MY short stint as a trainee teacher coincided with the 14th General Election and I was able to see how election fever gripped the classrooms. Hence, I can confidently say that our young adults are certainly rooting for the voting age to be lowered to 18.
The gumption of the Pakatan Harapan government to table a bill to amend Article 119(1) of the Federal Constitution for this purpose deserves plaudits.
However, lowering the voting age to allow more youths to vote is not the same as getting them to actually vote. While the former requires political goodwill, the latter calls for political integrity, a scarce commodity among our current leaders.
Take South Africa for instance. Almost six million eligible young South Africans did not register to vote in their country’s recent general election. The South African Election Commission reported that the number of registered voters below the age of 20 was the lowest since 1999.
What led them to boycott the elections? On one hand, the financial shenanigans of former President Jacob Zuma and his scandal-plagued African National Congress party left the country in shambles. More than half of young South Africans are unemployed. The World Bank designated the “Rainbow Nation” as the most economically unequal society in the world.
On the other hand, the Opposition parties’ populism failed to appeal to the youths.
Is voter apathy exclusive to third world countries?
Young people in France disagree. In the 2017 French Legislative Assembly Elections, 74% of French youths aged between 18 and 24 abstained from voting. In fact, French youth groups also organised nationwide protests against both of their 2017 presidential candidates, Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen.
A European-sponsored survey “Generation What” revealed that 87% of 20,000 young French respondents have lost trust in their political system. Almost 99% of them felt all politicians are “more or less” corrupt! So naturally, the 2017 voter turnout was the worst in the modern history of France.
But this does not infer that French youths are a group of lackadaisical citizens. A survey by Eurofound in 2012 ranked young French as the second most active people in volunteer work in Europe after Icelanders.
During GE14, the #UndiRosak movement was our homegrown version of voter apathy. They were branded as irresponsible citizens, waiting for a Utopia to dawn on them.
Personally, I did not support them but they had a valid argument. Why should democracy always be about choosing the lesser of two evils? Such notions sanction moral depravity as a norm in politics.
In short, empowering our youth with the right to vote is a good start but our political leaders should also strive to subdue voter apathy. What greater plight can befall a democracy if their citizens deem voter apathy as inevitable?
DHESEGAAN BALA KRISHNAN