The Malaysian Bar is deeply troubled about the delay in the implementation of Undi-18 — a move to lower the voting age to 18, and to enable automatic voter registration. In July 2019, Parliament passed the Constitution (Amendment) Act 2019 (the “Act”). This reduced the voting age eligibility from 21 to 18 years by amending Article 119(1)(a) of the Federal Constitution. It was gazetted on 10 September 2019. The move had broad bipartisan support from both the Government and the Opposition, and was hailed as a milestone for the enfranchisement of young people. It has been estimated that there would be approximately 1.2 million new voters once the changes come into effect.1 At the same time, the Act also amended Article 119(4) of the Federal Constitution to remove the need to apply for registration as a voter. Voter registration would henceforth be automatic.
The Chairman of the Election Commission (“EC”) has now stated, on 25 March 2021, that implementing the lowering of the minimum voting age to 18 and automatic voter registration could only be accomplished after 1 September 2022, citing constraints and difficulties brought about by the Movement Control Order (“MCO”) that began in March 2020.2
With respect, this delay is unacceptable, and the reason given is simply unconvincing. On 18 September 2020, the Deputy Chairman of the EC was reported to have told the Malay Mail that “there was a team working on the system and they were confident that it could be up and running by the end of June 2021.”3 At that time, Malaysia was already facing the onslaught of the COVID-19 pandemic. Being fully aware of this, the EC together with all Government agencies should have redoubled efforts to ensure that the promised deadline of June 2021 would be met. The MCO could have added a few months delay to this deadline, but certainly not a delay of at least 14 months.
It cannot escape any ordinary observer of the Malaysian political scene that there has been much speculation about the timetable for the next General Election. The Prime Minister himself had stated on 12 January 2021, when he announced the Proclamation of Emergency, that he would call for a General Election once it is safe to do so.4 The delay in implementing Undi-18 and automatic voter registration may mean the continued disenfranchisement of the youth vote. Given the very fine political balance in the country at the moment, the impact of the youth vote on the potential outcome of the next General Election cannot be underestimated. The failure to implement Undi-18 and automatic voter registration may have long-lasting repercussions for the governance of our country.
It is with this in mind that the Malaysian Bar joins the Malaysian rakyat in being deeply concerned about any possible delay in the implementation of Undi-18 and automatic voter registration. We strongly urge the EC to take immediate and urgent measures to expedite the process so that the voices of the rakyat — especially young voters — can be heard when the next General Election takes place.
A G KALIDAS
30 March 2021
1 “EC delays Undi18 to next year, youths under 21 likely can’t vote in GE15”, Malaysiakini, 25 March 2021.
3 “Undi 18: With millions of new voters, Election Commission set to roll out automatic registration by June 2021”, Malay Mail, 18 September 2020.
4 Speech Text of the Special Announcement of Emergency, Prime Minister’s Office of Malaysia, 12 January 2021.