A great risk but a great challenge to Pakatan Harapan to make itself the coalition of choice of young voters when the voting age is lowered to 18 years

It is generally held that lowering the voting age to 18 will be beneficial to the Opposition and detrimental to the government of the day, and this was why the Malaysian Constitution was never amended to provide for such an empowerment of the youths in the past six decades.

But the Pakatan Harapan government will demonstrate that it will act in the best interests of the country although it might to be detrimental to the interests of the Pakatan Harapan coalition, and Pakatan Harapan will rise to the challenge to make itself the coalition of choice of the young voters when the voting age is lowered to 18 years.

I feel a special vindication with the tabling of the Constitution Amendment Bill yesterday to lower the voting age to 18, which is particularly historic, as I had first advocated for this measure in Parliament as far back as 48 years ago in 1971.

In my first year in Parliament 47 years ago in 1971, (Parliament was suspended for 18 months after the 1969 General Election 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.

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, parliamentary and electoral reforms are concerned.

Now, Malaysia is set for major changes to build a New Malaysia because of the historic result of the 14th General Election on May 9, 2018.

Malaysia is today 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 countries 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.

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.

Thanks to the historic 14th General Election on May 9, 2018, Malaysia is poised to return to the international mainstream for democratic and electoral reforms.

Lim Kit Siang MP for Iskandar Puteri