Malaysian Youths Sue Govt, Demand Right to Vote this Year

S. Adie Zul
Kuala Lumpur
2021-04-02
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Malaysian Youths Sue Govt, Demand Right to Vote this Year Civil rights activists and some MPs speak to the media outside the Dang Wangi District Police Headquarters in Kuala Lumpur, April 2, 2021.
S. Mahfuz/BenarNews

Eighteen youths sued Malaysia’s prime minister, the federal government and the Election Commission for delaying a move to allow 18- to 21-year-olds to vote this year in a possible general election, saying it was “illegal.” 

Malaysia’s 1.2 million young citizens would be able to vote only after September 2022 because the coronavirus pandemic had delayed the automatic registration of voters, the commission announced last week.

In their lawsuit filed at the Kuala Lumpur High Court, the young plaintiffs asked the court to allow 18- to 21-year-olds to vote by July this year, Nurul Rifayah, one of those suing, told a news conference.

“We are seeking a declaration by the court that the government decision to delay the lowering the voting age from 21 to 18 is irrational, illegal, disproportionate, and amounts to voter suppression,” Nurul said. 

“Other than that, we are also appealing to the court to instruct the government to implement Section 3 (a) Constitution Rights (Amendment) 2019 on/or before July 2021,” she said, referring to the amendment that reduced the minimum voting age to 18 from 21. 

The Young Voters Association group, commonly called Undi18, is standing firm on its call that the voting age be lowered this year, she said. 

Malaysia’s parliament approved amendments to the Constitution Bill to lower the voting age to 18 from 21, in July 2019. The government at the time, which was led by a prime minister in his nineties, promised to implement the amendment in two years, but Mahathir Mohamad’s administration collapsed the next year. 

New Sin Yew, a lawyer for the youths, said the lawsuit specified that 18- to 21-year-olds should be allowed to vote starting in July because there was a possibility that general elections would be held around then or soon after.  

“This matter should be viewed seriously as the parliament could be dissolved at any time and adults should be allowed to cast their votes,” New said. 

Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin, who advised the king to impose an emergency in January, has repeatedly said since that as soon as the COVID-19 pandemic subsided he would ask the king to dissolve parliament and call national elections. 

In addition, some analysts had told BenarNews that the considerable turmoil in the ruling coalition has roiled the political situation in the country. 

Many opposition leaders had said Muhyiddin had requested that an emergency be imposed because he wanted to hold on to power, as he had allegedly lost majority support in parliament.

Last week, Muhyiddin denied that his administration had any role in the decision to delay the vote for young people.

The Election Commission, he said, was free from government influence and the delay was caused by pandemic-related restrictions.

Election Commission Chairman Abdul Ghani Salleh had announced that movement restrictions to curb the spread of COVID-19 had delayed preparations to complete the automatic registration of voters.

“The EC would like to clarify that preparations toward the implementation are still ongoing and in the process of being taken,” Ghani said on March 25.

“This includes work such as system development, data review and coordination, follow-up engagement programs with government agencies, political parties and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) as well as preparations – other preparations related to it.”

On Friday, ex-Prime Minister Mahathir said he supported Undi18’s demands.

“Everything has been recorded [in the government system], they [the government] could access the record at any time, so they could easily know where a person lives and have his/her identification information and so on,” Mahathir, 95, told reporters.

 “So there is no reason for this to be postponed. If it is true that this is being dragged out, it not accidental. The youths should be taking part in the general election process, this is unfair.”

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