The lower house of Malaysia’s parliament voted overwhelmingly on Tuesday to approve a constitutional amendment to reduce the minimum voting age to 18 from 21 and allow people as young as 18 to run for public office.
If the Malaysian Senate approves the bill as widely expected in the next hurdle, the change to the constitution could expand the nation’s voter registry by as much as a half, Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said.
“The government expects the number of voters to increase by 50 percent to 22.7 million in 2023,” the 94-year-old leader told parliament on Tuesday.
All 211 MPs who attended Tuesday’s parliamentary session voted for the bill to amend the constitution to institute the proposed changes to the election laws, which also include automatic registration for all eligible voters. Eleven MPs were not present when the vote was held after debating on the bill continued for four hours on Tuesday.
“The [proposed] amendments to the Federal Constitution today is a start to a new political landscape in Malaysia,” said Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman, the 26-year-old minister of Youth and Sports, the youngest member of Mahathir’s cabinet who had led a social media campaign in favor of reducing the minimum voting age.
“Today indicates that young people are no longer seen as a burden, but a big trust in promoting Malaysia,” he said.
The bill was adopted after the ruling Pakatan Harapan coalition agreed to the opposition’s demands that the proposed amendments to lower the minimum voting age include lowering the minimum age for running for office from 21 to 18, as well as making voter registration automatic.
“Congratulations to the Honorable Prime Minister, and congratulations to all members of this house for creating history today, exactly one year after the current parliament went into session,” House Speaker Mohamad Ariff Md Yusof said, adding that the lower house passed the bill without any amendments on Tuesday.
At least 148 house votes, or a two-thirds majority, were needed to pass the bill to amend Articles 47 and 119 of constitution that cover the nation’s voting and electoral rules.
The Senate is expected to vote on the bill during its next session, which runs from July 22 to 30. If the upper house passes the bill, then it will become law after the king endorses it and it is officially published.
Should Malaysia adopt the law, it would join other Southeast Asian countries, including the Philippines and Thailand, where people as young as 18 are eligible to vote. In neighboring Indonesia, the minimum voting age is 17.
“We welcome these proposals and we hope that all parties can support this proposal. National youth is a catalyst for the future and this is a form of recognition for young Malaysians,” Bersih 2.0, a Malaysian electoral watchdog group and grassroots movement, said in a statement.
‘I know we need to vote’
On Tuesday, some Malaysians younger than 18 expressed mixed reactions to the news of the day’s parliamentary vote.
“I do not know much about elections, but I know we need to vote … I’m not very interested in politics,” Mohamad Aniq Jalaludin, 14, a student at Klang High School, told BenarNews.
His 15-year-old friend said he had only heard about the parliamentary bill from one of his teachers.
“Yes, my teacher talked about voting rights being reduced to 18, so I’m going to be a voter, but the news does not impact me, “said Aminullah Firdaus Ahmad, a student at another school in Klang.
“Perhaps I will vote when the time comes, but I do not know about its importance,” he said.
Meanwhile, Mustafa Hamzah, the father of a 16-year-old, said it was necessary to educate or inform children about the importance of voting.
“These new things make no sense if the students do not know what they are, and their importance. So I think there should be a form of information or a campaign in schools to make them aware,” he told BenarNews.