KUALA LUMPUR, May 29 — Tan Sri Tommy Thomas has expressed confidence that Malaysian youths aged 18 could vote by the time the 15th general election (GE15) is held, believing that such a nationwide poll would likely only happen near the end of the five-year term when fresh polls are due.
In an interview with Astro Awani’s late night show Consider This, co-host Sharaad Kuttan had asked Thomas for his views on the Undi18 initiative — which involved constitutional amendments during Pakatan Harapan’s rule — and what appears to be the current government’s alleged backpedaling or deferring of enabling younger Malaysians to be registered voters amid the prospects of an election this year.
Thomas however indicated that the Election Commission (EC) should be able to put in place Undi18 — or actually enabling Malaysians aged 18 to 20 to be registered voters — as it should have enough time to carry it out before the next general elections.
“I think to be fair, the last eight months I heard from the government, they are prepared to work the ground to have it ready for 18-year-olds. So let’s give credit to the government.
“I don’t see why it cannot be done, because at this rate, I think the elections are most likely going to be towards the end of the five-year term, which will take us to two years’ time, May, June of 2023, that is enough time for the EC to do all the practical steps to achieve that, so I’m quite confident that the next election — GE15, the 18-year-olds will be able to vote,” he said.
The 14th general election was held in 2018, which means the 15th general election is only due 2023. General elections in Malaysia can however be held earlier than the five-year period if called by the prime minister.
Malaysia is now under a nationwide Emergency from January 11 until the scheduled end date of August 1, if it is not extended or ended earlier.
During this Emergency, no general election, state elections and by-elections will be held, with the aim of preventing the spread of Covid-19 infections.
The prime minister has repeatedly assured that the GE15 would be held once the Covid-19 situation has eased.
Undi18 — a movement of Malaysian youths — have so far launched two lawsuits in Kuala Lumpur and Sarawak to push for the EC and the government to enforce the lowering of the minimum voting age in Malaysia from 21 to 18 by July this year.
The lawsuits were filed after the EC on March 25 abruptly announced that the lowering of the voting age and automatic voter registration is expected to be carried out after September 2022, despite the government and EC previously mentioning repeatedly since 2019 that both were expected to be done by July 2021.
Undi18’s view is that the lower voting age of 18 can be implemented earlier as it can be gazetted to come into effect separately from the automatic voter registration initiative, while the Attorney-General’s Chambers had in court recently said both have to be carried out together.
Yesterday, Undi18 Sarawak — via five Malaysians aged 18 to 20 — obtained leave from the High Court in Kuching to proceed to have its lawsuit heard. UndiSarawak highlighted the importance of the case as around 125,000 to 135,000 Sarawakians are aged 18 to 20 and as Sarawak state elections ought to be held by August 7 this year once the ongoing Emergency ends.
The High Court in Kuala Lumpur is expected to deliver its decision on June 17 on whether Undi18’s lawsuit — via 18 Malaysians aged 18 to 20 — will be given leave to be heard.
In the same interview yesterday, Thomas shared that the top civil servants and prime minister and Cabinet takes the advice of the attorney-general seriously when it comes to policy and decision-making.
As attorney-general, Thomas said he quickly realised however that law reform was very much under the Cabinet’s prerogative.
“Most Bills were presented in the Dewan Rakyat to start off with and each minister had ownership of their Bill, and I didn’t realise how jealously they guarded it,” he said, adding: “That means the AG role was pretty peripheral, only when you are asked to comment.
Asked by Sharaad what he would have done differently in terms of the pace of legal reform if he had a chance to be the attorney-general again, Thomas said he was “really not interested in coming back to office”.
“I think history demonstrates those who come back to office, whatever role, has always had poor record in the second part.
“But I believe if there’s a reform-committed government, I’m happy to help in different ways. All of us can help in different ways, I’ll be happy to help.
“In so far as law reform is concerned, the lesson I learnt is that the Cabinet members who form the government must themselves have a conviction for reform.
“They must believe in reform, it mustn’t be lip service, they must genuinely believe in reform and perhaps one or two subjects that each of them have and once they believe, they must master the subject, believe in reform and push that agenda with their power.”