PETALING JAYA: The youth in Malaysia are getting anxious. More than two years have passed since the Constitutional Amendment Bill 2019 was given the nod in the Dewan Rakyat and later gazetted, but those aged 18 to 20 are still waiting for their right to vote.
Undi18 movement co-founder Qyira Yusri pointed out that the next general election is fast approaching, yet politicians are still debating the political wisdom and maturity of young people.
“We’ve had this conversation for years. Parliament has already passed the Bill into law. The politicians should listen to us rather than debate on whether we are smart enough to decide (who should be elected),” she told theSun.
She pointed out that there is only a small window left for the new legislation to be implemented to enable them to register as voters in time for the next general election.
The 15th general election is not due until the middle of 2023 but there are already indications that it could be held as soon as next year.
Qyira said steps must be taken now to register young people as voters. “We also need to look at reforming election laws to expand the scope of postal voting, considering that many people will have concerns about travelling home to cast their votes while the country is still in the middle of a pandemic,” she said.
She stressed that another amendment to the Federal Constitution is not necessary for Undi18 to be implemented.
“Saying that it has to be raised in Parliament again is just a delaying tactic,” she added.
The Undi18 issue came under the spotlight again when Prime Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob offered to introduce reforms in exchange for support from the Opposition for his effort to address the Covid-19 crisis and revive the economy.
Implementing Undi18 is one of the items on the table. The amendment to lower the age of eligibility to vote from 21 to 18 was passed under the Pakatan Harapan administration in July 2019.
However, the change of government in March last year and the Covid-19 pandemic effectively put its implementation on the back burner.
Apart from that, there is another outstanding issue that has to be addressed before Undi18 can be implemented, according to the Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections.
The chairman of the election watchdog group, Thomas Fann, pointed out that if the voting age is lowered to 18, failure to repeal the Universities and University Colleges Act 1971 (UUCA) could be a violation of their constitutional rights.
Under the UUCA, tertiary students, including those aged 18 and above, are barred from participating in political activities. However, an amendment in 2018 gave them a small concession – they could be politically active outside the campus.
Therefore, Fann said, the government should take the necessary steps to scrap the UUCA.
Another area that needs to be looked into is voter education, he said. “Young voters can receive guidance through intensified media coverage not only of the process of voting but also its importance, which is a factor that should determine their choice,” he said.
This, he added, should be done on all media platforms.
Fann said this could be a joint effort among the Election Commission, civil society, the government and the private sector.
He expressed hope that the implementation of Undi18 would not be conditional upon support from the Opposition for some other government efforts, given that it has already been passed into law.
He said the implementation of Undi18 should also come hand-in-hand with automatic voter registration.
It has been estimated that 5.6 million Malaysians of eligible age have yet to register as voters, with 1.19 million of them aged 18 to 20.