Kit Siang says ‘Undi 18’ both a boon and bane for Pakatan

People wait in line to cast their votes at SK Menson in Cameron Highlands January 26, 2019. — Picture by Farhan Najib
People wait in line to cast their votes at SK Menson in Cameron Highlands January 26, 2019. — Picture by Farhan Najib

KUALA LUMPUR, July 5 — Lowering the voting age to 18 is both a risk and an opportunity for Malaysia that Pakatan Harapan (PH) will have to take, DAP veteran leader Lim Kit Siang said today.

The Iskandar Puteri MP observed that younger voters are generally seen as pro-Opposition — which now comprises Barisan Nasional, PAS and their like-minded allies.

However, he said the ruling PH stands to gain if it embraces and conquers the “great challenge”.

“It is generally held that lowering the voting age to 18 will be beneficial to the Opposition and detrimental to the government of the day, and this was why the Malaysian Constitution was never amended to provide for such an empowerment of the youths in the past six decades.

“But the Pakatan Harapan government will demonstrate that it will act in the best interests of the country although it might to be detrimental to the interests of the Pakatan Harapan coalition, and Pakatan Harapan will rise to the challenge to make itself the coalition of choice of the young voters when the voting age is lowered to 18 years,” he said in a statement.

Lim described the government’s tabling yesterday of a Bill to amend the Federal Constitution for a lower voting age as “historic”, saying he felt vindicated as he proposed this 48 years ago.

Lim said he had, in his first year in Parliament in 1971, proposed for the voting age to be lowered from 21 years of age to 18, as well as automatic voting registration and compulsory voting.

Back in 1971, countries which already allowed 18-year-old citizens to vote included the United Kingdom, Turkey, Poland, Canada and Germany, he said.

He listed multiple countries that have switched their voting age from 21 years old to 18 years old since his 1971 parliamentary speech, including the Netherlands, US, Finland, Sweden, Ireland, Philippines, Australia, France, New Zealand, Italy, Trinidad and Tobago, Denmark, Spain, Peru, Belgium, India, Switzerland, Austria, Estonia, Hong Kong, Liechtenstein, Jordan, Pakistan, Morocco, Uzbekistan, Saudi Arabia and Japan.

“Since my suggestion for the lowering of the voting age from 21 to 18 in 1971, the majority of the countries in the world have adopted this electoral reform but Malaysia seemed to be frozen in time as far as democratic, parliamentary and electoral reforms are concerned,” he said.

Lim noted that Malaysia and Singapore are currently the only two countries in the Asean region that have voting ages of 21, highlighting that the voting age in Indonesia is 17, while the voting age for Thailand, Philippines, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Myanmar is 18.

Lim, however, said youths aged 18 should be given the right to have a say about the way in which their lives are governed and the country is being run.

“Thanks to the historic 14th general election on May 9, 2018, Malaysia is poised to return to the international mainstream for democratic and electoral reforms,” he said when reflecting on expected major changes such as the bid to lower the voting age.