Holding back democracy

Our political leaders will know our priorities only if we tell them, again and again, and if those priorities begin to show up in the polls.

– Wall Street Journal columnist

“Mana undi kami?” (“Where is our vote?”)

This was the question being asked by some 100 protesters last Saturday, who gathered at the barricaded entrance to our Parliament.

The Undi18 initiative supporters also sat here in silence for 18 minutes to highlight their discontent about the delay in the implementation of the planned expansion of democracy by allowing 18-year-olds to vote.

This issue arose when on March 25 the Election Commission announced the postponement of the implementation of the Undi18 initiative to September 2022.

The reason for the delay was that this was due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the movement control orders (MCOs) and the declaration of Emergency.

Additional reasons have also been given by the Election Commission and which include technical issues apparently related to the collection and integration of data for electoral purposes.

The Undi18 initiative was meant to have been implemented in the latter part of this year and would have entitled an estimated 1.2 million youth between 18 to 20 to vote.

Previously our Federal Constitution under Article 119 (1) (a) had set the voting age at 21.

In July 2019, Parliament and politicians across the political divide unanimously agreed to amend the Federal Constitution and lower the minimum voting age from 21 to 18.

The government and the Electoral Commission must realise that increasingly the public feels that the reasons given are not valid and illogical.

The public sentiment appears to be that the real reason appears to be anxiety that the votes of these youngsters might not be favourable to the government.

I too find it difficult to believe that an organisation that deals in people’s data for such a long time is unable to process or integrate new voters and those 18 onwards into the electoral roll.

If they don’t have in-house expertise, they can hire them or get specialised companies to help them.

Since Parliament has already amended the constitution to allow 18-year-olds to vote, this intention should be implemented soonest without excuses or delay.

Another important point to note is that delaying the implementation will only raise the ire of those who are denied the vote now.

Consider this scenario — the angry 18-year-old who has been denied the vote today, will most likely remember those that denied it to them.

Consequently, this angry 18-year-old could decide to vote against anyone who does not support them now, once they are eventually entitled to vote. So where is the logic to fear their vote now?

In fact, the government should show them that they are welcome to participate in our democratic process and that they will move ‘heaven and earth’ to enable them to vote at the next election.

Surprisingly, there are still some out-of-touch politicians arguing that these young voters are not mature in their thinking to make decisions as to who their elected representative should be.

These same characters, however, deem it is acceptable for citizens below 18 to be mature enough to get married.

Were the over 21-year-old voters who voted in elected representatives being responsible when they voted in the ‘frogs’? Did they understand what they were doing? Did they exercise political maturity?

I would say that the youngsters are more mature than the politicians who deem it fit and proper to continuously leapfrog from one party to another based on their own personal convenience.

Many 18-year-olds nowadays have far great exposure to the political realities in our environment than in the past due to readily available social media posting at their fingertips compared to those of the older generations.

To get the ball rolling perhaps the Election Commission is to allow youths between 18 and 20 to register manually if they find it is a problem to implement the Automatic Voter Registration system.

In fact, I think the government should start looking at the possibility of amending the constitution to allow those who are 16-year-olds to vote as well.

Holding back the expansion of democracy is never a good idea or option.

The electorate is our greatest check and balance against a slide towards an authoritarian type system.

Make sure your vote counts and do make a decision towards a stable government, especially here in Sarawak – keeping Sarawak First.

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