Our evolving electoral landscape

Nothing is more unreliable than the populace, nothing more obscure than human intentions, nothing more deceptive than the whole electoral system.

Marcus Tullius Cicero, Roman statesman and philosopher

The rush to capture the 18 years to 20-year-old voters seems to be on.

This was triggered by the Kuching High Court decision on September 3, 2021 that steps be taken for Section 3 (a) of the Constitution (Amendment) Act 2019 — which lowers the voting age from 21 years old to 18, and Section 3(b) that implements the Automatic Voter Registration (AVR) — “to come into operation as soon as possible and in any event by Dec 31, 2021”.

This successful judicial review application was made by five students from Sarawak.

The pro-active action taken by the five youths to make sure that the much-delayed constitutional amendments were implemented points towards the impact the youth can make in politics. It also highlights the active role they want to play in political outcomes in our evolving society.

There was speculation that the government might appeal the decision. Fortunately, it didn’t.

The inclusion of the 18- to 20-year-olds and the automatic registration of voters across all ages is going to significantly increase participation in our nation’s democratic process.

It is estimated that this enlargement of the political franchise for citizens will lead to almost doubling of voters in some DUN and parliamentary constituencies.

In an otherwise stagnant political pool, the changes via these new voters might have a significant impact at all levels of politics in Malaysia.

This large increase in voters will render the predictability of voting patterns and behaviour based on past elections results redundant. There will be so many new variables to take into account under the new enlarged electoral roll.

It will possibly render many safe seats as marginal seats and marginal seats as unsafe. I am sure the number crunchers are hard at work with all the possible scenarios based on different probabilities.

No party can take any seat for granted once the new voters participate in elections from next year onwards.

I am sure many new market surveys will be conducted in the coming months and years to gauge the voting patterns of the new voters brought in via the AVR.

The changing population demographics will also have an impact. The increase in the Bumiputera population over the years will see a resultant increase in the number of Bumiputera voters across the country and possibly result in more Bumiputera elected representatives.

Due to the reduction in the voting age to 18, we might also see younger candidates standing for election due to the reduction in the age limit for electoral candidates. This might result in some surprising outcomes and upsets in an electorate seeking change for the sake of change, new approaches and new faces. 

Based on a survey of 18- to 25-year-olds, 30 percent of them would like to see new political parties being formed as they are dissatisfied with the current choices.

Just a few days ago a new political multi-racial party was launched in Malaysia, Parti Kuasa Rakyat or People’s Power Party with the slogan, “Government by the people, for the People”.

Protem president Kamarazaman Yaakob said it would be open to all races, and the people of Sabah and Sarawak and are looking to contest in the next general election (GE15).

There are of course so many more variables to consider, some expected while others are still unknown in this new upcoming political landscape.

The few comments and statements I have made are by no means expert opinions or by any means exhaustive, but merely food for thought and points to ponder upon.

Ultimately for Sarawakians, the comments made recently by Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari Tun Openg should be the most important consideration at the ballot box, especially in the 12th state election which is widely speculated to be in November.

He said, “Nothing is more valuable than the unity of our multi-racial and multi-religious society in our joint efforts to pursue the dream of becoming a prosperous society and state”.

The Sarawak government’s combined approach of progressive growth and sustainable stability is the right and appropriate formula. It also incorporates changes necessary in many fields of our lives with initiatives and plans for our youth and upcoming generations.

Let us as Sarawakians, with one voice, continue to make choices that encompass continuous change incorporating stability and a peaceful environment that allows for all our communities to prosper together.

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