The Undi 18 was again brought up to the attention of many young people for discussion when the Deputy Minister of Youth and Sports, Senator Wan Ahmad Fayhsal allegedly said that Malaysians are not ready to vote at 18 years old. It happened when everyone jumped on the bandwagon of Clubhouse, initiating and listening to many different types of discussions on the popular platform since Elon Musk popularised it.
Of course, many young people especially those who will potentially become first-time voters were pissed off when they read the headlines or when people shared that specific content of the Youth and Sports Deputy Minister. To be fair, if one would listen to the long-form reply of his answer when he was asked about the Undi 18 efforts, he stressed the need for readiness among the soon-to-be voters. He continued to focus on how important it is for young voters to be ready and informed. He was also implying that young Malaysians are not yet ready to exercise their voting rights and they would need some form of prior institutionalised political education.
In July 2019, the Dewan Rakyat made a historical decision which empowers the younger crowd politically. Majority of the Member of Parliament has passed the constitutional amendment that reduces the voting age of Malaysians from 21 years to 18 years. The Bill received support from 211 MPs out of 222.
I may disagree with the words of the Deputy Minister to a certain extent, but he does make some point though. I remember immediately when the Bill was passed in the Dewan Rakyat, I issued a statement urging the Government to include political education in our education system as a compulsory content. I am more than happy to have a younger group to be empowered with voting rights for Malaysia.
While we may think that younger people need political education, I think that the lack of political knowledge does not only affect the youth. I know and have seen a lot of older people regardless of which age group have difficulties understanding our political, government and voting system. Even the simplest thing such as the difference between Federal and State Governments.
Political education should be conducted to a wider age group, but putting it into formal education is a good step to begin with, at least if it is implemented, we know that we would have more politically educated Malaysians in the near future.
The Constitutional Amendment was subsequently passed by Dewan Negara on 25 July 2019 and gazetted in September 2019, I do not think that there will be any changes to the law, but it is only a matter of when.
I think that there is no way on how we can justify whether the 18 year olds are ready for the democratic process or not. There are many 18 year olds that I met that have the ability to articulate about government and politics as well as a politician. And I have also met 50 year olds that do not even know a thing about the government.
If there are people questioning the political maturity of the 18 year olds, then they would have to doubt the political maturity of all Malaysians as well. We cannot have a perfect society that knows everything about government and politics. But it is the government, political parties and leaders to pass the knowledge on to as many Malaysians as we can.
I believe that the 18 year olds are more ready than ever. The Government and the Election Commission can push ahead and make it possible for them to vote in the next general elections.