Malaysian Bar: Delay in implementing Undi18 Act will have lasting effects on governance

Malaysian Bar president AG Kalidas speaks during a press conference at Malaysia Bar council building March 13,2021. — Picture by Ahmad Zamzahuri
Malaysian Bar president AG Kalidas speaks during a press conference at Malaysia Bar council building March 13,2021. — Picture by Ahmad Zamzahuri

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KUALA LUMPUR, March 30 — Delaying the lowering of voting age would have serious ramifications on democracy as youths will continue to be disenfranchised even as the outcome of elections will affect them, the Malaysian Bar warned today. 

Its president AG Kalidas said the body is deeply concerned about the Elections Commission’s call to delay implementing the law that would have allowed 18-year-olds to vote and register new voters automatically, criticising the justification given as nonsensical and unconvincing.

“The delay in implementing Undi-18 and automatic voter registration may mean the continued disenfranchisement of the youth vote,” Kalidas said in a statement.

“Given the very fine political balance in the country at the moment, the impact of the youth vote on the potential outcome of the next General Election cannot be underestimated,” the new Bar president added. 

“The failure to implement Undi-18 and automatic voter registration may have long-lasting repercussions for the governance of our country.”

Parliament had passed the Constitution (Amendment) Act 2019 in July 2019 to reduce the voting age eligibility from 21 to 18 years by amending Article 119(1)(a) of the Federal Constitution after it received broad bipartisan support from both sides of the House of Representatives.

It was gazetted on September 10, 2019. Several EC officials estimated that the Act, which would have approximately added up to 1.2 million new voters once the changes come into effect according to some political analysts’ estimates, could be implemented by mid-year.

But in a statement that surprised many, Election Commission chairman Datuk Abdullah Ghani Salleh said on March 25 that implementing the lowering of the minimum voting age to 18 and automatic voter registration could only be accomplished after September 1, 2022. 

He cited constraints and difficulties brought about by the movement control order that began in March 2020.

The Bar said the justification given was “unacceptable”, citing the Deputy EC chairman’s assurance that “there was a team working on the system and they were confident that it could be up and running by the end of June 2021.”

“This delay is unacceptable, and the reason given is simply unconvincing,” Kalidas stressed.

“At that time, Malaysia was already facing the onslaught of the Covid-19 pandemic. Being fully aware of this, the EC together with all Government agencies should have redoubled efforts to ensure that the promised deadline of June 2021 would be met,” he added.  

“The MCO could have added a few months delay to this deadline, but certainly not a delay of at least 14 months.”

The delay has sparked widespread protests including from Umno, whose leaders serve in the government of Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin.

The Bar has urged the EC to take immediate and urgent measures to expedite the implementation of Undi18.

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