On track to lower voter age

Filepic: A voter get her finger marked with indelible ink before casting vote at a polling centre.AZHAR MAHFOF/The Star

PETALING JAYA: All systems are on track to lower the voting age to 18 and create the automatic voter registration (AVR), said Election Commission deputy chairman Dr Azmi Sharom.

In 2019, EC projected an increase of 7.8 million new voters by 2023 if the AVR comes into place. This is because the AVR alone will bring in the current 4.5 million voters aged 21 and above who have yet to register.

But Azmi said the EC also faces tremendous challenges in gazetting the new rolls after the completion of the objection period, once everything is done.

On July 16,2019, Parliament unanimously passed the constitutional amendment for AVR to lower the voting age to 18 and to make 18 the minimum age for a Malaysian citizen to run for public office.

“I am told the EC is on track in ensuring the system for AVR and lowering the voting age to 18 will be ready by July 2021.

“The Secretariat has been working hard to achieve this, despite challenges posed by Covid-19 and movement control orders.

“The systems are currently being put in place. With regard to the changes in legislation, I do not have that information at the moment.

“The projection of 7.8 million new voters when AVR is in place is probably accurate or close to accurate. “This huge number of new voters will mean the EC will face the tremendous challenge of getting the new voter rolls.

“Registration is one thing, but the gazetting of new voter rolls is a necessary requirement with certain procedures needed – such as objection period – before a person can vote, ” said Azmi, when contacted.

He, however, pointed out that the legislation to enforce AVR and lowering the voting age to 18 is out of the EC’s hands.

This Amendment Act was signed by Yang di-Pertuan Agong Al-Sultan Abdullah Ri’ayatuddin Al- Mustafa Billah Shah on Sept 4,2019 and gazetted on Sept 10,2019.

However, the AVR and lowering of voting age to 18 have yet to be completely put into the federal legislation.

As of today, Perlis, Perak, Kelantan, Terengganu, Sabah and Sarawak have amended their state constitutions to allow those at least 18 years old to stand in elections, while six other states have yet to do so.

Constitution expert Professor Emeritus Datuk Dr Shad Saleem Faruqi said for 18-year-olds to vote in the next general election and the AVR, consequential changes must be made to the Election Offences Act 1954, Elections (Conduct of Elections) Regulations 1981 and Elections (Registration of Electors) Regulations 2002.

He also said all state constitutions must be amended to enable the lowering of the age of eligibility to contest a seat in state assemblies.

He said the Attorney-General’s Chambers should confirm whether there has been a notification by the King under section 1(2) of the Constitution (Amendment) Act 2019 since the gazetting.

Shad Saleem pointed out while subsidiary legislation such as the Elections (Conduct of Elections) Regulations 1981 and Elections (Registration of Electors) Regulations 2002 can be altered by the executive without the need to go to Parliament, the problem remains with updating the Election Offences Act 1954 and amending state constitutions.“Due to the Emergency (Essential Powers) Ordinance 2021, Parliament is not in session, hence it cannot enact the necessary amendments to the Election Offences Act 1954. “Likewise, state assemblies are not in session and cannot enact the necessary amendments to their Constitutions, ” said Shad Saleem.

If the next general election is held before all the amendments are made and the preparations are done, he said EC would be in a real dilemma.

“Must EC continue to follow the outdated state constitutions on the qualifying age for assemblymen or comply with the unamended Acts?

“Or must the EC show fidelity to the supreme Constitution and superimpose the commands of the 2019 amendment on all relevant election laws even if they are not yet amended formally?

“Given the supremacy of the Federal Constitution, any provision in the Federal Constitution must prevail over all other laws (provided the constitutional provision is in operation), ” said Shad Saleem.

He warned that such administrative delays in making the amendments to the Federal and state Constitutions may result in millions of 18-year-olds losing their rights to vote in the next general election.

He said this may then open up the government to lawsuits from disenfranchised voters.

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