Lowering voting age a first step for climate action

  • Letters
  • Thursday, 11 Jul 2019

HUMANS are left with only 11 more years to make changes in their global energy infrastructure and adapt to climate change, which is arguably the biggest threat to humanity.

Is enough being done to respond to this threat? No.

It’s no wonder then that youths in Malaysia are going online and on the streets to express their disapproval.

On March 25, a group of environmentally conscious youths ga­thered in Kampung Datuk Keramat, Kuala Lumpur to raise awareness on the climate crisis. It was an assembly inspired by 16-year-old Swedish activist Greta Thunberg’s Friday for Future movement to call for government action against climate change.

This was not the first, nor the last of the climate crisis movements by young Malaysians.

In April, we saw two Penang schools stand in unity for environmental awareness as they chanted “Climate justice!” and “No climate change!” In the same day, what started as a simple postcard-making competition led to two students making history with their participation in the global Youth Strike for Climate campaign.

Much of this was achieved with the encouragement of Sangga Sinnayah (pic), principal of the Sungai Ara Tamil Primary in Penang. If there is one thing to be learned here, it’s that with the right channels provided, one would be surprised at what youths can achieve.

Globally, we know that millennials are spearheading the discussion on climate change. Consider Thunberg who is only 16 years old, yet she is actively participating in global affairs. Part of her empowerment could be traced back to Sweden’s structure for youth participation. Voting age is 18 and various forms of local youth councils exist in Sweden, allowing the youth to decide on issues of interest. Climate change evidently is a priority among the millennials there.

If we are to begin a serious discussion on the climate crisis in Malaysia, then youth involvement is vital. It should begin with supporting #Undi18’s mission to lower the voting age to 18.

Taking Energy, Technology, Science, Climate Change and Environment Minister Yeo Bee Yin as an example, the shift in age demographic of leadership is a promising effort. Eighty initiatives have been implemented covering energy, research and structural changes with climate change as the overall focus. There is clearly a higher sense of urgency here and it is possibly driven by the common eco-anxiety of millennials.

In spite of the country’s relatively young median age of 28.5 years, youth representation in Parliament is lower than the global average of 14.2%. Even as the general election last year observed an increase in voter turnout among younger Malaysians, most still believe they are incapable of influencing government decisions.

For a nation with a growing youth population, lowering the voting age is a good step at nurturing political involvement. Clearly, there is interest among Malaysian youths to be politically involved, but there is a general lack of empowerment.

Youths are often expected to follow the existing rules. They are told that they are the future, but when they are keen to be part of this future, there is barely any room allowing them to do so. This is what needs to be changed. By lowering the voting age to 18, we would essentially empower the youths to decide on their future.

We must not equate age to political maturity. In a rightful democracy, voting should be inclusive regardless of knowledge or experience. More young people should be allowed to vote for issues that matter to them and to be involved in processes that guide their future.

Even if political awareness is what determines an individual’s right to voting, how would Malaysian youths not qualify as ready to vote? Climate crisis is just one of the future problems for the youths of today and, as we have seen, youths in Malaysia are ready to address it.

Youth concerns over environmental issues have transpired into mission-oriented organisations. Power Shift Malaysia is one of them, offering not only capacity building but also public policy advocacy at the international level via the Malaysian Youth Delegation (MYD). Is it not the essence of politics to form and be part of a society with a common goal?

Their involvement in these climate change movements informs us that Malaysian youths are already participating in politics. In fact, #Undi18 itself was established by a group of young individuals. It is time we recognise that for Malaysia to take action against the climate crisis, it could only – and must – begin with the youth.


Advisor to the Centre for Governance and Political Studies (Cent-GPS)

Kuala Lumpur

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