Malaysia Dateline

Malaysia fifty years behind the developed world, what we should do?

Malaysia is already some fifty years behind the developed world – do we want to continue to regress and go backwards or are Malaysians to make another supreme effort for the country to become a world-class great nation?

I first raised the issue of reducing the voting age to 18 years in Parliament fifty years ago on Human Rights Day on Dec. 10, 1971.

At that time, reducing the voting age to 18 was the exception among countries in the world.

Fifty years later today, the reduction of voting age of 18 has become the rule among countries in the world.

In fact, since 2,000, there is a global movement to reduce the voting age to 16 years.

In 2007, Austria became the first country to allow 16- and 17-year-olds to vote in national elections, with the expanded franchise first being consummated in the 2009 European Parliament election.

In the late 20th and early 21st centuries voting ages were lowered to 18 in India, Switzerland and Morocco. Japan lowered its voting age from 20 to 18 in June 2016.

Many countries, particularly in Western Europe, reduced their voting ages to 18 years during the 1960s and 1970s, starting with the United Kingdom (1969), with the United States (26th Amendment) (1971), Canada, West Germany (1972), Australia (1974), France (1974), and others following soon afterwards.

Harold Wilson’s Labour Party’s Representation of the People Act 1969, which lowered the voting age in United Kingdom to 18 years, was given the Royal Assent on 17th April 1969.

It was implemented in less than a year in the Bridgewater by-election in March 1970 and in the general election on 18th June 1970 which produced a totally unexpected result where Harold Wilson lost to Edward Heath’s Conservatives, although opinion polls had predicted an easy victory for Labour – up to 12.4% ahead of the Conservatives.

The question the Chairman of the Election Commission, Abdullah Ghani Salleh should answer is why half a century ago, the electoral authorities in the United Kingdom could implement the reduction of voting age to 18 years old in less than a year, while Malaysia has to take three years to implement a similar legislation.

Furthermore, why are the majority of the countries in the world capable of reducing the voting age to 18, but the Election Commission in Malaysia is struggling with the measure?

Finally, why is the deadline to implement the constitutional amendment lowering of the voting age to 18 extended by more than a year to September 2022, although the Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department (Parliament and Law), Takiyuddin Hassan had told Parliament in November last year that it would be implemented by July 2021 this year?

The Covid-19 pandemic is used as an convenient excuse to commit a multiplicity of sins – from suspension of Parliament to denying voters above 18 years the right of vote in the next general election.

The Election Commission should have been able to register those above 18 years as voters immediately after the constitutional amendment to lower the voting age had been given the Royal Assent and gazetted on Sept., 10, 2019. Why was this not done?

I had called on Abdullah Ghani Salleh to resign as Election Commission Chairman and give way to a new Chairman who can fulfil Parliament’s mandate to ensure Malaysians over the age of 18 can vote in the next general election as he should have known when he accepted to offer to become Election Commission Chairman in August 2019 replacing Azhar Azizan Harun who resigned to become Speaker of Dewan Rakyat that his chief KPI would be the implementation of the Parliamentary mandate to allow Malaysians above 18 to vote in the next general election.

Now that he is incapable of achieving this chief KPI, he should have the honour and integrity to resign as Election Commission Chairman.

There is a seven-member Parliamentary Select Committee on agencies under the Prime Minister’s Department, comprising Abdul Latiff bin Abdul Rahmnan (PAS – Kuala Krai), Tajuddin bin Abdul Rahman (UMNO – Pasir Salak), Mohd Nizar bin Haji Zakaria (UMNO – Parit), Anyi Ngau (GPS – Baram), Shaharizukirnain bin Abd Kadir (PAS – Setiu), Khoo Poay Tiong (DAP – Kota Melaka) and Mohd Azis bin Jamman (Warisan – Sepanggar).

This Parliamentary Select Committee should summon Abdullah Ghani Salleh to explain why the Election Commission is not capable of fulfilling Parliament’s mandate to lower the voting age to 18 years in the next general election, when other countries like the United Kingdom could implement the measure in less than a year half a century ago.

While Parliament has been suspended, parliamentary select committees (PSCs) have not been suspended, and so long as a majority of the MPs in the PSC agree to continue their deliberations – even without parliamentary allowance – they should not be prevented from continuing their work.

The question is whether there will be a majority from the seven-member parliamentary select committee who will agree to summon the Election Commission Chairman to explain why the Election Commission is unable to fulfil Parliament’s mandate to lower the voting age of 18 in the next general election.
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Media Statement by DAP MP for Iskandar Puteri Lim Kit Siang in Kuala Lumpur on Saturday, 27th March 2021.

Lim Kit Siang