KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysia will not implement a new lower voting age as scheduled this year, potentially affecting over a million people if a general election is held as expected by the end of the year.
The Election Commission (EC) said on Thursday (March 25) the recent spate of nationwide lockdowns due to the Covid-19 pandemic had affected its preparation to implement the new rule, which was due to have gone into effect in July.
In a rare bipartisan move under the previous Pakatan Harapan administration in 2019, Parliament unanimously approved the measure to lower the voting age to 18 from 21 years.
EC chairman Abdul Ghani Salleh said in a statement that implementation of the voting age rule, commonly referred to as "Undi18" - and also the automatic voter registration system that was also due to kick in this year - would now take effect by September 2022 at the latest.
The EC said there are 1.2 million people between 18 and 20 years old in Malaysia and all would have to wait another year to be eligible to vote.
Another 4.4 million people aged 21 and above have yet to register as voters. The automatic registration system would have automatically added them to the electoral roll, but the EC has now urged them to register manually.
There were 14.9 million registered voters when Malaysia last held an election in 2018, and implementation of Undi18 and automatic registration would have increased that number by 30 per cent.
In recent weeks, doubts intensified over Undi18's implementation when Senate president Rais Yatim - a party colleague of Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin - called the move "impractical".
This led to youth leaders from parties on both sides of the political divide to urge the EC to provide an update on Undi18's implementation.
Former Youth and Sports Minister Syed Saddiq Abdul Rahman, who was one of the main proponents of the Undi18 push, ridiculed the EC's decision, saying there was no connection between the lockdowns - officially called the Movement Control Order (MCO) - and the implementation of new voting rules.
"Do not steal the youths' right to vote," said Mr Syed Saddiq, who is also the founder and leader of Malaysia's first youth-based party, Muda.
Immediately after the EC's announcement, Muda, announced on its Twitter account that it would lodge a legal challenge against the delay.
"The excuse given does not make sense and seemingly ridicules Malaysians' intelligence," the party said.