Opinion

Let’s give Malaysian youths the dignity to vote

AUG 29 — The day I turned 17 was the day I felt like an adult. I could drive!

I was no longer dependent on my mother driving me around. I could go where my newfound adult self wanted to go (Sunny Hill ice-cream parlour).

I was the captain of my own ship i.e. my mother’s car.

Until the day I received my driver’s licence, carefully drove the car home, and carefully scratched the car while parking, I was informed by my mother that the next time I could drive her car was over her dead body.

Mixed metaphors can be very confusing.

The day I turned 18 was the day I could legally get married, sign contracts, have consensual sex and buy alcohol and tobacco. Unfortunately, I didn’t do any of the above because my mother was (and still is, praise AllahTopaVirginMary) alive and very much in possession of the car keys.

(She also told me and my siblings at an early age that if we were to take public transportation without her, we would be kidnapped and sent to work as beggar children in Thailand. It took years to muster the courage to take the bus on my own.)

The day I turned 21 was the day I could legally vote.

I was an adult, I could vote!

Except I didn’t. It took years (and a couple of missed elections) to realise that the voter registration exercise I participated in at the Malaysian High Commission in Vancouver did not make the official electoral roll. I had missed my chance to actively participate in a democracy.

Admittedly, part of that was my own apathy of not seeing my singular vote counting for anything especially up against a government that has not changed since independence. And so I did not bother to make a fuss.

But a lot has changed since then: a couple of rallies for free and fair elections, a political tsunami, and overcoming the fear of wearing yellow.

I am especially proud to see a younger generation of Malaysians being more empowered than my generation. This generation truly understands how their votes, and their voices matter. They make their voices heard, especially on social media and election campaigns such as UndiMalaysia and Generasi709.

Except many of these young Malaysians are unable to vote.

Unlike their peers in Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam, Thailand, Taiwan and many other countries around the world, Malaysians cannot vote at the age of 17, or 18 or even 20.

Young Malaysians have to wait till they are 21 to participate in a democracy.

At age 17, Malaysians are allowed to drive.

At age 18, Malaysians can get married, have children, sign contracts, buy alcohol and cigarettes.

At age 18, for the lucky ones, they are sent off to study in foreign lands and fend for themselves. They may even get on the bus without their mothers.

But at age 18, they cannot vote.

So why this age discrepancy, Election Commission?

This, and other electoral reform proposals that have been put forward by the civil society to the EC, has been rebuffed again and again.

In my humble opinion, the EC has not made any arguments on keeping the status quo for the electoral process that makes any sense. If the political tsunami in the last general election was an indication that the electoral process is already “fair”, then let’s put our money where our mouth is, and strengthen the electoral process by implementing the suggested proposals.

However, the EC has already pre-empted any recommendations to be made by a yet-to-be established parliamentary select committee (PSC), by saying not all recommendations would be accepted and implemented.

At least we can give them a little credit for not wasting any hopes on the PSC.

There are many wonderful quotes out there that talk about how the people, civil society, the youth can bring about change. And I, with all my heart, believe in these quotes, for I believe in the people, especially the youth.

Certainly, it was people power, the nightly candlelight vigils powered by mostly youths, that released the PSM6 activists from Emergency Ordinance detention.

Online, Malaysian youth have kept up the momentum demanding for change and transparency on Twitter and Facebook. I believe that online action eventually does translate to meaningful offline action, such as when the youth took to the streets of Kuala Lumpur on July 9.

Rallies aside, fence-sitters are starting to mentally shift because of the continuous online debates. The argument has gone beyond, “Barisan Nasional or Pakatan Rakyat?” to how can we make our government, regardless of who sits in it, more accountable to the people? 

I say this because I see the change in myself as well. I am a different person, politically, than I was a mere few years ago.

I credit this personal change to the Malaysian youth, for their passion and enthusiasm to see a better Malaysia in their twenties, who in turn, have kept me enthused for a better Malaysia in my ripe old third decade of life.

And why not? There is still hope.

I hope, for you, at age 17 or 18, that you can cast your vote for the political party of your choice one day.

At age 18, you can drive a car, take the bus without your mother, decide whether you want to get married to your first love, have safe consensual sex, think about buying alcohol or cigarettes (I personally recommend against this, it ages you), and with all these glorious adulthood decisions, you can also vote.

At age 18.

* The views expressed here are the personal opinion of the columnist.

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