MALAYSIANS can start driving at the age of 17, get married when they reach 18. And the legal age to buy alcohol is 21.
So when should they get their right to vote? How young is too young to mark “X” on the ballot paper?
This is the question that confronts lawmakers who are slated to debate on July 16 the amendments to the Federal Constitution to lower the voting age from 21 to 18 years old after it was tabled for first reading in the Dewan Rakyat last week.
A two-thirds majority is required for the amendment, and it is heartening to hear that the MPs are planning to put aside partisan politics to support the Bill.
Opposition leader Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob said on Wednesday that Opposition MPs will support the Bill if the Government allowed for automatic registration of voters.
This was echoed by MCA president Datuk Seri Dr Wee Ka Siong who said there was no issue for the Opposition to work with the government if it benefited the people.
“For MCA and I, there is no problem for the Opposition to cooperate with the government for the good of the country and to fulfil the aspiration of youths,” he said.
This is a nod to the youth of the country by our elected representatives that they count in nation-building, and that their views and interests are important.
Voting is a key part of the democratic process which allows citizens to have a say on matters impacting their lives. Until now, Malaysians aged below 21 have been sidelined from the decisions made by elected governments on issues that concern them, especially in areas such as education, health, housing, environment and climate change.
Who would gain politically from this exercise is irrelevant. As the Bill stated, this amendment is in line with “a progressive democratic system.” Enfranchising the youths would encourage a richer and more diverse political dialogue that would be beneficial to all Malaysians. However, as Dr Wee stressed, lowering the voting age in the country needs to be made holistically and with details related to political education, existing legislative reviews and such.
Indeed, the maturity and political awareness of the youth can be a challenge. These concerns need to be addressed with voter education programmes targeted at these younger voters, conducted by the Electoral Commission, schools and civil society.
Ultimately, the government would need to look into making political education a part of the national education curriculum from the primary level, to raise the level of civic awareness and participation of Malaysian youth.
Often youth are viewed as apathetic. What many don’t realise is that young people are politically aware.
In fact, there are many who are already politically and socially engaged in their communities.
Lowering the voting age would provide the platform for these young people to formally participate in our democracy.
It would also recognise the valuable contributions youth can make to the nation.
Crucially, it would send a clear message to our future generation that we appreciate their idealism and passion in building up Malaysia.
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