Sense of satisfaction that what I had advocated in Parliament in the 1970s – lowering the voting age to 18 – has been green-lighted by the Cabinet

I feel a sense of satisfaction that what I had advocated in Parliament in the 1970s – the lowering of the voting age to 18 – has been green-lighted by the Cabinet.

After the Cabinet meeting two days ago, the Youth and Sports Minister Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul announced that the cabinet has agreed to lower the voting age from 21 to 18

This however would require an amendment to the Federal Constitution to be approved by a two-thirds majority in the Dewan Rakyat for the decision to take effect.

I call on all the Opposition parties with MPs to declare their support for such a constitutional amendment.

In my first year in Parliament 47 years ago in 1971, (Parliament was suspended for 18 months after the 1969 General Election because of the May 13 riots and the declaration of emergency), I made three proposals for electoral reforms, viz:

– Lowering the voting age to 18 years;
– Automatic registration of eligible voters; and
– Compulsory voting.

Since my suggestion for the lowering of the voting age from 21 to 18 in 1971, the majority of the countries in the world have adopted this electoral reform but Malaysia seemed to be frozen in time as far as democratic, parliamentary and electoral reforms are concerned.

Now, Malaysia is set for major changes to build a New Malaysia because of the historic result of the 14th General Election on May 9, 2018.

Malaysia is today one of the handful of countries that have not carried out the electoral reform to lower the voting age from 21 to 18.

In ASEAN, Malaysia and Singapore are the two remaining redoubts where voting age is still fixed at 21, although men and women of 18 years are treated for serious civil purposes as mature people, able to own property and enter into contractual obligations and rights.

Youths at 18 ought to have the right to vote and to have a say about the way in which their lives are governed and the country is being run, as society expects them to assume adult social responsibilities whether conscription when there is war or national emergency, even to die in the defence of the country.

In Thailand, Philippines, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Myanmar, the voting age is 18, while in Indonesia the voting age is 17.

The countries which have lowered the voting age of 21 to 18 since my speech in Parliament on the issue in 1971 included Netherlands, United States, Finland, Sweden, Ireland, Philippines, Australia, France, New Zealand, Italy, Trinidad and Tobago, Denmark, Spain, Peru, Belgium, India, Switzerland, Austria, Estonia, Hong Kong, Liechtenstein, Jordan, Pakistan, Morocco, Uzbekistan, Saudi Arabia and Japan.

Countries which had already given the right to vote to their 18 year-olds when I spoke in Parliament in 1971 included the United Kingdom, Turkey, Poland, Canada and Germany.

Malaysia has been left behind in the international trend for democratic and electoral reforms.

Now that the Cabinet has approved the proposal for amendment to the Constitution to lower the voting age from 21 to 18, there should not be any undue delay for Malaysia to leave the strange company of countries like Singapore, Cameroon, Lebanon, Samoa, Soloman and Tonga where 18-year-olds are still denied the right to vote.

(Media Statement by DAP MP for Iskandar Puteri Lim Kit Siang in Sydney on Friday, 21st September 2018)

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