News & Views

MALAYSIA AMENDS CONSTITUTION TO LOWER VOTING AGE TO 18

Posted on 17th July 2019

The Malaysian Lower House of Parliament voted yesterday to approve the Constitution (Amendment) Bill 2019. The amendment lowers the voting age of eligible Malaysians from 21 to 18 in line with the statutory age of majority. The amendment required a special two-thirds majority to pass or support from at least 148 of the 122 seats in parliament. The ruling coalition were 9 seats short of the tipping point but received the support of the Opposition and the Bill passed with the approval of all 211 lawmakers present in Parliament making this the first Parliamentary Bill to receive multi-party support under the new government that came to power in May 2018. There were no abstentions of dissensions.

Other than lowering the voting age, the Bill also included provisions for automatic voter registration and for the eligibility of candidates standing for election to be lowered to 18 years.

Millions of new voters will be eligible to vote at the next general election once these changes are implemented. “The government estimates that for the next five years, if automatic voter registration is concurrently implemented with the lowering of the voting age to 18, as many as 7.8 million new voters will be added into the electoral roll by 2023”, said Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad in his speech in Parliament on Tuesday. 

At Malaysia’s last general election there were a total of 14.9 million registered voters.  It is estimated that the number of registered voters will reach 22.7 million by 2023, representing about 75% of Malaysia’s 30 million citizens. It is hard to assess the political impact of the lower voting age but political commentators all seem to agree that this could dramatically change voting patterns. Younger voters below the age of 25 are less likely to have the same political affiliations or loyalties as their parents. They will be more influenced by social media and the internet, making the quality and integrity of online information a matter of some concern. The recent revelations of how internet giants like Facebook could have been used to manipulate voters would not be desirable in Malaysia where racial and religious sentiment can easily be exploited. Political parties will also need to ramp up their presence on the internet and target a new generation of internet savvy voters.

Raslan Loong, Shen & Eow