Malaysia Set to Add 4M Youth Voters this Month

Muzliza Mustafa, Nisha David and Shailaja Neelakantan
Kuala Lumpur and Washington
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Malaysia Set to Add 4M Youth Voters this Month A protester holds a placard reading "RIP, Malaysian Democracy" during a protest at Independence Square in Kuala Lumpur, Feb. 29, 2020.

At least 4 million Malaysian youths will be able to vote when a long-awaited amendment to lower the minimum voting age to 18 kicks in Dec. 15, according to a notice in the government gazette made public on Wednesday.

Analysts have said the 18- to 21-year-old first-time voters would represent a game-changing demographic in the next general election scheduled for mid-2023.

Media reports said a picture of the gazette notice dated Nov. 25 was tweeted by Lim Wei Jet, vice president of the Malaysian United Democratic Alliance (MUDA), a youth-led political party.

“The king appoints 15 December as the date on which section 3 of the act comes into operations,” the Royal Gazette said.

Automatic voter registration would occur at the same time the voting age amendment is implemented.

The current United Malays National Organization-led government and the previous Perikatan Nasional coalition administration had delayed the implementation of a 2019 constitutional amendment that lowered the voting age.

The amendment could come into force a bit too late for young voters in Sarawak who may not be able to participate in the upcoming state election, said Khairil Azmin Mokhtar from International Islamic University of Malaysia.

“I believe it is up to the Election Commission. Depends on whether it is possible to implement or not,” Khairil, a constitutional expert, told BenarNews.

“The Sarawak election for the state Legislative Assembly is on Dec. 18, and the law comes into effect Dec. 15. I’m not sure three days is ample for the EC to implement [the amendment].”

Tharma Pillai, advocacy director of Undi18, whose members took the government to court over the delay in allowing 18- to 21-year-olds to vote, agrees with Khairil but is elated that the amendment comes into force later this month.

“We are happy with the outcome today,” Pillai said. “The Election Commission wanted to postpone the implementation to September 2022. Now we have managed to push for an earlier implementation date. This is a victory for the youth of Malaysia.”

MUDA members said they hope the commission puts the required mechanisms into place so young Sarawakians can cast ballots later this month.

“The election commission has to be prepared to update the data of voters age 18 and above in preparation of Sarawak election so all eligible voters can vote on Dec.18, 2021,” the party said in a statement.

MUDA’s co-founder Syed Saddiq, one of the initiators of the campaign to lower the voting age to 18, congratulated Undi18 co-founders.

 “You have given … new voices to the youth!” Saddiq said on Twitter.

Others also congratulated Undi18.

“Your vote, your rights. Be the change,” tweeted Thiban Subramaniam, whose bio says he is a deputy youth chief of opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim’s People’s Justice Party, Kaedilan

A parent, too, was thrilled.

“Happy my daughter will grow up in a country with Undi18 thanks to these brilliant youth!” Nadia Wan posted on Twitter.

Implications for next election

The youth vote “will be decisive in GE15,” Bridget Welsh, an academic at the University of Nottingham Malaysia, told BenarNews after the Kuching High Court verdict. The next election should take place around May or June 2023.

However, after the collapse of Mahathir Mohamad’s elected government last year and the second consecutive unelected government taking power, the national elections could occur next year if the pandemic subsides.

Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob has not mentioned plans to call an early election. His predecessor, Muhyiddin Yassin, had promised nationwide polls as soon as the pandemic abated.

Meanwhile, Welsh said the upcoming election would keep all political parties on their toes.

“Decision puts all parties on notice that more needs to be done to address [the] needs [of the] young – education, employment and respect,” she had said on Twitter.

Youth unemployment hit 12.5 percent in 2020, up from 10.5 percent in 2019, as the COVID-19 stimulus packages “prioritized the more experienced workers,” said an article published in September by Singapore’s Yusof Ishak Institute.

Zainul Harris, a senior analyst at Institute of Strategic and International Studies Malaysia, said the youth voter bloc could affect the next general election if it supports upstanding politics and politicians.

“For example, if the youth choose to vote for politicians who are practicing a cleaner brand of politics, then that might be game-changing,” he told Malay Mail, a local publication, in October.

Young Malaysians who had been coming out in force to protest the Muhyiddin administration are still weighing the performance of the new UMNO government that came to power in August.

UMNO, Malaysia’s oldest and largest party, has a huge base of support although it has been tainted by the 1Malaysia Development Berhad financial scandal.

Najib Razak, the former prime minister and a senior UMNO leader, is appealing his conviction and 12-year sentence on charges tied to a 1MDB subsidiary. He is standing trial on 25 charges including abuse of power and money laundering connected to 2.3 billion ringgit that went missing from 1MDB.

Separately, UMNO president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi faces trial on 47 corruption charges involving millions of ringgit in an unrelated case.


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