MALAYSIA Tanah Tumpah Darahku


Sunday, June 30, 2019

Time to allow adults to vote

It has been reported that the Government intends to table a bill to amend the Federal Constitution to lower the voting age to 18. This will be the second attempt by the Pakatan Harapan + Warisan government to amend the Federal Constitution.
This proposed amendment is a long time coming. We are in the minority compared to the rest of the world. In countries such as the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, India and Iran, the voting age is 18.
In South-East Asia, a voter who is 18 may vote in Thailand, the Philippines and Indonesia. In fact, there are already discussions in certain jurisdictions to lower the voting age to 16!
The right to vote is a sacred right in any democratic country. In Malaysia, the right to vote is guaranteed by the Federal Constitution.
According to Article 119(1) of the Federal Constitution, a citizen who has reached 21 years, is resident in a particular election constituency and has been registered as a voter, is eligible and has the right to vote in any elections to the Dewan Rakyat or the State Legislative Assembly.
In Malaysia, the age of majority is 18 years old. Once a person has reached the age of majority, the law sees him or her as an adult. He or she is no longer a minor or a child. 
He or she can enter into contracts, no longer needs a representative to initiate or defend suits, and will be tried as an adult if he or she is charged in Court. In Malaysia, a person can be married and obtain a driving licence by the time he or she is 18. But he or she cannot vote to determine who will represent him or her in Parliament or the State Legislative Assembly.
There are arguments along the lines that an adult below 21 is not ‘mature’ enough to vote.
Maturity is not determined by age. Political maturity of voters comes with education, not age. A voter who is informed is far more politically mature compared to a voter who is equipped with less information. What is required is that the voter is mentally sound, in that he or she knows what he or she is doing – not that he is “matured”.
Voter education is crucial, but it is important for voters of all ages and spectrum. The Government should step up voter education and constitutional awareness efforts.
Maturity is also not a requirement to participate in elections. Political maturity is important in order to ensure that the best people are elected, but the democratic right to vote has never been premised or conditioned upon political maturity.
If this is the case, then when Malaya achieved independence, the people should never have been given the right to vote until they are ‘politically mature’. Instead, our suffrage came with our independence from the British.
There is no good or compelling reason as to why adults should not be allowed to vote. It is hoped that the bill to lower the voting age will be passed by Parliament.

SYAHREDZAN JOHAN is a civil liberties lawyer and political secretary to Iskandar Puteri Member of Parliament Lim Kit Siang. - Mkini

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