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Lower voting age: who has the last laugh?

  • Umno and PAS are set to benefit from the new initiative, unless the PH administration is able to shore up the country's economy and come up with a new vision to turn the tide around.

Sin Chew Daily

“Whoever wins the hearts of young people will win the future.”

Sounds like a political slogan? But say it again now and it will sound more like a political alarm bell!

The government has proposed to lower the voting age to 18, and the opposition goes a step further, calling for automatic voter registration.

Once these two doors are opened simultaneously, they will open up a brand new political realm and rewrite the country's political ecosystem.

Statistically, if the voting age is lowered to 18 and automatic vote registration is in force, Malaysia will see the emergence of 3.8 million new voters overnight.

Theoretically this is a democratic trend, and Malaysia is riding a global trend.

But in real life, who will be the biggest beneficiary from a sudden surge in the number of voters and a younger electorate structure?

The emergence of a massive army of young voters along with their unique political inclinations will dictate which party or alliance to win the next general election and form the new government.

Sure enough it is still premature now to draw any conclusion. The outcome will depend on how individual political parties fight for the support of these young people and how these young people will vote.

From my personal observation of the current political developments in the country, I feel that the nearly four million new voters will pose a bigger threat to Pakatan Harapan than to Umno and PAS.

Firstly, it is no secret that young voters generally lean towards the opposition.

Judging from the last three general elections in 2008, 2013 and 2018, the then ruling BN coalition saw its young voter support (aged 21 to 30) steadily declining from 48.2% to 45.5% and 29.9%.

Of course, there is a host of factors that conspire together to bring about such an outcome, including BN's shabby image and a sluggish national economy, among other things, causing young voters to turn away from the BN.

Another reason that drives them to the opposition is their frustration with the status quo and hence a strong desire for change.

In other words, whoever is in charge will face tremendous pressure from young voters and will find it an uphill task to meet their expectations.

This happens not only in Malaysia but the world over.

For instance, during last week's Greek elections, the left-wing government was voted out in the wind of change by young voters who are more concerned about their bleak employment prospects, despite the fact the government had successfully led the country out of the debt crisis.

Over a year in office, the PH government has yet to fulfill many of its election pledges. Young Malaysians, in particular, have very strong feelings about this, and a reversal of their political inclination is evident.

In the three by-elections in Cameron Highlands, Semenyih and Rantau, young Malay voters went all out for BN-Umno.

Secondly, PH has failed to meet the expectations of the younger generation or come up with a vision that will inspire them.

On the other hand, Umno has successfully exploited this anti-establishment sentiment among the young people to get them to support the party, as evidenced by the overwhelming Bossku phenomenon.

As for PAS, through the power of religion, it has instilled in the minds of young children the party's value system and political struggle. These children have received religious education since young, and have been constantly told that PAS is the right choice for them.

When these children grow up and become eligible to vote, it is natural that they will choose PAS.

PH's proposal to lower the voting age to 18 is a sincere gesture towards greater democratization. The very young and energetic youth and sports minister Syed Saddiq is particularly enthusiastic about this.

Delighted by this government initiative, Umno and PAS are ardent about their enhanced version which will include also automatic voter registration to allow more young people to vote.

The new electoral system may be passed with the endorsement of more than two-thirds of lawmakers, as Umno and PAS are set to benefit from the new initiative, unless the PH administration is able to shore up the economy and come up with a new vision to turn the tide around.

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