Undi18: Birth pains or electoral gains?

Nattering nabobs of negativity predict and prophesy about the effects, side-effects and after-effects of granting Undi18 rights. This became a national talking point when five youths filed a petition in court questioning the government’s delay in implementing the law passed on July 16, 2019 that lowered the minimum age of voting from 21 years to 18 years.

No appeal was filed following the September 3, 2021 decision of the Kuching High Court. The final decision must have been based on well-reasoned legal points, persuasions and principles. The voice and choice of the voters cannot be taken for granted or accurately predicted because many factors, covert and overt, are in play.

Assuming that the 18-year-olds will vote for the underdogs as an anti-establishment gesture is not surprising, but how does anyone know what they are thinking and what is motivating them? These new voters know about the past and present ruling governments, and know nothing about what to expect if the Opposition takes the reins of government in GE-15.

At best, if the Opposition takes over, many voters will feel a sense of great relief that the old ways have been overtaken, overrun and overruled. When Pakatan Harapan (PH) came into power on May 9, 2018 without the support of 18–20-year-olds, there was great jubilation that lasted about 27 months when another persuasion got into the act.

But what did PH accomplish being that it was the new broom? One former prime minister reportedly said that “it is better the devil you know than the devil you don’t”. In other words, predictions in politics are futile because of the element of surprise that is used to distort the Federal Constitution and state constitutions by cleverly interpreting them.

What is the blueprint guarantee that a new government will rise to the occasion when a large majority of 18-20-year-olds vote for reform and change by choosing a new government, maybe the Opposition, if it has the clout and the grassroots all figured out? How does one gauge whether they will handle the government coffers better by eradicating corruption, cronyism and plunder?

Our 18-year-olds must take the time and trouble to study voting patterns and habits, and how the ruling government ties up all the loose ends. Youths wanting, waiting, wishing and willing to vote must expend resources to study the rudiments of politics, law and government. Blind faith alone is not going to cut it when it comes to making important electoral decisions. Case in point is the PH government’s temporary stay in power.

Ethnicity, willy-nilly, will always play a major role whether or not the new block of 135,000 Sarawakian youths go to the polls. Cultural differences and mindsets must be studied and analysed to swing the tide that may usher sorely needed reforms. Political think-tanks, pundits and prophets of profits can only, at best, guess the voters’ mindsets.

But, why did the Reid Commission peg a minimum age of 21 years on the qualifying date to vote under Article 119(1)(a) FC? Were the under 21-year-olds in 1957 not politically mature compared to today’s youths? Was there a referendum to determine this? Did anyone study and assess a segment of the Malayan population to ascertain physical and mental maturity upon reaching 21 years of age to qualify to vote?

The Undi18 beneficiaries must understand the challenges faced by existing voting systems in various places no thanks to gerrymandering and money politics. Sarawak’s interior as presently demarcated by Divisions and further into constituencies need a fresh breath of air and space.

The real issue is not about the new 18–20-year-old voters. The real issue is contained in Article 117 and the Thirteenth Schedule of the FC. There are principles enunciated relating to the delimitations of state constituencies.

Among these principles contain the restriction of voters crossing state/federal boundaries; the availability of registration and polling machines in every constituency; accommodation given (weightage) to voters whose access to polling machines in rural constituencies is difficult and that “regard ought to be had to the inconveniences attendant on alterations of constituencies, and to the maintenance of local ties”.

State governments that do not control the state elections are given an opportunity to object to any proposed recommendations to the Elections Commission concerning the alteration of any state constituencies under the Thirteenth Schedule, Part II, No.5, FC. This has to be actively pursued.

It is this very conundrum — the alteration, delineation, delimitation and demarcation of state constituencies that holds the key to any elections results. Gerrymandering is not unknown in Malaysia as witnessed in the Lembah Pantai elections of 2013. The Thirteenth Schedule is designed to prevent and prohibit gerrymandering and malapportionment, but does the Election Commission monitor and regulate this part of the supreme law of the land?

Has anyone been punished for gerrymandering in Malaysia?  What is the maximum punishment for election fraud? Aren’t free refreshments supplied to voters on polling day a form of inducement, a bribe, a gentle persuasion frowned upon by law?

What if the new youths have been promised free scholarships by the Opposition in return for their votes? Isn’t that election fraud? How come nobody talks about it?

Being that they are equal partners with Malaya in Malaysia for the purposes of MA63, shouldn’t state elections in Sabah and Sarawak be strictly under state control instead of the (federal) Elections Commission when one applies, implements and enforces the strictures of Article VIII of MA63 under the tenets of Article 162(6) and Article 162(7) FC read in tandem with Order 92, r.4 of the Rules of High Court 2012?

Undi18 is really about the woes of rural constituencies who are unable to enjoy the facilities and amenities guaranteed under the Thirteenth Schedule. Unless this problem is resolved, there will never be an accurate measure of the actual voting patterns and systems currently in vogue.

Our education system’s curriculum hardly prepares our youths for politics, law and government. The Westminster system may be wholly faulty and inapplicable to Sarawak’s voting machinery. The new voters await learning and exposure to the rigors of elections, and don’t amount to a “wild card”. There is a discipline involved here which does not mean the Opposition has an upper hand.

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

Previous articleAt what age should we hit the brakes?
Next articleLeadership development — timely and impactful conditioning