LAST_UPDATETue, 17 Jul 2018 12pm

Allowing 18-Year-Olds To Vote, What Needs To Happen First

As we all know, general elections can give a vague scenario of the complex and contradictory opinions held by tens of millions of people. However, the voices that are not heard belong to those who are not allowed to vote.

Refusing one’s right to vote is not the best way to show dissent. It merely shows that they will have to agree with whatever outcome from the engaged electors.

Highly motivated and capable of grappling the nation’s issue but are excluded; these are Malaysians aged 18 to 20 – deemed mature enough by the state to pay taxes, get married and raise families, fight for us in the military, and held legally responsible for their actions, yet they are not permitted to choose the government they favour.

Should We Lower The Voting Age?

Lowering the voting age from 21 to 18 had been in local headlines after it was mooted by our Prime Minister, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, recently which would be an acknowledgement of the strong political awareness shown by young voters in the 14th general election that saw Barisan Nasional (BN) ousted after six decades.

“I think it is worthwhile to consider that. We follow the practice in other parts of the world. It’s a big jump from 21 to 18, but it is a manifestation of our belief that people are better educated and they can make a judgment,” said Tun M in an interview with a local media.

Fully advocating this movement is none other than our newly appointed Youth and Sports Minister Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman, whereby, he advocates the voting age, or eligibility to vote in Malaysia, be lowered to 18 years compared to 21 years.

"In these countries, at the age of 17 or 18 they are eligible to vote and it has been so since the 1960s. So, why in Malaysia (some) are of the opinion that young people do not know (are ignorant) and label them as just 'WeChat' groups," he said, local media reports, adding how he targets it can be done before the 15th General Election.

However, there has to be political exposure programmes for young people like the Youth Parliament programme that can benefit young people and such efforts should be strengthened with the involvement of more teenagers, he further suggested.

After his recent tweet regarding his discussion with Tsamara Amany Alatas, it led to various feedbacks expressed by netizens.

Like most countries around the world that have adopted 18 as the legal qualifying age to vote which includes the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, India, Iran, Thailand, the Philippines, and Indonesia, some Malaysians would like us to start jumping on the bandwagon on 18 being the legal age to vote too.

Are our youths ready?

They Might Become Easy Targets To Manipulate For Political Interest, Says Political Scientist

Malaysian Digest spoke to Syed Nawfal, a Political Science graduate, who shared his perspectives with us regarding lowering the voting age and he believes that the right thing to consider is that you first have to be able to form a political decision, on an individual basis, with the correct information, meaning information provided by a transparent and accountable government.

"With this, we can at least ensure quality discussion that is based on facts, hence, elevate political maturity. This has to be the paramount condition to satisfy, not just in allowing younger voters to participate but also politically mature enough to participate in discussion among present eligible voters.

“If not they will be easy targets to manipulate for political interest or they might just echo their parents opinion,” he cautioned.

Nawfal admits he is a bit worried to include young individuals at such an age. As to include them in the political process, means they are open up to manipulation and that can have devastating consequences.

"Also, what are these youth interested in? To have a want is to also have the responsibility to know what to want.

“Looking at my own experiences, I don't think I myself was ready at that age. I did not know what I wanted really so that can be detrimental in deciding the country's future,” he added, reflecting on his own political maturity back when he was 18 years old.

"If the youth can show that they are ready to participate in voicing out their opinion and can organise themselves in an orderly and mature manner, then maybe yes," he opined, adding that currently, he isn't quite confident with the political maturity of our youth.

If the law is passed and lowering the voting age becomes permissible, Nawfal relayed that if a transparent government is efficient in giving statistics from various fields, this would allow the people to then use the information to form a rationale opinion we would then have not much to worry about.

"We would have a secure future; one that is based on knowledge and openness in discussing," he concluded in sharing his perspective.

Earlier a psychologist from Universiti Putra Malaysia who is also the head of a citizenship and youth leadership laboratory in the university Dr Hanina Halimatusaadiah Hamsan, said in an interview with local media that more studies need be carried out before lowering the voting age.

Echoing Nawfal’s cautionary statement, she points out that it should not be “solely for political motives”.

She also stressed on the psychological readiness of young Malaysians to take part in choosing a government.

“We can’t follow the standards of other countries because our education systems are different. The education system in the United Kingdom, for instance, shapes the maturity of children, beginning from kindergarten,” she observed, adding that although we also start education at the same age, but Malaysians are more exam-oriented; we stress a lot on our IQ.

She further points out that Malaysian youth are trained through examinations while students in Western countries involve learning through more social interactions. Also, since Malaysia had defined the age of maturity at 21, as reflected in criminal laws where those under 21 are exempt from adult punishment.

“The elections might be affected as these youths form a big number of voters,” she said, adding that it would be unhealthy if that happens as young people could be easily influenced by what they saw and heard.

Even though there may be some truths that older voters would participate more consistently in elections and that these teenagers would probably not show up at a polling booth even if invited, but a political system that does not include the younger citizens will lead to them feeling alienated.

“Young People From Even The Ages Of 13 Years Old Are Capable Of Carrying Conversations Regarding Ideological Views”

Malaysian Digest reached out to Jean Vaneisha, Secretary-General of Change Led by the Young Generation (CHALLENGER) Malaysia, an organisation led by a group of youth who are active observers of politics and passionate in their aim to help their peers understand and participate in national-level discourse on public policy.

