KUALA LUMPUR: The Bill to lower the voting age from 21 to 18 in Malaysia was tabled in parliament on Thursday (Jul 4), a move that could add 1.5 million voters to the electoral roll if it became law.
Tabled by Youth and Sports Minister Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman, the Bill reads: “With this amendment, more Malaysian citizens will be entitled to vote and elect a government through an election which is in line with a progressive democratic system.”
The Bill will go through its second and third reading in the current parliament session, which ends on Jul 18.
The tabling of the Bill came a day after the Lower House passed an amendment to the Youth Societies and Youth Development Act, effectively redefining youths as those aged between 15 years old and 30 years old.
The previous definition for youths placed the age ceiling at 40.
At present, Malaysia has close to 15 million registered voters. About 4 million Malaysians are eligible to vote but have not registered with the Election Commission.
Ruling coalition Pakatan Harapan (PH) currently holds 139 of the 222 seats in parliament, which means the Bill will need bipartisan support to achieve the required two-thirds majority.
The opposition bloc said they would only support the Bill if automatic registration of voters is included as part of the amendments.
“Now there are those who are not registered, they are not using their right to vote. But with automatic registration, everyone can vote,” opposition leader Ismail Sabri Yaakob, a United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) MP said on Wednesday.
“If (the government) doesn’t want to make voter registration automatic, we will not support their constitution amendment,” he is quoted as saying in Malay Mail.
They also want the government to set the minimum age of election candidates from 21 to 18, in line with the new voting age. A Private Member's Bill will be tabled by the opposition on their two proposals.
POLITICAL INCLINATION OF YOUTHS UNCLEAR: ANALYST
A political analyst said it was yet unclear how PH or the opposition would benefit from the voting age being lowered.
Dr Oh Ei Sun, a senior fellow with the Singapore Institute of International Affairs, opined that the trend of younger voters favouring PH might have shifted.
"Not so long ago, it used to be that younger voters are more prone to supporting PH, as their comparatively more liberal and progressive mindsets clicked," he said.
"Nowadays, however, it would appear that a hand-me-goodies 'bossku', 'mat rempit' (illegal street racers), UMNO-hooting generation is gradually making its mark."
Bossku (my boss) is a term made famous by former prime minister Najib Razak in his "malu apa bossku (what's there to be ashamed of, my boss) phenomenon, which is perceived to be an act of defiance against the present government.
Dr Oh said automatic voter registration would more efficiently capture this younger group, which aligns itself with UMNO, as well as youths who were educated in religious institutions linked to Parti Islam Se-Malaysia (PAS).