KUALA LUMPUR: The bill to amend the Federal Constitution to lower the voting age from 21 to 18 is likely to see a smooth passage in the Dewan Rakyat as the parties on both sides of the political divide have expressed their support for the amendment.
The proposed amendment will enable more Malaysians to be eligible to vote and it is in line with a progressive democratic system.
The question however is, do Malaysian youths have the level of maturity required to make a sound judgement about the nation’s political and administrative affairs?
The common perception of today’s young generation is that they are more interested in entertainment and social media activities than pondering over national issues.
This is exactly what Teoh Beng Hock Trust for Democracy coordinator Chan Yit Fei is worried about.
He said while he welcomed the move to lower the voting age, the current education system does not create enough awareness on the nation’s political landscape, as well as the framework of its political system, for youths.
He believed that Malaysian youths do not have enough knowledge about politics.
Many of them do not know how the government functions and have no clue what separation of power, Parliament and the Cabinet are all about, Chan told Bernama.
He feared that without even such basic knowledge, they may not have what it takes to make a mature decision at the ballot box.
“It is very important for young people to be educated on citizenship, politics and human rights while in school. The education system should be enhanced in a way to familiarise the young with the democratic processes.
“The school environment should inculcate the democratic culture into them to familiarise them with the election process, voting and others,” Chan added.
Yesterday, Youth and Sports Minister Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman tabled a bill for first reading in the Dewan Rakyat to amend Article 119 (1) (a) of the Federal Constitution to lower the voting age from 21 to 18.
Political analyst and social science lecturer at Universiti Sains Malaysia Prof Dr Sivamurugan Pandian, meanwhile, believed that political literacy for the young generation should ideally begin five years before they reach the age of 18.
This means that they will start gaining information on elections and other related matters from the age of 13 when they are still in school.
As such, he said, the existing education syllabus should be improved to enable the political literacy process to run smoothly.
“To enhance political literacy of the students, we need the involvement of families, teachers, lecturers, media and even political parties in guiding our future young voters to become rational-minded and reflect prudent political values so that they don’t make emotional decisions,“ he said.
Another political analyst Prof Dr Ahmad Martadha Mohamed, who is a lecturer at the College of Law, Government and International Studies at Universiti Utara Malaysia, is also all for early political literacy.
He felt that it would enhance their sensitivity to issues such as nationhood and sense of belonging and love for the country
“Currently, there’s low participation in politics among Generation Y (born between 1980 and 1994) because they view politics as a web of power struggles and bringing others down. In actual fact, politics is about expressing oneself using the right channels,“ said Ahmad Martadha.
Pointing to Justin Trudeau, he said he became Canada’s Prime Minister at the age of 43, proving that if given the right opportunities young people can take on the mantle of leadership. Another young world leader is New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern who displayed extraordinary leadership skills when handling the Christchurch terror attack in March.
Ahmad Martadha said in countries like Canada, people as young as 18 can become active in politics.
“When the minimum age is 21, it takes a person longer to develop their political career and get an opportunity to hold office,“ he added.
In Malaysia, under the Age of Majority Act 1971, a person is deemed an adult when he or she turns 18. In a court of law, an accused who has attained 18 years of age is tried as an adult.
Sivamurugan said as it is now in Malaysia, at age 18 a person can buy a car, enter into a contract, get married, obtain a business licence, join a political party and pay income tax.
“This shows that Malaysian citizens can already assume a number of responsibilities once they turn 18. So what’s wrong with allowing 18-year-olds to make a decision at the ballot box?” he asked.
It may even be incorrect to regard them as immature or incapable of making wise decisions because the young generation these days have information at their fingertips, thanks to the advancements in information and communication technology. — Bernama