The awakening

You are only young once, and if you work it right, once is enough.  

Joe E. Lewis, American comedian

No, I am not referring to the supernatural movie or the book titled, ‘The Awakening’ or the various other books by the same name.

Here I am referring to the ‘awakening’ of our youth concerning political and social issues context.

There are signs that they want an increased role in the direction and future of our nation.

The social media platform has provided them with an ideal platform for them to voice out their concerns and opinions on a wide variety of political and social issues.

Their increasing desire to be heard is a natural response due to the easy availability of news on social media platforms related to commentary, ideas, policies and actions by politicians and various influencers.

The opinions of these socially aware younger generations can be fast and furious on platforms such as Twitter, especially if the issues impact them or are concerned with justice and fairness.

One such matter that impacts them significantly is their ability to have a role in selecting their elected representatives. This of course depends on the minimum age established by law before they become eligible to vote in national or state elections.

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

However, in July 2019 our Parliament unanimously agreed to amend the Federal Constitution and lowered the minimum voting age from 21 to 18, which is the most common voting age in nations across the world.

Section 3 (a) of the Constitution (Amendment) Act 2019 lowered the voting age from 21 years old to 18 and Section 3(b) removed any legal obstacles for implementing Automatic Voter Registration (AVR) and was gazetted on September 10, 2019.

Subsequently, however, on March 25, 2021, the Election Commission (EC) announced that the lowering of the voting age to 18 and the AVR would be delayed and will only be implemented after Sept 1, 2022, after initially planning that the implementation would be done by July 2021.

Here, I would opine that the word ‘after’ Sept 1, 2022, is vague in terms of a timeframe and does not exactly give confidence to the public that it would be implemented anytime soon even after that date.

The EC cited various constraints and issues (including the now common excuse of the Covid-19 pandemic) they faced as the reason for delaying the implementation.

The excuses given were not really accepted by many, especially the younger generation.

Some even alleged that it was fear among some political leaders of how the new 18 to 20-year-olds would vote that was the reason for the delayed implementation.

This delay led to a group of five students born in the years 2001 and 2002, who claim to represent the Undi Sarawak campaign group, to file a judicial review application at the Kuching High Court on May 4, 2021.

The applicants sought declarations that the delay in the implementation of the constitutional amendments was illegal, disproportionate and amounted to voters’ suppression, naming the Government of Malaysia, the Prime Minister and the Election Commission (EC) as respondents.

In the meantime, there were demonstrations such as the one on March 27, 2021, by some 100 protesters who gathered at the barricaded entrance to our Parliament. The question asked by them was “Mana undi kami? (Where is our vote?)”

Well, on September 3, 2021, they got their answer via the court order of mandamus when the Kuching High Court Judicial Commissioner Alexander Siew allowed the judicial review application by the 5 students.

The order quashed the decision of the respondents to defer the implementation of the delay and ordered that all steps necessary be taken for the constitutional amendments to come into operation as soon as possible and in any event by Dec 31, 2021.

This ‘awakening’ and pro-active approach taken by the students to assert their rights seems to be a taste of things to come in the future.

Politicians can only ignore them at their own peril nowadays.

Let’s hope there is no appeal of this court decision.

It would be potential political suicide for any political party or politician who openly queries or challenges the outcome of this court decision.

They would be viewed as being out of touch and an enemy of the extension of democracy by voters of all ages.

It would be better if politicians embrace the youth and their aspirations, including their aspirations in their manifestos.

With the implementation of Undi18, it would be great if we can soon see the rise of a Undi16 movement.

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