MARCH 26 — 1. We are a collection of youth groups concerned over the Election Commission’s (‘EC’) recent announcement on the implementation timeline of lowering the voting age to 18 years old and automatic voter registration (‘Undi18’). The EC outlined that Undi18 will be tentatively rolled out in September 2022, by when the 15th General Election would have most likely been carried out.
2. The Constitution (Amendment) Act 2019 (‘Undi18 Act’) was passed in the Dewan Rakyat unanimously two years ago on July 16, 2019. It was a bill voted in by 211 elected members of Parliament representing the rights and interests of youths from different constituencies, with no abstentions or objections at all. On September 10, 2019, the Yang di-Pertuan Agong assented to the Undi18 Bill.
3. The technical implementation of Undi18 has commenced since the passing of the Undi18 Act in 2019. In fact, the early work of reforming the general elections had started in July 2018. The EC, with its wherewithal and resources, should not need to take 3 years to implement Undi18, which is more than half of our 5-year electoral term. This goes against any grain of rationality and undermines the competence of the EC.
4. This is proven right by the Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department YB Datuk Seri Takiyuddin’s statement in November 2020 that Undi18 will be implemented in July 2021, fully appraised of the Covid-19 situation in Malaysia. This renders the EC’s excuse of delay due to the Covid-19 situation disingenuous.
5. Further, that the EC does not have enough resources to implement Undi18 in time is not a reason to delay implementation. It is instead an opportunity to enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of the EC with greater political will and resources to ensure the Parliament’s will is executed. The various movement control orders (‘MCOs’) and the pandemic cannot be used as excuses to halt the effort in processing the automatic registration of voters, considering that almost all restrictions imposed by the MCOs have been lifted. The constitutional right of youths to vote should not be defeated by bureaucratic delays, lest it makes a mockery out of the decision of the Parliament.
6. Coincidentally, the Perikatan Nasional government has shown questionable reluctance in implementing Undi18. The Dewan Negara President Tan Sri Rais Yatim and the Deputy Youth Minister YB Wan Fayhsal both recently questioned the youths’ readiness to vote.
7. The overall circumstances culminate to the inevitable conclusion that the delayed Undi18 implementation is due to the lack of political will rather than technical incapability.
8. This decision creates severe repercussions to the foundation of our democracy and constitutional liberties.
9. Politically, it violates the fundamental separation of power in a Westminster Parliamentary polity. The Parliament legislates and the Executive delivers. The Parliament has shown its resolve in realising Undi18 by passing the votes unanimously. By deliberately delaying the implementation of Undi18 to miss the immediate election, it directly assaults the sanctity of Parliament and by extension, the representative democracy in Malaysia. It means the cabinet comprising 70 individuals, led by Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, can single-handedly defy the Constitution and Parliament that was voted in by 33 million Malaysians and rule at its’ whim and caprice.
10. In fact, some of the staunchest supporters of Undi18 in the Parliamentary debate are the ministers in power now. For example, the then Opposition Member of Parliament Datuk Seri Takiyuddin Hassan, spoke in favour of Undi18 as shown in the Hansard:
Kalau kita lihat, umur 18 tahun adalah umur yang sudah mempunyai kematangan yang cukup, mempunyai pendedahan-pendedahan yang boleh membolehkan mereka membuat decision ataupun membuat keputusan. Malahan di peringkat awal misalnya di peringkat persekolahan, kemudian di universiti atau kolej, kemudian di tempat-tempat kerja, sebagai contoh kalau kita lihat pada hari ini, pelajar-pelajar daripada sekolah-sekolah telah mempunyai pendedahan di dalam Parlimen. Jadi oleh sebab itu, kita amat merasakan wajar umur untuk mengundi ini dikurangkan daripada 21 tahun kepada 18 tahun.
11. The fact that they supported Undi18 in Parliament but refused to execute it as the Executive shows dishonesty and incompetence in keeping their word. It further shows that the delay in implementing Undi18 is not due to policy considerations but political considerations.
12. Legally, this defies the legitimate expectation of approximately 7.8 million 18 to 21 year-old youths who have been promised the right to vote in the next election to be held in 2023. As stated by Lord Brown in R v Devon County Council, accepted by the Malaysian Federal Court in Majlis Perbandaran Pulau Pinang v Syarikat Bekerjasama-sama Serbaguna Sungai Gelugor dengan Tanggungan:
“The claimant’s right will only be found established when there is a clear and unambiguous representation upon which it was reasonable for him to rely. Then the administrator or other public body will be held bound in fairness by the representation made unless only its promise or undertaking as to how its power would be exercised is inconsistent with the statutory duties imposed upon it.”
13. Morally, it undermines and disenfranchises the youths in this country who are eligible for civil obligations reserved for adults. 18-year-old youths are subject to taxation. 18-year-old youths are eligible to join the armed forces. How can we then deprive them of their rights to be involved in public governance which affects their livelihood, while requiring them to fulfill their adult civic obligations?
14. This moral failure of denying suffrage to youths aged 18-20 years old pushed the United States to give suffrage to the same in the 1960s, and similarly caused more than 200 countries and regions in the world to lower their legal voting age to 18 years old. To now deny youths of their right to vote will cause moral bankruptcy in the Perikatan Nasional government, thrusting us further from a mature democracy.
15. Logically, Section 2 of the Undi18 Act allows an 18-year-old to stand for election to be a member of Parliament. To now deny youths of 18 years of their right to vote when they have the right to be voted in Parliament is irrational and self-contradictory.
16. Lastly, the move to defer Undi18 to after the 15th General Election will be the largest electoral exclusion of a demographic from the pool of eligible voters in the history of Malaysia. This will greatly diminish the public’s confidence in the Malaysian electoral institution. History has shown that this will radicalise the population towards non-institutional protests and struggles.
17. We urge the Perikatan Nasional government to respect its’ role as the Executive and execute on Undi18 without undue delay and as promised. We demand the Perikatan Nasional government to enhance resources of the EC in whichever way necessary to ensure, with the greatest certainty possible, that Undi18 will be implemented before the 15th General Election.
Joint statement by:
3. Demokrat UM
4. Mahasiswa Keadilan Malaysia
5. Suara Mahasiswa UMS
6. Kelab Sastera Mahasiswa (KARMA) UMS
8. MYSE Melaka
9. Student Progressive Front UUM
10. Student Unity Front UKM
12. Borneo Komrad
13. TAR Association New Youth (TARANY)
14. Mahasiswa Roket
15. Young Democrats Malaysia (YDM)
16. UM Law Society
18. Persatuan Kebangsaan Pelajar Islam Malaysia (PKPIM)
19. Youths in Politics (YPOLITICS)
20. ARUS Anak Muda
21. Liga Rakyat Demokratik
22. Persatuan Kesedaran dan Keadilan Iklim Malaysia (Klima Action Malaysia- KAMY)
23. Malaysia Secondary Students Alliance (MSSA)
24. HAKAM Youth
* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail.