Govt tables bill to lower voting age, Opposition puts caveat

To support the bill, the Opposition wants automatic registration included in amendments to the constitution


YOUTH and Sports Minister Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman (picture) yesterday tabled a bill that will pave the way for almost four million people to participate in the state and federal elections.

The move by the government to lower the voting age will require amendments to the federal constitution.

Presently, only those aged 21 and above can register as voters. But the Opposition wants automatic registration as millions are not registered as voters. Pakatan Harapan (PH) had pledged to reduce the voting age to 18 in its 2018 general election manifesto.

Some quarters have questioned the sensibility of the move as it would drag a larger section of the society into heaty political debates.

Elections in Malaysia at times can turn rowdy, especially when it comes to issues related to race and religion. But so far, the elections scene in Malaysia have been generally peaceful, except for the 1969 race riots which occurred after the general voting.

The government believes the younger generation should be allowed to choose who represents them.

The tabling of the bill is also a test to the current government as it would require the support of two-thirds or at least 148 members of the house, from the total 222 elected representatives.

If passed, about 3.8 million Malaysians will be able to cast their vote in the 15th General Election. Currently, there are 15 million registered voters in the electoral roll.

Syed Saddiq who is the Muar MP, said reducing the voting age to 18 would allow the voice of the youths to be clearly heard and become the foundation to the nation’s formation.

Former Prime Minister Datuk Seri Mohd Najib Razak who is facing multiple criminal charges, agrees to the lowering of the voting age as it is the universal way forward.

But he is worried that schools would be turned into battle grounds for political parties.

“I am in support of lowering the voting age to 18, but my reservations are that young people of that age are impressionable and schools will be a battleground for political parties,” he said at the Parliament lobby.

Opposition lawmakers, however, are sending mixed signals over the bill and stressing on the need to include automatic registration for any amendments.

Opposition leader Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob intends to move a Private Member’s Bill to introduce automatic registration.

“The Opposition MPs have met and unanimously decided to present a suggestion to amend Article 119 (1) of the Federal Constitution, to allow Malaysian citizens aged 18 and above to be automatically registered as voters.

“In line with that, an amendment to Article 47 of the Federal Constitution will also be proposed where the requirement to be electoral candidates will be lowered to 18 years,” said Ismail.

It is estimated that there are about four million unregistered voters.

“Eligible voters who reside in towns or cities have it easy to register themselves, but how about those in the rural areas? The government should resolve that too,” he said.

The Opposition is expected to vote against the bill if the automatic registration is excluded from the consitutional amendment.

PH’s first attempt to amend the Constitution and restore Sabah and Sarawak to their original status in the Malaysia Agreement 1962 (MA63) failed to get the required support of lawmakers.

Election Commission chief Azhar Azizan Harun said the implementation of automatic voter registration needs amendment to the Federal Constitution.

“Amending the constitution on lowering the voting age to 18 years old alone was not enough, it involves amendments to the Article 119(4) of the Federal Constitution,” he said.

Amendments must also be made to the Elections (Registration of Electors) Regulations 2002.