Within the course of a month, proposal of lowering the minimum voting age from 21 to 18 has been put forward by our Minister of Youth and Sports, YB Syed Saddiq. YB Syed has been a consistent advocate of youth empowerment and that echo is bespoken inter alia on his relentless initiative to include young voters into the picture. Understandingly, albeit there is an alleged positive feedback to such a proposal, there is a whisper of skepticism to have such young and raw men and women to be casting their votes on the ballot when the time arrives. . It begs the question, how far has our Government come prepared for the worst-case scenario in the political alley. Granting such prodigious right can either be triumphant in the name of democracy, or venomous to the overall instrument of state governance. It is an indisputable consensus that the expectation of the rakyat is of the former.
Malaysia is to be known as one of the latecomers to the party, as it is among the fewer countries that maintained the minimum age for the right of suffrage to be over 18 years old. Neighboring countries like the Philippines and Thailand made 18 minimum, and even Indonesia has lowered the age as young as 17 years. The prevalent and predominant law is one of the grounds why YB Syed is tempted to include Malaysia in the majority. Even so, being with the majority cannot be seen as a decision merely to purportedly adhere the popular theme. Every policies formed must have its’ transparent blueprint and framework, especially if it involves public interests to instill confidence and trust to the governing body.
In dealing with young voters, many place education as the primary concern in having the general and essential knowledge as an extremely crucial pre-requisite before one can vote. The system we have today is arguably not up to standard when it comes to the terms of allowing fresh high school graduate to be a part of the democratic process. The nation now perceives that the future of the ever-developing nation is in the hands of a bunch of less-informed electorates. In August 2017, Merdeka Centre and Watan (non-partisan NGO) acquired facts and figures based on a survey conducted, concluding that 1 in 4 West Malaysian believe that their vote gives no difference, and a staggering 70 percent finds no interests in politics. Mind you, this is a survey focused within the age ranging between 21 to 30 years old. The focused group is already considered as adults, yet they themselves happen to be mere dangling with the political realm? That speaks volume, a volume that can only aggrandize with time.
Whilst in the UK, Shout Out UK (independent youth news platform advocating political literacy and education) found as a result of their survey that 92 percent think political education should be made compulsory in school, and 8 in 10 of their 2000 respondents thought that their end in high school produced little-to-no knowledge on political education. The system we have here today must undergo a much thorough scrutiny and perusal to the minutest of details. The syllabus is to include political education, the basic science of governance. Teaching and learning module in school operates in parallel with the Minister’s vision of empowering youth, demonstrating the quintessential chassis in the modus operandi of voting process and democracy. Take England for example, in its’ statutory citizenship education in its’ National curriculum. The subject comprises of key concepts such as democracy, justice, rights and responsibilities, identities and diversity, taught at the age of 11-16 years old. As one of the primary goal of the citizenship curriculum in England is to encourage greater participation in civic and political involvement, CELS (Citizenship Education Longitudinal Study) shows that between year 7, 9, 11, and 13 in 2003, 2005, 2007, 2009 respectively, the political participation has illustrated a steady and consistent increment in in which CELS published that between year 9 and 13, an icrease of 30 percent in the proportion of young people partake in one or more political activities outside school, training institutions or work places and signing petition and electing pupil/school council members were the recurring form of political participation among the cohort. The Malaysians would say melentur buluh biarlah daripada rebungnya. Once such approach is permeated to the core of the system, rooted starting from white canvas of children in school, then political engagement and involvement amongst the youth will the dawn of a new era in Malaysia.
We can indulge hours in discourse to address the arguments for and the arguments against the policy, at the end of the day the show still goes on and it is happening before our very eyes. The people are desirous to witness an enriching democracy environment by embracing younger generations to the picture.
Kudos to YB, to amend such constitutional provision requires 2/3 majority of the Parliament and YB Syed seems to manage in culminating a bipartisanship for this specific matter in hand which is remarkably applaudable. The Minister has gone the extra mile to fulfill one of the promises made by Pakatan Harapan and soon janji ditepati. Now, not only it is up to the Government to show the democratic change that they covet will not rebound against their wall of intent, but also the added ingredient to the bowl of political mishmash aged 18 to 20 must also debunk the dubiousness over their competency to vote. The rakyat wants to be proven wrong, I want to be proven wrong.
Musleh Dzulkefly is part of Research and Writing Team for Ajar Demokrasi