KUALA LUMPUR, June 17 — The Undi18 movement today expressed gratitude to the High Court in Kuala Lumpur for agreeing to hear its lawsuit, which seeks to challenge the Election Commission’s decision to delay lowering the minimum voting age in Malaysia by more than a year.
In thanking the High Court for allowing the youths to proceed with their judicial review application, Undi18 said it is encouraged by the “affirming direction of the judicial review”, adding that it holds firm to the belief that youths aged between 18 to 20 in the country are “owed their constitutional right to vote”.
“Youth voices matter now more than ever, especially when juxtaposed against the ongoing climate of the pandemic and national Emergency, where it has become increasingly pivotal for democratic values to be upheld,” the movement said in a brief statement.
“Should this judicial review succeed, the approximately 1.2 million Malaysian youths aged between 18 to 20 years old who are currently disenfranchised will finally be given the opportunity to exercise their right to vote for the first time in Malaysian history,” it added.
The EC had in March this year said there are 1.2 million Malaysians aged 18 to 20 currently.
Undi18 is a local youth movement which had in the past successfully advocated for the Federal Constitution to be amended to bring down the age where a Malaysian can qualify to be a voter from 21 to 18 years old.
The constitutional amendment was passed in Parliament and gazetted as law in 2019, while both the government and Election Commission (EC) had from 2019 to 2020 said the lower voting age can be implemented latest by July 2021. But the EC in late March 2021 abruptly said it is expected to only be enforced after September 1, 2022.
The 18 youths had then on April 2 filed the lawsuit against the prime minister, the government of Malaysia and the Election Commission (EC), seeking court orders including to quash the authorities’ decision to not enforce the lowering of the voting age immediately or before or by July 2021 and to compel the government to enforce it before or by July 2021.
While the Undi18 movement had filed the lawsuit through a symbolic number of 18 Malaysian youths aged 18 to 20, the youth group today noted that the fate of 1.2 million youths in the country in the same age bracket are also tied to this court case in terms of their voting rights.
Earlier today, High Court judge Datuk Ahmad Kamal Md Shahid granted the 18 youths’ application for leave for judicial review. In other words, the judge will hear the youths’ lawsuit or judicial review in full and on its merits.
Government to explain delayed lowering of voting age
In the High Court’s decision today, the judge had held that the prime minister’s March 27 decision on behalf of the Malaysian government to accept and affirm the EC’s March 25 decision to postpone the implementation of the lowering of voting age from July 2021 to after September 1, 2022 is a decision with legally-binding effect, and that such a decision is by public authorities and subject to judicial review or review by the courts.
The judge agreed that the 18 youths aged 18 to 20 are all adversely affected by the delayed implementation, noting their argument that they would not be able to register as voters and vote in any elections held after July 2021 and possibly being unable to vote in the 15th general elections.
The judge had also decided that the 18 youths’ lawsuit is not frivolous or vexatious, and said the lawsuit should proceed to a full hearing to enable the government to provide an explanation for the decision to delay implementing the lowering of the voting age, before the court decides whether the 18 youths’ lawsuit is successful on its merits.
Following the court decision, Undi18 co-founder Tharma Pillai today highlighted the significance of the 18 youths obtaining leave for their lawsuit: “This is an important step forward in seeking justice and voting rights for millions of Malaysian youths. We want to see this case debated on its merits and for those in power to be compelled to justify their decision to postpone the implementation of Undi18. Let young Malaysians vote. Implement Undi18 now.”
New Sin Yew, one of the lawyers representing the 18 Malaysian youths, said the High Court’s granting of leave for the youths to review the government’s decision means that the government now has to provide explanations in the court for the delay.
“This is obviously a very important case that needs to be ventilated fully. The government must now explain on oath the exact reason for delaying the lowering of voting age and we look forward to hearing that.”
The High Court in Kuala Lumpur today fixed July 1 for case management for the lawsuit. No hearing date has been fixed for the lawsuit yet.
Separately, Undi18 Sarawak had via five Malaysian youths currently aged 18 to 20 filed a similar lawsuit in May 2021 in the High Court in Kuching against the prime minister, the government of Malaysia and the EC.
The High Court in Kuching had on May 28 granted the youths leave to proceed with their judicial review, with the judicial review hearing scheduled on June 30.
Undi18 — which manages the Undi18 Sarawak initiative — had previously highlighted the importance of implementing the law to allow youths aged 18 to 20 to vote, as approximately 125,000 to 135,000 Sarawakians are aged 18 to 20 currently while the Sarawak state elections have to be held once the Sarawak state assembly is dissolved when the nationwide Emergency is lifted.
The current Sarawak state government’s five-year term was due to expire earlier this month on June 6 with the state legislative assembly to be dissolved and with fresh state elections in Sarawak then legally required to be held within 60 days of the dissolution, but both the dissolution and the resulting state elections have been suspended due to the Emergency.
With the Sarawak state elections expected to be held this year if the Emergency ends on August 1, the delayed lowering of the voting age to after September 2022 would mean Sarawakian youths aged 18 to 20 would be unable to exercise their rights to vote if the state elections is held this year, unlike those aged 21 and above.
The nationwide Emergency is scheduled to end on August 1 if it is not extended or lifted earlier.
The Conference of Rulers yesterday said it was of the view that there is no need for the Emergency to be extended beyond the original end date of August 1. The prime minister has yet to comment on this statement.