A historic day for democracy and youth

The Dewan Rakyat has unanimously voted to reduce the voting age to 18 from 21

pic by BERNAMA

LAWMAKERS yesterday unanimously voted to reduce the voting age to 18 from 21 in a lower house which is often divided by partisanship and harsh political undertones.

The bill tabled by the Pakatan Harapan (PH) government, who does not hold a two-thirds majority (the required votes to pass such amendments), saw 211 lawmakers endorsing the changes with no objection.

The endorsement to the constitutional amendment came exactly a year after the first session of the Parliament under PH’s rule. The passing of the bill will pave the way for 7.8 million new eligible voters to vote in the next general election, which must be called no later than 2023. The last amendment to the constitution was made a decade ago.

Prime Minister (PM) Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad described the passing of the bill as a “new era” for Malaysia as all MPs came together and voted in favour of the bill. The PH government has also fulfilled one of its election manifestos with the passing of this bill.

“The maturity of Malaysians was reflected when the change of government took place without any violence or riots. Now, for the first time in history, we have achieved bipartisanship,” Dr Mahathir told reporters at the Parliament lobby yesterday.

“This is an achievement of the people in Malaysia in their choice,” said Dr Mahathir who celebrated his 94th birthday last week.

Youth and Sports Minister Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman who tabled the bill said the “victory” was a win to the country’s youth regardless of party.

“The youth voter base will make up the electoral majority after this,” he said. PH and the Opposition, led by Barisan Nasional (BN), have always been at loggerheads on many issues. The partisan bias saw PH’s bill to restore Sabah and Sarawak to their original status in the Malaysia Agreement 1963 (MA63) failing to garner the two-thirds majority in April despite the gerrymandering to get lawmakers, especially from the East Malaysia states, to support the bill.

Analysts had predicted a win for PH in lowering the voting age bill, but many did not expect the whole house to come together to support the amendment to Article 119(1) of the Federal Constitution.

There were wild celebrations among lawmakers from both sides after the house Speaker Datuk Mohamad Ariff Md Yusof announced the historic result.

“Congratulations to all MPs for the historical feat to mark the turn of the first year of this session,” said Mohamad Ariff.

The initial bill to lower the voting age was re-tabled to include automatic registration as the ruling government and the Opposition sought to find a consensus.

Former PM Datuk Seri Mohd Najib Razak said the bill was passed due to the inclusion of terms set out by BN and PAS.

“The government side agreed to our recommendations, so there is no reason to vote against it. It is a matter of principal,” he said.

Few countries in the world that have kept the voting age at 21 such as Singapore, Kuwait, Oman, Cameroon, Lebanon, Samoa and Tonga. India, the world’s largest democracy with over 900 million voters, has set the voting age at 18.

Elsewhere in Austria and Scotland, the voting age has been further reduced from 18 to16.

During the tabling of the Constitution (Amendment) Bill 2019 for the second reading in the Dewan Rakyat, Dr Mahathir expressed confidence in young voters whom he described as “matured, independent and informative”, and are politically-conscious and responsible in carving a bright future for the country.

The government estimates that in four years’ time, some 7.8 million new voters will be included in the next election. It is projected that by 2023, the number of voters will rise by 50% to 22.7 million from 14.9 million in the 14th General Election last year.

The bill to amend the Constitution was first tabled in Parliament on July 4 by Syed Saddiq, who is the youngest minister in the Cabinet.

Opposition MPs, including Najib, had publicly expressed support for the bill in general, but included a caveat.

The minister withdrew the initial bill and re-tabled a revised bill on July 11 to include two additional terms, namely the automatic registration for those who have reached the age of 18 and reducing the age of candidacy to 18.