SHAH ALAM, March 26 — Datuk Seri Mohamed Azmin Ali today sought to downplay criticisms surrounding the Election Commission’s (EC) decision to postpone Undi 18, advising critics to not make assumptions about the decision and play with sentiments.

The Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (Bersatu) Supreme Council member said that more crucial amendments are still needed before having 18-years-olds to cast their votes, adding that the Perikatan Nasional (PN) government is also in support of Undi18.

He said that the next general election is only due in 2023 and not anytime soon, as being pushed for by certain quarters.

“The EC has made the decision. Yes, it is true that we had made the amendment, we are confident that the Malaysian youths are also responsible youths, they are responsible citizens. They should be part of the mainstream to participate in a democratic process and that was the reason why we brought this amendment to Parliament and we passed it in Parliament.

But it doesn’t end there. There is a process. A lot of other provisions need to be amended. And when we made the amendment on that principle, (it was) with the hope that for the next election, they would be able to participate. The next election is in 2023. Who promised to have it in 2020 or 2021? They are the ones who are forcing us to do the election in 2020 or 2021,” the Senior Minister in charge of the Ministry of International Trade and Industry (Miti) said when met after an event here.

He stopped short of naming the parties, but PN ally Umno especially has been making heightened calls for a snap election to be held soon.

In January, Umno president Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said the party wishes for a snap election to be held in spite of the Covid-19 pandemic and questioned as to why Malaysia is the only country afraid of holding a general election during a pandemic when over 30 nations elsewhere have done so.

Speaking at Bagan Datoh Umno’s annual general meeting in Perak, he also said Umno will contest in all of its traditional parliamentary and state seats that the party won in the last general election held on May 9, 2018.

Pontian Umno chief and Johor Mentri Besar Datuk Hasni Mohammad also supported calls for a snap general election, citing Singapore, New Zealand, and the United States as examples where elections were held despite having to deal with Covid-19.

He claimed that holding elections would create a majority government and bring political stability to Malaysia, adding that he has faced difficulties in administering the state due to the slim majority of the present Johor state government.

“There are several provisions as I was made to understand needs amendments, such as the voter registration for example. That is among the things that need to be amended. Then at the state level too, amendments need to be made because if we want to allow the change only at the Parliament level and not state assembly, that won’t do too, as it has to go to the state level.

“So, I was made to understand that to date, only one state has undergone the process. So don’t blame us. I mean, we were the ones who brought the amendment on that principle, but the decision to allow the youths to be involved in a democratic process has been done, but some legal amendments on election provisions also need to be done to fulfill the amendment at the federal level,” he added.

Azmin said that this is especially when an 18-year-old wishes to contest for a state assembly seat.

“Yes, that is for voting. If you want to nominate a candidate, for example, voters are 18 and the candidate is also 18, then when it concerns state seats, it has to go back to the states. So I think the EC has explained. Don’t make assumptions that play with sentiments. I feel that is not fair, as PN upholds the huge contributions of the youths. They are also responsible for ensuring the democratic process in the nation goes well, and we should allow the process to take place,” he added.

Yesterday, the EC announced that it has decided to postpone Undi18 and the accompanying automatic voter registration, citing Covid-19 for causing delays to its implementation.

The EC said it needed to evaluate new obstacles and persistent issues as well as account for the various movement control orders (MCO) that are in place.

Earlier this year, the move to give 18-year-olds the ballot had fallen into doubt after a deputy minister suggested that Malaysian youth are not ready to participate in voting.

Federal lawmakers crossed the political aisle and voted unanimously to amend the Federal Constitution in July 2019 and lower the minimum voting age from 21 to 18.

Undi18 can only take effect once it has been gazetted, which was scheduled for the second half of this year.

Earlier today, Muar MP Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman slammed the EC's decision, saying it shows the government does not want the country’s youth to be involved in the nation-building process.

In a statement, he also warned that the decision to disenfranchise the youth may result in backlash from older voters sympathetic to the cause in the upcoming general election.

He said that the decision to implement Undi18 was historical, as it was the first time a constitutional amendment to lower the voting age from 21 to 18 was agreed by all political parties.

“Undi18 was not my own doing. Undi18 was an effort by everyone. Government, Opposition, NGOs and the youth who wanted their right to vote.

“When I proposed it and campaigned hard for it, it was for the youth, not for politics," he added.

He later questioned Religious Affairs Minister Datuk Zulkifli Mohamad al-Bakri’s silence over the EC's action even as the minister had previously consulted the effort to lower the voting age to 18.