ONE thing that Malaysia should not be take pride of is its voting age. Many countries have allowed 18 year olds to vote, but Malaysia is one of 13 countries that have yet to implement it.
An 18 year old can get married, join the military and even be convicted as a criminal.
Clearly, they have decided their choices and seem to know why they want. And for the most part, the government and people have acknowledged it.
Yet, when it comes to voting, the same room for responsibility has not been granted.
At times, it may be important to swim against the current, but in this instance, at a moment where we are pushing to empower our youth, it would be a shame if we did not lower the voting age from 21 to 18.
Credit must be given to Pakatan Harapan for wanting to make this reform happen.
If we want more political literacy among the youth, then Undi18 is the right step towards this future. We do not have enough political space for youth to voice out on issues that matter to them.
Climate change, unemployment, education loans and unpaid National Higher Education Fund Corporation loans are some of the concerns. Why do we need the older generation to represent the youth when they can do so themselves?
The argument opposing Undi18 is that youth are politically immature, spend too much time on social media and ignore the reality around them.
Have we lost faith in our youth? Think of it this way: to the older generation opposing Undi18, does this not reflect doubts about our parenting?
The youth of today are the product of our teachings. If you believe you raised your children well, you should trust them.
I have seen youth involved in community activities.
We have schoolchildren engaging in voluntary organisations and interested in global affairs, like the Penang students’ participation in the global Youth
Strike for Climate Change campaign.
With organisations like the Malaysian Girl Guides Association and Leo Club, youth have proved their capabilities in leadership, community-building and volunteerism.
These qualities showcase their maturity for nation-building.
We must not forget that the essence of democracy is not measured by the level of political maturity, but by the people’s participation.
Undi18 is a step towards a stronger democracy. Everyone votes differently. Some vote based on ideology, others on policies and populist measures.
We should allow Undi18 to pave the way for inclusivity. Bring rural youth into the mainstream to vote or decide on matters that impact them.
With the lowering of the voting age, other matters should also be considered, such as automatic voter registration.
The registration process can take up to six months with approval given on a quarterly basis. In the last election, many people who did register were denied the right to vote due to this slow process.
No doubt there will be attempts by some parties to manipulate youth.
I do not see this as regression, but progress for Malaysia.
Fears of political manipulation trigger a response for educational reforms that involve more political education in schools, which leads to more political participation by the nation.
It’s a positive trickle-down effect.
Sharifah Sakinah Syed Alwi
Post-graduate student, International Institute of Public Policy and Management, Universiti Malaya