Let the opening of the 14th Parliament in July make history for democracy by amending the Constitution to lower the voting age to 18
In my first year in Parliament 47 years ago in 1971, (Parliament was suspended for 18 months after the 1969 General Elections because of the May 13 riots and the declaration of emergency), I made three proposals for electoral reforms, viz:
- Lowering the voting age to 18 years;
- Automatic registration of eligible voters; and
- Compulsory voting.
I therefore welcome almost half a century later the proposal by the Prime Minister, Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad that the Pakatan Harapan government lower the voting age from 21 to 18.
In fact, since my suggestion for the lowering of the voting age from 21 to 18 in 1971, the majority of the countries in the world have adopted this electoral reform but Malaysia seemed to be frozen in time as far as democratic and electoral reforms are concerned.
Today, Malaysia is one of the handful of countries that have not carried out the electoral reform to lower the voting age from 21 to 18.
In ASEAN, Malaysia and Singapore are the two remaining redoubts where voting age is still fixed at 21, although men and women of 18 years are treated for serious civil purposes as mature people, able to own property and enter into contractual obligations and rights.
Youths at 18 ought to have the right to vote and to have a say about the way in which their lives are governed and the country is being run, as society expects them to assume adult social responsibilities whether conscription when there is war or national emergency, even to die in the defence of the country.
In Thailand, Philippines, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Myanmar, the voting age is 18, while in Indonesia the voting age is 17.
The countries which have lowered the voting age of 21 to 18 since my speech in Parliament on the issue in 1971 included Netherlands, United States, Finland, Sweden, Ireland, Philippines, Australia, France, New Zealand, Italy, Trinidad and Tobago, Denmark, Spain, Peru, Belgium, India, Switzerland, Austria, Estonia, Hong Kong, Liechtenstein, Jordan, Pakistan, Morocco, Uzbekistan, Saudi Arabia and Japan.
This vindicated what I said in Parliament in 1971, that more and more countries were reducing the age of their electors.
Countries which had already given the right to vote to their 18 year-olds when I spoke in Parliament in 1971 included the United Kingdom, Turkey, Poland, Canada and Germany.
Malaysia has been left behind in the international trend for democratic and electoral reforms.
Let the opening meeting of the 14th Parliament in July make history by amending the Constitution to lower the voting age to 18.
There may be various constitutional proposals to implement institutional reforms, but if it is not possible to secure the necessary two-thirds parliamentary majority to ensure passage, then let the Constitution Amendment Bill 2018 be just one stand-alone provision to lower the voting age from 21 to 18, so that Malaysia will not continue to be the odd-man out in the international society for democratic and electoral reforms.
Otherwise, Malaysia will continue to be in very strange company among nations which have not lowered the voting age to 18, like Singapore, Cameroon, Lebanon, Samoa, Soloman and Tonga, while Kuwait and Oman allow their youths in the military and police who are 18 to cast their vote.
This is another area where Malaysia can show the way for Singapore on the need for democratic and electoral reforms.
If the parliamentary opposition is constructive and effective, there is no reason why it should not declare in advance its support for any constitutional amendment in the July meeting of Parliament to lower the voting age from 21 18.
I ask all the contenders of UMNO posts at the end of the month to declare whether they support the amendment of the Constitution (even if it is a standalone amendment) to lower the voting age from 21 to 18.
UMNO has 54 MPs, which together with the 113 from Pakatan Harapan and 8 from WARISAN, would have provided more than the necessary two-thirds parliamentary majority needed for a constitutional amendment.
Of course, if we take into account political developments affecting MPs’ affiliation after the May 9, 2018 Polling Day result, there is likely to be a higher number of MPs supporting the historic democratic milestone in lowering the voting age from 21 to 18.