Time to allow voting at 18

Early start: In this file photo, a young voter is exercising her right to participate in the political process of the country.

Malaysians can drive, marry, sign contracts and be tried in court as an adult by that age, so they should be able to cast their ballots, too.

WHENEVER one talks about a democratic country, one would immediately think of the act of voting. By casting a vote during elections, a voter in Malaysia is able to participate in the political process of the country.

By casting his or her vote, the voter has a say on who will be his or her representative in the Legislature, either in the Dewan Rakyat or the State Legislative Assembly. Through this act of electing his or her representative, the voter is also able to participate, indirectly, in deciding who holds executive power at the Federal and State levels.

The right to vote is therefore a sacred and precious right in any democratic country. In Malaysia, the right to vote is guaranteed by the Federal Constitution.

According to Article 119(1) of the Federal Constitution, a citizen who has reached 21 years, is resident in a particular election constituency and has been registered as a voter, is eligible and has the right to vote in any elections to the Dewan Rakyat or the State Legislative Assembly.

The voting age, or eligibility to vote in Malaysia, is 21 years.

We are actually in the minority compared to the rest of the world, where the voting age is 18. In countries such as the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, India and Iran, the voting age is 18. In South-East Asia, a voter who is already 18 may vote in Thailand, the Philippines and Indonesia.

In Malaysia, the age of majority is 18 years old. Once a person has reached the age of majority, the law sees him or her as an adult.

He or she is no longer a minor or a child. He or she can enter into contracts, no longer needs a representative to initiate or defend suits and will be tried as an adult if he or she is charged in Court.

In Malaysia, a person can be married and obtain a driving licence by the time he is 18.

But for some reason, he or she can only register to vote at 21.

There are arguments along the lines that an adult below 21 is not “mature” enough to vote. This line of argument is fallacious.

Firstly, maturity is not determined by age. Political maturity of voters comes with education, not age. A voter who is informed is far more politically mature compared to a voter who is equipped with less information. What is required is that the voter is mentally sound, in that he or she knows what he or she is doing – not that he is “matured”.

Secondly, maturity is not a requirement to participate in elections. Political maturity is important in order to ensure that the best people are elected, but it should not be a condition to vote.

As there is no good reason to retain the voting age at 21, the Government should seriously consider lowering the voting age to 18. This is what a group of young Malaysians want to achieve.

The campaign, known as “Undi 18”, calls for Article 119(1) to be amended. According to them, some 1.5 million voters are not able to vote because of the current voting age.

This campaign should be supported. Youth wings of political parties, regardless of political affiliations, should make this initiative part of their struggle. Young Malaysian adults must be allowed and be given the opportunity to participate and help determine the future of the country through the political process.

Syahredzan Johan is a partner of a legal firm in Kuala Lumpur with an interest in the laws that shape our country. He can be reached at syahredzan.johan@gmail.com. The views expressed here are entirely the writer’s own.

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