Malaysia seeks to lower voting age from 21 to 18

A larger urban youth electorate is seen as more likely to support Pakatan Harapan, while race-based parties Umno and PAS could benefit if these largely Malay young voters turn increasingly right-wing. ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG
A larger urban youth electorate is seen as more likely to support Pakatan Harapan, while race-based parties Umno and PAS could benefit if these largely Malay young voters turn increasingly right-wing. ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

Amendment likely to pass, but opposition may set conditions for supporting it

Malaysia will today table a proposal in Parliament to lower the voting age from 21 to 18, a move that will add 1.5 million voters to the electoral roll.

The amendment, which requires the approval of two-thirds of Parliament, is likely to pass as both the ruling Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition and opposition parties Umno and Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS) look set to gain from it.

A larger urban youth electorate is seen as more likely to support PH, while race-based parties Umno and PAS could benefit if these largely Malay young voters turn increasingly right-wing.

Yesterday, however, opposition MPs said their vote in favour of the amendment to Article 119 of the Federal Constitution was conditional.

"If it doesn't include automatic voter registration, we won't agree with the tabled amendments," said opposition chief Ismail Sabri Yaakob, who is also an Umno MP.

Malaysia currently has 15 million registered voters and 3.8 million unregistered voters.

"The right to vote is the right of all Malaysians. We should give that opportunity to the public. Now there are those who are not registered, they are not using their right to vote. But with automatic registration, everyone can vote," explained Datuk Seri Ismail.

MATURE ENOUGH

If you can get married by 18, why can't you vote?

DATUK SERI NAZRI AZIZ, an Umno MP and former minister.

RISKS INVOLVED

It's a problem for us only if we fail to serve young people well.

MR SYED SADDIQ ABDUL RAHMAN, the Minister of Youth and Sports.

Former minister and Umno MP Ahmad Maslan said the move to lower the voting age only makes sense if automatic voter registration is also in place. "It's a promise the government has to make and fulfil in order to get this amendment to pass," said Datuk Seri Ahmad.

Generally, Umno lawmakers The Straits Times spoke to are agreeable to lowering the voting age to 18. The former ruling party revised its membership age last year from 18 to 16.

"If you can get married by 18, why can't you vote?" said Datuk Seri Nazri Aziz, an Umno MP and former minister.

PH's majority in Parliament falls short of a two-thirds majority required for the amendment to pass. If it does pass, this will mark the first Bill to receive multi-partisan support since PH came to power in May last year.

For parties like PAS, where members can be as young as 13, the move is seen as positive as it allows the party to directly tap its internal support base. However, analysts say opposition parties are unlikely to yield so easily to PH's proposal without striking a deal.

"They (PAS) may play hardball in order to extract concessions from the PH government on other legislative matters," said KRA Group's political analyst Amir Fareed Rahim.

Meanwhile individual MPs may not agree to lowering the voting age if it does not benefit their particular constituency.

 
 

While PH has performed exceedingly well in urban wards, it still lags behind in rural seats where it struggles to gain Malay voters' trust. Increasing the electorate base would mean more young Malays as voters - a demographic that could prove unpredictable.

"Youth votes are difficult to predict. It depends on political parties which are able to connect and relate to them best," said Mr Amir.

Meanwhile, the Youth and Sports Ministry led by Mr Syed Saddiq Abdul Rahman has conducted consultations with lawmakers from both sides on the issue. He said the move may be a risky one for PH.

"As a sitting government, to give more votes to youths may probably backfire. We can't just look at the next election but rather at generations to come. It's a problem for us only if we fail to serve young people well," he added.

The second reading and debate for the Bill will take place on July 16.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 04, 2019, with the headline 'Malaysia seeks to lower voting age from 21 to 18'. Print Edition | Subscribe