When age is not just a number

It is heartening to see the younger generation fight to have their voices heard

pic by BERNAMA

THE government’s proposal to allow automatic voter registration and to reduce the voting age from 21 to 18 marks a significant milestone in Malaysia’s democracy.

Prime Minister (PM) Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, who is also the chairman of Pakatan Harapan (PH), said the presidential council has agreed to set 18 as the minimum age for Malaysians to be fielded as election candidates.

This is in response to the demand from the Opposition — especially from Barisan Nasional, PAS and Gabungan Parti Sarawak — saying they would support the bill to lower the voting age to 18 if the government also agrees to implement automatic registration of voters.

If the government manages to get the proposals and bill passed in the Dewan Rakyat, the credit should go to the youngest minister, Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman (picture), for his tireless efforts in getting bipartisan support to push for the bill, which is also a huge leap for Malaysia’s democracy.

For the bill to pass in the Dewan Rakyat, it would require an amendment to Article 119 of the Federal Constitution which was tabled by Syed Saddiq last week.

The last amendment was made in 2007 by the BN government — the last time that the ruling government enjoyed a two-thirds majority in the Dewan Rakyat. It is an easy sell when you have the majority.

The youth and sports minister has his work cut out. He needs to secure at least 148 votes to push for amendments to the Constitution. But PH has only 139 MPs in the 222-seat Dewan Rakyat.

Yet, Syed Saddiq has proven that a movement that originated from social media about two years ago with the hashtag #Undi18 could translate into something significant and tangible in the real world — negating his predecessor Khairy Jamaluddin’s view that social media platforms are just “an echo chamber” for the young and privileged.

“Finally, we have reached an agreement where all the three constitutional amendments to be made on #Undi18, automatic voter registration (for those who have reached the age of 18) and reducing the age of candidacy to 18,” Syed Saddiq said, adding that the Attorney General’s Chambers and the Election Commission had been notified of the changes and to take further action.

Umno Youth representative Zaidel Baharuddin said he will back the #Undi18 proposal despite being the Opposition.

“My purpose in Umno is not to ensure that our president becomes PM — rather, it is to ensure that the values we hold for our religion, community and national ideals be defended and propagated, be it as a government or Opposition, so if PH does something good like #Undi18, I will support it.

“Automatic voter registration and voting age down to 18 are good for the Malay community, especially the disenfranchised ones, the ones who find it hard to get a good job, the ones who lack alternatives post-SPM — they now have a voice,” he said.

However, not everyone shares the same sentiment. Those who are stuck in their power tussles and struggling to remain relevant would oppose the move.

But it is heartening to see that it is the younger generation who are fighting to have their voices heard.

It has been argued that PH’s proposal could be a double-edged sword. It may work wonders for the ruling government if it can woo about 3.7 million younger voters to its side.

The new voters could also end PH’s rule in the next general election, which needs to be called in less than four years from now.

The PH government is pushing for institutional reforms. Some reforms are harder to achieve, especially when bipartisan politics is rare in Malaysia’s deeply divided political system.

The lowering of the voting age will be a test again. The changes, when they are accepted, will be a reminder that changes are happening in the country, its political system and the future of democracy. Ultimately, it is an achievement for all Malaysians.

For everything else, let time be the judge.

Azreen Hani is the online news editor of The Malaysian Reserve.