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How Undi 18 Went From A Student Movement To A Constitutional Amendment In 2021

Lowering the voting age for Malaysians has been a long fight with little fruit borne yet. Now, Perikatan Nasional’s postponement of Undi 18’s implementation a few days ago has pushed the fight back once again.

As it was already unanimously passed in the Parliament two years ago and was scheduled to be implemented in July this year, this postponement was met with vocal disappointment by many, and a peaceful protest was staged by over 100 individuals on March 27.

The initiative has been growing in momentum steadily, so we looked back on how it was started, the responses it got, and the overall timeline of how it progressed up until today.

Started From A Student Movement

Syed Saddiq has been a fierce advocate of Undi 18 and, while easily assumed to be the face of the movement, the founders behind Undi18 are actually Qyira Yusri and Tharma Pillai, who started this movement in 2016 under the umbrella of the Malaysian Students’ Global Alliance.

They were advocating for the amendment of Article 119(1) of the Federal Constitution to reduce the minimum voting age in Malaysia from 21 to 18 years old. 

In April 2017, they finally launched with a memorandum for Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak. 

Dictionary Time: A memorandum is a document that provides analysis and/or recommendations for a particular audience regarding a particular situation or problem. 

MIT

The Undi 18 bill entailed:

  • Lowering the minimum age for voters in both federal and state elections to 18 years old. 
  • Lowering the minimum age for elected representatives in both federal and state elections to be 18 years old.
  • Automatic voter registration for Malaysians. 

“Lowering the voting age encourages voters to start paying attention to national issues at a younger age to develop awareness and commitment. This amendment means that youth politics will be incentivised to become more diverse, representative and relevant to youth constituencies,” they said on their Instagram.

On top of that, Malaysia was also one of only 10 countries in the world that still had a minimum voting age of 21, back in 2019. Often, the argument that 18-year-olds aren’t mature enough to vote is brought up in opposition to this initiative, but many find it invalid because an individual at 18 years old is recognised as an adult in this country, and is able to marry and build a family, own property, and even be legally responsible for crimes.

Getting Syed Saddiq On Board

Between 2016 and 2019 (when it got passed), the founders held a lot of town halls, forums and public engagements both online and offline to raise awareness on youth democratic representation and lowering the voting age.

“We have also engaged politicians from multiple sides of the political divide, where we presented our case for the lowering of the voting age in Malaysia. We believe that youth empowerment transcends political lines,” they shared.

However, they clarified that they personally didn’t have any political connections nor were they political interns with access to policymakers. This made lobbying the bill hard for them as they constantly got rejected, until they met Syed Saddiq who actually reached out to them via his officer to discuss the bill when he became a minister. 

Apparently, he had already been following the movement on social media long before he ran for GE14. Qyira and Tharma then lobbied to many Pakatan Harapan (PH) politicians, the key people being Syed Saddiq and Nik Nazmi Nik Ahmad, who was Setiawangsa MP. Eventually, Undi 18 scored a spot in PH’s election manifesto.

Syed Saddiq And Tun M Tabled The Bills

With PH’s support and the bill being a part of the election manifesto, Syed Saddiq tabled the first reading and Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamed tabled the second and third reading to all the MPs in July 2019.

According to Malay Mail, the bill was important enough to both Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad and Syed Saddiq that they wrote separate letters appealing for all MPs to vote in favour of the proposed law change.

Syed Saddiq himself even wrote letters to every MP personally to seek their support for the movement, according to NST.

Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad at the time also stated that he believed the youth are capable enough of making wise and rational choices in selecting the country’s leaders, and that being of a younger age does not prevent them from having the necessary maturity to contribute to the country’s development.

Getting 100% Votes From Dewan Rakyat And Dewan Negara

On July 16, 2019, the bill was passed with a unanimous 211 votes from the Dewan Rakyat and shortly later on July 25, 2019, it was passed with another unanimous 47 votes from the Dewan Negara.

The bill then received royal assent by the Yang Di-Pertuan Agong of Malaysia on September 4, 2019 and 6 days later, it was gazetted into law on September 10, 2019.

EC Was Responsible For Implementing This Change To The Electoral System

Now the Electoral Commission of Malaysia (EC or SPR) was in charge of implementing this new change by this July. It is estimated that there would be 7.8 million youth between the ages 18 to 21 who would be eligible to vote for the coming GE15 in 2023.

Additionally, there is an estimated 3.4 million people who were qualified but did not register as voters in GE14 in 2018 who are now eligible, which means the number of voters is expected to increase by more than 50%, from 14.9 million in 2018 to 22.7 million by 2023.

However, President of the Dewan Negara, Tan Sri Rais Yatim stated that the higher voter count is making it impractical to lower the voting age to 18 for now because of time-consuming obstructions faced by the relevant agencies in implementing the rule.

“On the issue of 18-year-olds voting, whether we can implement it now, the answer is no. Although it has been passed in terms of the legislature, in terms of readiness there are many gaps. After looking at the real situation from the lens of the Dewan Negara, it’s impractical to be implemented this season,” he shared.

Previously, he’d also questioned the readiness of 18-year-olds to vote, claiming that teenagers are not mature or educated enough to do so. Hence, Undi 18’s implementation was postponed to September 2022, and heavy backlash from Malaysians was seen. #PNipu trended number one on Twitter in Malaysia a few days ago and #ManaUndiKami is now trending as well. 

According to The Malaysian Reserve, EC cited last year’s Movement Control Order (MCO) as the reason for this delay. Datuk Abdul Ghani Salleh, the chairman of EC said that the commission wants to be realistic and ensure the system is well-prepared before enforcing Undi 18.

“The automatic voter registration and Undi 18 are expected to be implemented after September 1, 2022, after we re-evaluate various constraints and issues that affect the planning and initial preparations of the EC,” he shared.

Syed Saddiq took it to his Facebook and criticised EC for using this as an excuse and that they should’ve had enough time since July 2019 to prepare for the implementation of Undi 18.

“Undi 18 created history where for the first time ever a constitutional amendment which restored the voting rights for millions of youths was agreed by all political parties,” he also shared.

“When I proposed and campaigned hard for it, it was for the youths, not for politics. This government does not want the youths to have a say in the nation-building process.”

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Even though there has been a ton of backlash on social media towards the delay of Undi 18, it is uncertain whether or not the EC will reconsider speeding up the necessary processes to meet the promised deadline this July.

The bright side of the situation is that we’re able to see just how educated and passionate Malaysia’s youths are in being smart voters, which is an encouraging phenomenon.

  • You can learn more about Undi 18 here.

Featured Image Credit: Qyira Yusri, co-founder of Undi 18

Categories: Malaysian, Education

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