If 18 year olds are entrusted with adult responsibilities, Jean said she sees no good explanation as to why they cannot be entrusted with voting other than the law requiring them to be 21 instead of 18.

In her experiences teaching and engaging with youth, Jean has found that young people from even the ages of 13 years old are capable of carrying conversations regarding ideological views and issues that they care about, without really knowing that what they are expressing is a reflection of a certain type of political view.

“Of course, without the right safe spaces and facilitators to develop these views, it’s easy to lose that spark of curiosity to the tediousness of exam oriented competition. With the right approach, teenage curiosities, coupled with the right access to information and mentorship can broaden political literacy.

“And probably the best way to cultivate these thoughts would be to have an entire subject on government in high school,” she added.

In terms of political socialization, although we have data on youth age 21 and above from the Institute for Youth Research Malaysia (IYRES) and their participation in student government programmes, we don’t really have well-formed national data on youth participations in high school extracurricular performance, Jean points out that therefore, “we cannot make an educated conclusion of whether youths are ready or not at age 18”.

“But what the data does lack is that what we are definitely not doing enough in actively trying to boost the performance of our young people and equipping them for adulthood. Most of the recent data we have available from IYRES are regarding high school students’ view of education through a racial lens following the 1Malaysia initiatives.

“We have been heavily looking into which types of schools are available, the mediums of instruction, the funding allocated, the emphasis on religious teachings - possibly to please old political stakeholder groups. Whether or not the voting age is changed, our system must be updated to better suit the demands of this century.

“In my opinion, forcing the voting age to be lowered will force a change in the system to allow our young people to keep up, and will also force our government to take a more holistic look at what goes into how schools are run. This is a much repeated rhetoric but if Malaysian youths are deemed capable of enlisting in the army and dying for the country at 18, then we should most certainly allow them the right to steer the country in the path they seem fit,” said CHALLENGERS’ Secretary-General.

For instance, enhancing political literacy through discussions about what democracy is all about, what rights and responsibilities citizens in this country have, and what entails good governance etc. are among the discussions that should take place in a school environment, Jean advocates.

Jean would suggest revising Pendidikan Sivik dan Kewarganegaraan (a civic subject learnt in highschool) and consider a subject on Pendidikan Kerajaan Malaysia (Malaysian Government Education) as currently, Pend. Sivik already features the voting process and the position of the monarchy but perhaps they should move to introduce our Constitution, civil liberties, and rights.

“This subject should also explore the separation of powers, the roles of the media; the differences of ideology in political pacts and coalitions; and our key landmark cases that changed our political landscape like the May 13th tragedy. I also encourage high school students or even teachers right now to form mini student governments, similar to the models of university student governments/councils.

“Involve students in the decision making of the school, have debates, write critical articles to the school magazine, campaign, vote for their presidents. And lastly, although this may not be a change in the education system but rather in our voting system, if (or when) voting is brought down to the age of 18, we should implement an auto-registration on their 18th birthdays,” said the hopeful 23-year-old.

Youths Are Definitely More Vocal And Politically Literate Than Before – Political Analyst

Prof Dr Sivamurugan Pandian, a professor in Political Sociology whose interest lies within Malaysian politics, leadership, political behavior, ethnic relations, and election studies shared with Malaysian Digest that he agrees with the voting age being lowered to 18 years old.

“If they can get married at the age of 18, the selection to join PLKN was also 18, and getting a licence at the age of 17, perhaps that is why some felt they are ready to vote once they have graduated from secondary school.

“Based on the circumstances of the recent and previous General Elections, the youths are definitely more vocal and politically literate than before. And I believe social media has been the biggest game changer tool to gain and obtain info on our local politics,” he pointed out to us.

Prof Dr Siva agrees that a detailed research may need to be carried out in order to understand if our young adults are ready as their vote will then play a big role in deciding our country’s future leadership or government.

“Our youths must be informed why the right to vote is pertinent and not based on emotional attachment. The system has changed and if the authorities decides to pursue with this motion, the school has to play a more important role to educate the students on the rights to vote.

As to whether he believes a youth’s maturity is based on his or her education system, as what the UPM psychologist stated, the political science lecturer argued that today, we have high school dropouts as young as 15-years-old and has become matured based on their working experiences and even at school, the peers they spend their time with also plays an important role to influence their political beliefs and ideology.

“The education system is not solely responsible and there are many other elements that influence the maturity level of our youth which includes the media, parenting, educators, peer groups, and their role models,” he opines.

He further suggests that a citizenship subject should be introduced in order to expose and educate the students on the poll system, leadership, constitution, rights etc. Prof Dr Siva points out related experiments can be carried out in school and within their immediate community as well as the process will be helpful to further enhance their political literacy level.

“Immaturity is not just referring to youth nor insights guaranteed by age. A person should be entitled to vote because they are a citizen and that they are old enough to understand the gravity or importance of a decision.

“Society has long regarded 18 as a watershed in national defence and taxes. It is time they had a say in how that society was governed,” he concluded.

--Malaysian Digest