Nobody should be denied the right to participate in any democratic process and this includes the right to vote. One of the most critical ways that individuals can influence governmental decision-making is through voting process. In every democratic society in the world, voting has become important instrument for the society to determine their own fate and the fate of their nation. Without voting right, the country can no longer regards themselves as being democratic. Without voting right the life and future of everybody will also be affected. Thus, it is vital for people to be given their right to vote. Voting right has evolved significantly from the ancient time during the ancient Greece and Roman Empire where the right to vote was only given to certain group of people. Today almost everybody has the right to cast their vote through election process and select their own leader. Right to vote has also been considered as part of basic human right. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948 (UDHR), adopted unanimously by the United Nations General Assembly in 1948, recognizes the integral role that transparent and open elections play in ensuring the fundamental right to participatory government. Article 21 UDHR 1948 states that (1) Everyone has the right to take part in the government of his country, directly or through freely chosen representatives; (2) Everyone has the right of equal access to public service in his country; and (3) The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government; this will shall be expressed in periodic and genuine elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret vote or by equivalent free voting procedures. The role that periodic, free elections play in ensuring respect for political rights is also enshrined in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights 1966 (ICCPR), the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights 1950 (ECHR), the Charter of the Organization of American States 1948 (OAS), the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights 1981 (also known as the Banjul Charter) and many other international and regional level human rights conventions, treaties and documents.
Though the right to vote is widely recognized as a fundamental human right which should be given to every human being, this right is not fully enforced for millions of people around the world. Marginalized groups have been consistently denied their right to vote in many parts of the world. Voting right has also become an issue in Malaysia where young group of people between the age of 18 until 20 years are not allowed to vote. The country’s highest law in the land namely the Federal Constitution under Article 119 clearly states that (1) every citizen who (a) has attained the age of twenty-one years on the qualifying date is entitled to vote in that constituency in any election to the house of Representatives or the Legislative Assembly. This matter has also been confirmed firmly under the country Elections Act 1958 [Act 19]. The fact that those who is above 18 years old and below 21 years old been denied their right to vote has been subjected to many debates in the country. Many politician including youth in the country started to raise their voice of resentment and dissatisfaction on such matter. Worth to note that the country’s Federal Constitution has been drafted long time ago in the 1950s before the country gained its independence in 1957. The Federal constitution was prepared by taking into account the surrounding circumstances at the time when it was being drafted which is totally different from the modern world which we are now living in. There are many issues in today’s world which demand active participation of the youth in many aspects of life including in the country politic. As such, to exclude certain group of youth over the right to participate in democratic process like the right to vote is not only detrimental to the youth future but also to their basic human right.
When the country changed their government during 2018 general election, the then new government had initiated a bill to amend the Federal Constitution and lower the minimum age to vote. The Constitution (Amendment) Bill 2019 or widely known as the Undi 18 Bill to lower the voting age was finally passed by the Parliament in the House of Representatives in 2019. The amendment bill lowers the voting age from 21 to 18. The process to seek the support from the House of Representatives for the Constitution (Amendment) Bill 2019 is by no means, easy. Each Member of Parliament (MP) has different views and opinions when the proposal to lower the voting age being highlighted. Majority Member of Parliaments (MPs) for the government (at that time) indeed support the voting age to be lowered to 18 years. However, for the opposition MPs, they emphasized on the issue concerning the automatic voter registration. Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman, Member of Parliament for Muar and the initiator of the Constitution (Amendment) Bill 2019 to lower the voting age have to meet with all opposition leaders personally in order to seek their opinions and support for the amendment bill. Only with bipartisan support from the government and the opposition members, the Constitution (Amendment) Bill 2019 to lower the voting age was finally approved.
The passing of this amendment bill has received many positive feedbacks from the society especially from the youth. Many benefits can be achieved when the country allow more of their youth to come forward and join the democratic process in the election. The effort taken to lower the minimum age for vote in the country should be welcome by everyone as lowering the voting age would strengthen the democratic environment in the country. Young people in the country should be recognized as those who can choose and decide the fate and future of the country. Almost all countries in the world have recognized the right to vote for their youth. Finally, in 2019, Malaysia followed the footsteps of world’s democracy. Thus, the government of the day should uphold the decision taken by the government and the opposition back in 2019 on such matter. The Election Commission (EC) themselves has also expressed their commitment to implement the amendment bill latest by July 2021. Let us immediately give our youth the right to vote!
Dr. Muzaffar Syah Mallow,
Faculty of Syariah & Laws,
Universiti Sains Islam Malaysia (USIM)
YB Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman,
Member of Parliament, Muar.