After triumph of ‘people power’, Dr M suggests lowering voting age to 18

Joe Lee And Zurairi Ar
Dr Mahathir Mohamad speaks in an exclusive interview with Malay Mail at the Perdana Leadership Foundation in Putrajaya June 21, 2018. ― Picture by Ahmad Zamzahuri

PUTRAJAYA, June 21 — The Pakatan Harapan (PH) government may lower the voting age from 21 to 18, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad suggested today.

In an exclusive interview with Malay Mail, the prime minister said the suggestion would be an acknowledgement of the strong political awareness shown by young voters in the 14th general election last month that saw Barisan Nasional (BN) ousted after six decades.

“I think it is worthwhile to consider that,” he said, referring to lowering the voting age.

“We follow the practice in other parts of the world. It’s a big jump from 21 to 18, but it is a manifestation of our belief that people are better educated and they can make a judgment.”

Many countries around the world have adopted 18 as the legal qualifying age to vote, including the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, India and Iran. In South-east Asia, Thailand, the Philippines and Indonesia have all followed suit.

In Malaysia, the age of maturity is 18 years old, meaning one can drive, get married, sign contracts and be tried in court as an adult. But Article 119(1) of the Federal Constitution states eligibility for voting is a citizen who has reached 21 years of age.

Since 2017, a group of youths calling themselves Undi18 have been campaigning to lower the eligible voting age from 21 to 18, saying young adults were the largest age group in the country.

According to Dr Mahathir, the possible lowering of the age limit is especially in light of the response among young adults to public initiatives that drove interest and awareness on the importance of voting prior to the polls.

Despite initial reports suggesting young adults may spoil their votes out of frustration through the #UndiRosak campaign, Dr Mahathir said initiatives like #PulangMengundi, where citizens raised money to bring fellow Malaysians home to vote, was a “completely new “feel”.

He said the peaceful change of power to PH was such a display of “people power”, but done Malaysian-style.

“In the case of the Philippines, people power only occurred after the withdrawal of support of Marcos by Defence Minister [Juan Ponce] Enrile and Vice-Chief of Staff Lt Gen Fidel Ramos, who was also the chief of [then] Philippine Constabulary.

“Only then were they able to express via demonstrations,” said Dr Mahathir.

“Here, the people’s power is very quiet. They just decided, ‘I’m going to vote’, and they went all out to vote, especially young people,” he added.

“It’s shown by their vote, and despite attempts to nullify some of the votes by saying they’re #UndiRosak and all that, still the number is so big that even the government, even with all the machinery of the Election Commission (EC), they can’t do anything."

Dr Mahathir also expressed his heartfelt thanks in a message to those who were part of the #PulangMengundi movement, which included various initiatives including #UndiRabu and #CarpoolGE14, especially youngsters who were involved.

The formation of the initiatives was partly in response to the EC setting the date of the election on a Wednesday, the first since Malaysia was formed. It was criticised as an attempt at voter suppression.