UndiSarawak judicial review application — Relief for over 135,000 young voters

KUCHING: More than 135,000 youths will be eligible to cast their votes for the first time when Sarawak holds its 12th state election, predicted to be sometime early next year.

This follows a decision by the Kuching High Court today (Sept 3) which ruled in favour of the applicants of Undi18 lawsuit, allowing Sarawakians, aged 18 to 21 years, to exercise their constitutional right.

Judicial Commissioner Alexander Siew issued the order of mandamus in allowing a judicial review application filed by five Sarawakian youths to challenge the decision of the previous government under the leadership of Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin to delay implementation of the Undi18.

With the ruling, the federal government through the Election Commission (EC) has been ordered to expedite the implementation of lowering the voting age from 21 to 18 latest by December 31 this year.

Siew also granted the order of certiorari quashing the respondents’ decision to defer the implementation of the move and to take all steps necessary for it to come into operation as soon as possible and in any event latest by December 31 this year.

There was however no order as to costs.

The applicants – Ivan Alexander Ong, Sharifah Maheerah Syed Haizir, Chang Swee Ern, Viviyen Desi Geoge and Tiffany Wee Ke Ying – who are all students and representing Undi Sarawak, a youth non-governmental organisation (NGO), filed for the judicial review application on May 4 this year. They named the Government of Malaysia, the Prime Minister and the Election Commission (EC) as respondents.

The applicants said youths aged 18 to 20 years had legitimate expectation that they would have the right to vote in the next election.

They also sought to quash the government’s decision to delay the implementation of lowering the voting age from 21 to 18 years.

The Undi Sarawak group had won leave from the High Court here to proceed with its application for the judicial review on May 28 this year.

Counsels Simon Siah and Clarice Chan represented the applicants while Shamsul Bolhassan, Azizan Md Arshad and Jessica Lee were present for the respondents.

The Parliament had passed the Constitution (Amendment) Act 2019 in July 2019 to reduce the voting age eligibility from 21 to 18 years by amending Article 119(1)(a) of the Federal Constitution after it received broad bipartisan support from both sides of the House of Representatives. It was gazetted on September 10, 2019.

The Undi18 Bill covers amendments to Article 119 of the Federal Constitution as set out in the Constitution (Amendment) Act 2019.

Section 3 (a) of the Constitution (Amendment) Act 2019 seeks to lower the voting age from 21 years old to 18 years old, whereas Section 3(b) removes any legal obstacles for implementing AVR.

EC officials estimated that the legislation would add approximately 1.2 million new voters once the changes come into effect.

Election Commission chairman Datuk Abdullah Ghani Salleh had dropped a bomb when he issued a statement on March 25, this year saying that implementing the lower voting age and automatic voter registration could only be accomplished after September 1, 2022.

He cited various constraints and issues faced by the EC, which allegedly included the ongoing developments in relation to the Covid-19 pandemic for the delay in implementing it.

Meanwhile, the Sarawak State Legislative Assembly had also passed a bill to lower the minimum voting age from 21 to 18 in December 2020.