PETALING JAYA (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Hundreds of youth dressed in black and white gathered peacefully in front of Malaysia's Parliament building on Saturday (March 27) to push for the implementation of lowering the voting age to 18.
The protest, dubbed Himpunan Tuntut Undi18 (gathering for Undi18) started at the nearby Padang Merbok where the protesters gathered before marching to the gates of Parliament.
Led by youth leaders from Undi18, a movement which promotes the implementation of the new voting rule, the protesters held placards and shouted slogans.
Police were on standby to monitor the protest which lasted an hour.
Wearing face masks and trying to observe physical distancing, some of the protesters also donned full personal protective equipment.
The protesters carried banners stating "Undi18 now" and chanted "Long live the youth! Where are our votes?". At its climax, the protesters sat on the road leading to Parliament.
The protest was in response to the Election Commission's (EC) announcement on Thursday that it would delay lowering the voting age to 18 from July this year to next year, citing the recent lockdowns that hindered its preparation to kick-start the process.
The Parliament had unanimously voted to lower the voting age from 21 to 18 years in July 2019 when the Pakatan Harapan administration was still in power.
With the delay, Malaysians aged between 18 to 20 years old may have to wait until September 2022 to register as voters, according to the EC's new deadline.
If Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin was to call a general election as promised, once the pandemic is over, these youth may not be eligible to vote in the coming polls.
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.
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.
Undi18 movement leader Tharma Pillai, in his speech to Saturday's crowd, stated that it is the democratic right of the youth to vote.
"We believe in democracy and the voices of the youth - issues on decent living, issues of minimum wage, we start with lowering the age so that the youth can choose a government who can take care of them. We want more youth to represent us. We want the government to promise they will implement the lowering of voters' age to 18," said Mr Tharma.
Another Undi18 movement leader, Nurul Rifayah Muhammad Iqbal, said that she represented all 18-year-olds.
"Undi18 is a movement that is a reaction against the Election Commission and the Federal Government for having delayed voters aged 18 to register as voters.
"Malaysian youth must protest this as this is the right of every adult to vote in any democracy. What is EC's problem?
"We demand that the EC and the Federal Government allow 18-year-olds to register as voters in July and be transparent in its process. We also demand that Parliament be allowed to convene.
"We ask the Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin to commit himself to what he has voted for as an MP when voting for the lowering of age to 18 in the Parliament," said Nurul Rifayah.
The delay in the implementation of the voting rule has drawn criticism from youth groups and federal ministers.
A coalition of 16 youth organisations in the country have signed a petition on Saturday condemning the EC's postponement of the implementation of Undi18.
"We urge the EC to grant youth the democratic right to vote, as promised by the Undi18 Bill," said the coalition.
Similarly, Science, Technology and Innovation Minister Khairy Jamaluddin and Youth and Sports Minister Reezal Merican Naina Merican have criticised the EC for the delay.
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 - and the implementation of new voting rules.
Mr Muhyiddin denied that his Perikatan Nasional government had any influence on the EC's decision.
"We are doing what we can to help, but it is difficult during the ongoing pandemic," he said on Saturday. "If they are unable to do it, how can we force them?... We have to be realistic and not be political about it."