JULY 7 — Why do people keep saying that rural youths are proof that we are not ready to lower the voting age? How can Indonesia have 17 year-old voters and Malaysia cannot? What makes Indonesian voters so much more different than Malaysia? Or are we just victims of our own inferiority complex?
In the past few days, the debate surrounding the lowering of the voting age has brought about a new (or rather returning) face to Malaysia’s political culture. Once more, we are set to see the vast divide, both emotionally and empathetically, between the rural and urban communities. Why does this divide exist? What makes living in the Klang Valley so much more superior than living in the outskirts of Sarawak or Kelantan or Sabah?
Many have argued that Malaysia is not ready to lower its voting age because certain youths, “those in the rural communities” they say, are still immature, they are rempits and they pinch bread for fun. Humorously, adults call this generation the ‘tik-tok’ and ‘wechat’ generation. Glued to their phones, unaware of what’s going on around them. Simply put, this argument against lowering the voting age is political gatekeeping. Just as there are youths who lack intelligence, there are also many adults who lack intelligence as well, ones who fall prey to Islamic extremism.
Just as there are adults who are smart, aware and well read, there are similarly youths who read sophisticated books, who learn coding on their free time, who fix bikes and make businesses by the age of 18. Are we really a society that is willing to let these smart contributing civilians miss out on the opportunity to vote just because we believe others are not as smart? Under this logic, all adults under the age of 45 should be disallowed to vote because certain 45 year olds believe that vaccines cause autism or that hot dogs are made from dog meat.
Revisiting YB Wong Chen’s statement that allowing youths to be engaged in politics endangers them to be accustomed to politicisation is misleading, especially at this time. Just because we lower the voting age to 18 does not mean that 18 year olds will become politicians. If anything, lowering the voting age will ensure youths have more of a say in what goes on around them. If leaders fail to compensate their needs, their worries and concerns, issues such as PTPTN loans, youth unemployment, education, then these leaders will lose the youth vote.
If we lower the voting age to 18, youth voters will become the strongest force in our voting democracy. Mobilised and critical, this segment will keep our leaders on their toes. The minute DAP decides to do things that overtly favor developers and businesses, or the minute PKR spends too much time deciding who will be the next PM or who is in the latest scandal video, Malaysia can count on the youth to be the earthquake that shakes these politicians from their sleep. It is a check and balance, the next stage of our democracy.
The issue of lowering the voting age is one of the chicken or the egg. Which one comes first? We complain that our youths are not mature enough, yet we do not want to allow them the opportunity to be mature. We complain that they do not understand politics, yet they do not have the incentive to learn about politics as they cannot even vote. This situation is similar to asking fresh graduates to have five years of experience before starting their first job. The conundrum is paralysing.
As a Senator in the Dewan Negara, I hope to see this bill get passed. I will do my level best to ensure this bill then gets to the home stretch. I hope that my opposition colleagues will take the time to really consider the benefits of lowering the voting age. Without a doubt, the youth will play a key influential factor in GE15. Already we are seeing complaints from the youth about the government’s handling of PTPTN, false promises, continued rising cost of living, unaffordable housing for the youth. The government has done very little in these areas. In the latest polls, one year after PH has been in power, close to 44 per cent of youths believe that the country is headed in the wrong direction. This is a massive drop since a year before and ideally PH still has 4 years to go.
All in all, the Undi18 group which started in 2015 deserves all the praise they can get for seeing this reform through. It’s not often we see 25 year olds like Tharma Pillai and Nur Qyira Izzati Yusri successfully lobby the government for such a fundamental reform. They’ve been consistent and I hope to see more youths like them in the future to come.
* This is the personal opinion of the writer and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail.