PETALING JAYA • Hundreds of youth dressed in black and white gathered peacefully in front of Malaysia’s Parliament building yesterday to push for the implementation of the lowering of the voting age to 18.
The demonstration, dubbed Himpunan Tuntut Undi18 (Gathering to Demand Vote18), started with a march from a nearby field to the gates of Parliament in downtown Kuala Lumpur.
Led by youth leaders from Undi18, a movement which promotes the implementation of the new voting rule, the protesters held placards and shouted slogans.
Wearing face masks and trying to observe physical distancing, some of the protesters also donned full personal protective equipment against the coronavirus.
The protesters carried banners stating “Undi18 now” and chanted: “Long live the youth! Where are our votes?”
The protesters later sat on the road leading to Parliament.
The protest was in response to the Election Commission’s (EC) announcement on Thursday that it would postpone lowering the voting age to 18 from July this year to next year, citing the recent lockdowns that hindered its preparation to kick-start the process.
Federal lawmakers unanimously voted in July 2019 to lower the voting age from 21 to 18. The move took place when the Pakatan Harapan administration was in power.
With the delay, Malaysians aged between 18 and 20 may have to wait until September next year to register as voters, according to the EC’s new deadline.
If Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin were to call a general election this year, these youth will likely not be eligible to vote.
The EC said there are 1.2 million people between the ages of 18 and 20 in Malaysia and all of them would have to wait another year to be eligible to vote.
There were 14.9 million registered voters when Malaysia last held an election in 2018, and implementation of Undi18 and automatic registration would have increased that number by 30 per cent.
A leader of the Undi18 movement, Mr Tharma Pillai, said in his speech to the crowd that it is the democratic right of the youth to vote. “We believe in democracy and the voices of the youth – issues on decent living, issues of minimum wage, we start with lowering the (voting) age so that the youth can choose a government who can take care of them,” he said.
“We want more youth to represent us. We want the government to promise they will implement the lowering of voters’ age to 18.”
A coalition of 16 youth organisations signed a petition yesterday condemning the EC’s postponement of the implementation of Undi18.
“We urge the EC to grant youth the democratic right to vote, as promised by the Undi18 Bill,” said the coalition.
Tan Sri Muhyiddin yesterday denied that his Perikatan Nasional government had any influence on the EC’s decision.
“We are doing what we can to help, but it is difficult during the ongoing pandemic,” he said.
“If they (the EC) are unable to do it, how can we force them?… We have to be realistic and not be political about it.”
THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK