Lowering the voting age to 18


In a recent media interview, Prime Minister Tun Mahathir Mohamad expressed support for the proposal to lower the voting age from 21 to 18.

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 old, 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.

According to reports, the Prime Minister stated that it is worthwhile to consider the proposal as the Government believes that people are now wiser and can make informed decisions.

Pakatan Harapan in its manifesto had promised to make several reforms to the electoral system, including the proposal to lower the voting age.

Before this, a group of young people started a campaign known as "Undi 18" to call for Article 119(1) to be amended.

According to them, at that time, some 1.5 million voters are not able to vote because of the current voting age.

DAP adviser Lim Kit Siang in his winding up speech in Parliament in 1971 had put forth the proposal to lower the voting age to 18.

He also at that time suggested that an all-party committee be set up to review the proposal.

Unfortunately, there has not been any concrete step by the Federal Government thus far to lower the voting age.

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

The person is no longer a minor or a child. He or she can enter into contracts and will be tried as an adult if charged in court.

In Malaysia, a person can marry and obtain a driving licence by the time he or she is 18.

Yet the person cannot cast his or her vote to decide who will represent them in the Dewan Rakyat or the State Legislative Assembly.

There are arguments along the lines that an adult below 21 is not "matured" enough to vote. However, 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 be a condition to vote.

In countries such as the United States, Britain, Australia, India and Iran, the voting age is 18.

In South-East Asia, a voter who is 18 may vote in Thailand, the Philippines and Indonesia. We are well behind in this regard.

It is time for the Government to take steps to amend Article 119(1) of the Federal Constitution to lower the voting age.

The Opposition parties should also support any motion by the Government to introduce such changes.

In this new Malaysia, there is no good reason why an adult should be denied the chance to participate in the political and democratic process of elections.
Shahredzan Johan

Syahredzan Johan

Syahredzan Johan is a young lawyer and partner of a legal firm in Kuala Lumpur.