Are we ready for the new voters?

The ignorance of one voter in a democracy impairs the security of all.
– John F. Kennedy, 35th president of the United States of America

Recently, talks on the recent implementation of the minimum age to vote as 18 have stirred up controversies. With mixed reactions from both sides of the political spectrum, everybody has his or her own opinion.

Rang Undang-Undang Perlembagaan (Pindaan) 2019, on lowering the age of voter from the current 21 to 18 years old has been tabled, presented, debated and amended in the parliament recently to make way for the youths to participate in the democratic process of this country.

The government has agreed to include automatic voter registration and reduce the minimum age to be a member of the Dewan Rakyat to 18 in the constitutional amendments to lower the voting age. The decision has just been recently finalised on July 16, with all the MPs present in the Parliament supporting the Bill.

This is a positive development and it should be welcomed by all parties involved. Nonetheless, caution should be taken before we rush into things. I realise that the government’s aim to involve the youth in the political process of this country is noble.

At the same time, the youth population is increasing and without a doubt will have a significant political bearing on political parties that wish to reap the benefit of having youth on their side.

Why do we need to practise caution?  Mind you, not all 18-year-olds have a political predisposition. I believe that most youths are only exposed to politics when they attend university during the campus election to choose their representatives in the student’s council.

Even then, the turnout was rather low and not many bothered to get involved. Only students from certain disciplines will bother making an effort to participate, especially those from Social Sciences and Humanities Studies because of the exposures that they have. But most would prefer to remain politically indifferent and stay on the sidelines.

At a personal level, I still remember when my sister turned 18, she was busy with her university entrance exams. She was preoccupied with planning out her school schedule, as well as deciding on the university she wanted to enroll in.

She knew some things about the country’s constitution, but politics? Not so much! All she knew was what she saw, and even then, it was not much. She was way too busy with school.

When my children turned 18, it was pretty much the same, except with a twist.

Their generation is tech-savvy; you never really see anyone from Gen Z who is not engrossed in social media. Politics is all the rage on social media.

Almost all politicians have a Twitter, Instagram, blog or a Facebook account. This makes it easier for their supporters to connect with them.

However, the rise of social media has also brought rise to malicious lies being spread, all of which the Gen Z is exposed to. Being only 18, they are easily influenced and swayed.

It is also important to point out that most of the Gen Z generation tends to be more liberal, due to social media blurring the lines between continents. They are exposed to more western ways of thinking, which explains their more liberal view on things.

Nonetheless, as this generation is more tech-savvy, they are also more prone to threats such as misinformation.

Misinformation is quickly becoming a very serious issue in our country, with malicious lies being spread as fact. Not all of the Gen Z will be able to distinguish between the truth and hoax, and this can be proven with the “viral” trend we are observing.

Fuelled by a sense of social justice, this generation tends to be quick to resort to viral anything they do not see fit. At times, these incidents can seriously damage the reputations of some undeserving victims. We can see that this age group is still learning about themselves and not yet fully matured.

Then again, if they are old enough to decide on their future careers, are they not old enough to be able to decide on which party to vote for?

The answer is that these kids have not truly experienced adulthood. As an adult, the promises some politicians have made make or break the deal with us.

We do not care for sweet talk; we prefer to see the work get done. And with 18-year-olds, they simply do not have enough experience as an adult to know what they are getting themselves into.

How can we as a society enhance our youth’s understanding of the importance of participating in the political process? How can we educate them so that they can make an informative and wise decision when they do cast their votes in the coming elections?  And who should be responsible to educate them?

I am of the opinion that the responsibility should be taken up by an experienced non-partisan group whose job is to teach our youth of the dos and the don’ts of the voting process, to enhance their awareness of the significance of participating in the political processes, to inform them that their votes are secret, that they are free to choose whomever they believe will be able to fight for their cause or whatever their interests may be.

Universities, both public and private should also take up this role as well by teaching them to be diligence and increase their understanding of democratic values and respect the due process which is part and parcel of democracy.

Are we ready for the new voters? Only time will tell. Till then, we can only help to guide them through this information-saturated world. They should be taught how to distinguish between misinformation and real information.

We have to start somewhere. After all, to quote Franklin D. Roosevelt, who was an American politician and served as the 32nd president of the United States, “Let us never forget that government is ourselves and not an alien power over us. The ultimate rulers of our democracy are not a President and senators and congressmen and government officials, but the voters of this country.”

 

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the New Sarawak Tribune.