were Malays,” said Welsh in the report.
She added that the surge was more than 20 percentage points among this crucial ethnic group, which forms the majority in more than half of the country’s 222 parliamentary wards.
“For PAS and Umno, given the pattern of young voters favouring the opposition historically, supporting the amendment is largely in their political interest. This is particularly the case for PAS, which has won over more support among youth in recent elections,” said Welsh.
Parliament voted unanimously to amend the Federal Constitution and lower the voting age from 21 to 18 yesterday.