Malaysia Today
UNDI18: The Rise of Youth in Malaysia

Vote 18
© Cyrus Crossan on Unsplash 

Undi18 = Vote 18

In July 2019, Malaysia parliament has approved a bill reducing the voting age for general elections from 21 to 18 years old. 211 out of 222 lawmakers said they supported the amendments to Malaysia's federal constitution, which allows the changes to be introduced.

The previous Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad says that “Malaysian youths are now more politically aware than in previous years. This step is needed to give them the opportunity, space, and voice to design the country's democracy through elections”.

In addition, the amendments also introduce Automatic Voter Registration (AVR), with eligible citizens to cast their votes as soon as they turn 18.

In 2019, Election Commission (EC) projected 7.8 million new voters, 50% increase from the current number of voters by 2023, if the AVR system comes into place. That is because the AVR alone could bring in 4.5 million voters aged 21 and above who have yet to register as voters.

Youth participation in politics often overlooked because the boomers will say ‘They are not ready’ or ‘They are not mature enough’ or “They are more prone to strike or to manifest their discontent than to collaborate”.

Youth could be a new breeze in the politics and decision making. They can be a creative force, a dynamic source of innovations and they are fluent in digital tools. They hunger for change, they know what they can do to change the systems to make it better.

Using social media as a tool to voice out social issues, human rights, freedom, climate change, education and economics have done by the youth since social media rises.

In Malaysia average age of the ministries in the current cabinet is 57 years and there is very minimal of youth presence in parliament. Youth political participation is a basic democratic right.

If the minimum requirement to work is 18 years old, then why youth cannot vote on the age of 18? The logic is when they can start working at the age of 18, that means they pay taxes, and when they pay taxes..They are an adult.

Most of the countries in the world, the voting age starting from 18 years and there are too many to list, but there some countries where voting-age starting from 17 years old (Indonesia, Sudan, North Korea, and Greece), but there are also countries that voting age is higher than 18, for example, Japan (20), Malaysia, Singapore, Samoa (21). 

It’s also not possible for young people to sit on a higher position, take a look at Finland, where their Prime Minister Sanna Mirella Marin being the world youngest sitting prime minister at the age of 34. Emma Theofelus a 23 years old Namibian politician who being appointed as deputy minister of information, communication, and technology and also made her the Southern African country’s youngest member of parliament, In Malaysia, there is YB Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman who was the minister of youth and sports at the age of 25.

They are there to be the bridge for other young people, so they have someone to look up to, that they could also involve in politics and make an impacts to society.

So, where all this Undi18 begin?

From student movement to constitutional amendment

Founded by Qyira Yusri and Tharma Pillai, they started off as a student movement in 2016, under the umbrella of the Malaysian Students’ Global Alliance. This gave them access to numerous Malaysian student or youth organizations across the world and throughout Malaysia.

Qyira Yusri realised that there was a lack of political discourse in Malaysia. When Bernie Sanders (former US presidential candidate) came to her university “Western Michigan University” to campaign at that time (2016), and 21 years old Qyra realised that this doesn’t happen in Malaysia.

Both Qyira and Tharma realized that it was because of two things: The Universities and University College Act 1971 (UUCA), and the voting age requirement. Hence, both of them came up with a campaign to lower it for their country.

It wasn’t an easy ride for both of them to be this far “we didn’t have any political connections. We weren’t political interns with access to policymakers. We weren’t kids of Datuk’s and Tan Sri’s”, Qyira said. Many rejections and failures they have to faced when reaching political party.

But their fight is not in vain, the Muar Member of Parliament (MP), Syed Saddiq who was Ministry of youth and sports. He discovered the “Undi18” movement on social media before running for 14th General Election (GE14).

Lobby started. They lobbied Pakatan Harapan (PH) politicians and managed to meet many of the PH youth members, and persistently went to as many events as possible, where PH people were speaking.

But the fights did not end there, After GE14, both of them worked a lot more on both sides to ensure that the opposition would also see the values in expanding their youth block.

Throughout the years, Undi18 has organized numerous town halls, forums, and public engagements to raise awareness on youth democratic representation and lowering the voting age.

And after 3 years – long advocacy, the “Undi18” passed the Dewan Rakyat or The Lower House with 211 votes.

And another victory for both of their work, on 25 July 2019 the ball to amend the federal constitution to lower the voting age to 18 passed the Dewan Negara or Upper House, with 47 votes, just two more than the needed two-thirds support threshold of 45. There was no abstention or nays. Even though on that day 20 senators were absent.

04 September 2019 “Undi18” bill received royal assent by Yang Di-Pertuan Agong or The King of Malaysia and gazetted into law on 10 September 2019

It’s not the end!

March, 25 2021, Election Commission (EC) announced “The lowering of the voting age to 18 and Automatic Voter Registration (AVR) will not be implemented this year as scheduled", which is contradictory to what Datuk Azhar Azizan Harun, the then chairman of EC said, that it will be completed on July 2021.

EC stated that they are committed to implementing the Undi18 and AVR that was approved in parliament for the 15th General Election in 2023. The preparation still ongoing, but they said due to the pandemic and Movement Control Order (MCO) they are trying to be realistic. And the AVR and Undi18 only could be implemented in September 2022.

“Every time we have a chance to get ahead, they move the finish line”, a good quote from the movie “Hidden Figures” to describe the situation. We thought the fight will come to an end this year, but it seems the finish line has been move. We thought we could restart the parliament by bringing the youth to involve in decision making, gives new perspective and the ability they possess as young people to this fast-changing of generation, so it could create a new approach to society, but it seems it’s still a long way to go.

If the rumor is true, and a snap election will be held this year, youth who are 18 years old could not vote. But they did not just stay silent they marched in peace, to voice out their voice to be heard. They try to advocate about the importance of voting rights and political participation at the age of 18 on social media, and just recently the body shop Malaysia supports the Undi18 because they believe the future belongs to the young, with hashtag #MYVOTEMYRIGHTS18

Until now the youth and the organization that supports Undi18 still doing their best to make Undi18 to be implemented this year.