All have right to vote

By Ken Vin Lek, Free Malaysia Today


KUALA LUMPUR: Democracy has taken firm roots in Malaysia ever since the country held its first general election in 1955. From that early days, the people were given the responsibility of choosing a government to lead the country. They had tasted democracy and the voting trend through the years had been peaceful. But the 1969 race riots in the aftermath of a tumultuous election interrupted the smooth curve and democracy was reined in briefly. Then it returned and the ride had all along been smooth for the ruling party until the 2008 political tsunami.

In that historic polls, the Barisan Nasional won 51.4% of the popular vote while Pakatan Rakyat garnered 47.5%.

But the turnout for the 2008 polls was low. FMT carried out a study and found that the percentage of Malaysians who played a role in electing the current government was only a meagre 28.64% or 7.94 million of the total population (28.3 million).

Why the low turnout? One of the reasons was that 42.68% of the population is actually made up of people aged below 21 – which is the legal age to vote.

In Malaysia, a voter must be 21 years old on the “qualifying date”. This means he must be 21 on the day he registered as a voter and not on the date of the election.

Thus, it is hard to describe Malaysia as a democracy, given that the simple majority held by the government only makes up about one-fourth of the population.

The minimum voting age was introduced when the Federal Constitution was formulated in 1957 and has never been amended since.

Many parties, including politicians, academics and NGOs, have called for the voting age to be lowered.

In fact, this was one of the many proposals Bersih, an NGO, recommended in its memorandum submitted to the Election Commission.

Comparisons between countries

Based on a FMT survey of 221 countries or regions where democratic elections take place, it was found that the voting age in seven countries is 16.

In six countries, including Indonesia and Sudan, it is 17 whereas as many as 188 countries opted for 18 as the legal age for voting.