Malaysian Cabinet wants to lower voting age from 21 to 18

An Election Commission of Malaysia officer prepares a ballot box ahead of the 14th national general elections, on May 9, 2018. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

PUTRAJAYA • The Malaysian Cabinet has decided to lower the country's voting age from 21 to 18, Youth and Sports Minister Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman said yesterday.

Mr Saddiq said the decision was made at the Cabinet's weekly meeting yesterday, and work on amending the Federal Constitution will begin soon, The Star reported.

"One of the things to be done is to work closely with the youth wings of opposition parties as a two-thirds majority is needed for laws to be amended," he was quoted as telling reporters.

"By the next general election, 18-year-olds can cast their votes, that is for certain."

Mr Saddiq, Malaysia's youngest Cabinet minister at 25 years old when he was sworn in on July 2, said he was confident about getting cooperation from political parties.

He had already initiated informal discussions with several youth leaders. "I can say that they, too, are keen on this issue," he noted.

Mr Saddiq had previously said the government was studying how to lower the country's voting age to allow more young people to vote.

Eighteen is the legal age of adulthood under Malaysian law, and is considered an age to take full responsibility of one's actions, such as being eligible for a driving test, marriage or to sign contracts.

The voting age in the United States, Britain, Australia, India, Iran, the Philippines, Thailand and Cambodia has been lowered to 18. Malaysia and Singapore still retain the voting age at 21.

Youth votes are believed to have helped catapult Mr Saddiq's Pakatan Harapan coalition into power in the May elections, which saw the Barisan Nasional coalition toppled for the first time in history.

Mr Saddiq previously told Bloomberg in an interview in July that lowering the voting age from 21 to 18 would add an additional 3.7 million voters. That would increase the number of registered voters by about 25 per cent from the elections in May.

"That means the youth voter block becomes bigger and stronger, and therefore, they cannot be sidelined in the Malaysian political scene any more," Mr Saddiq told the news agency then.

Voters aged 21 to 39 make up around 40 per cent of the Malaysian electorate, twice the number of voters over 60, according to Election Commission data.

Mr Saddiq has said he wants to reshuffle youth associations to ensure they are led by people under the age of 35.

He also said in July that he would discuss with Education Minister Maszlee Malik how to provide students with more exposure to the democratic process in schools.

One way, he said, was for Malaysia to provide political exposure to students at the upper secondary level, as is done in several other countries, the Bernama news agency reported.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 20, 2018, with the headline Malaysian Cabinet wants to lower voting age from 21 to 18. Subscribe