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Sarawak youths win court bid over implementation of Undi 18

This will allow some 135,000 youth in Sarawak to vote at the coming polls.

Staff Writers
2 minute read
Undi 18 or the move to lower the minimum voting age to 18 was approved in the Dewan Rakyat in July 2019. Photo: AP
Undi 18 or the move to lower the minimum voting age to 18 was approved in the Dewan Rakyat in July 2019. Photo: AP

The Kuching High Court today ordered the government to implement the Undi18 law, allowing some 135,000 Sarawakian youth aged 18 to 20 to vote at the coming polls.

The decision is a victory for the five youths who filed a judicial review to compel Putrajaya to implement the lowering of the voting age from 21 to 18 which was unanimously passed in Parliament two years ago.

Ivan Alexander Ong, 19, one of the applicants, said today’s victory was not expected as they had hoped to send a message that delaying the implemenation of Undi 18 was “irrational, illegal, disproportionate” and a form of “voter suppression”.

“Therefore, my fellow applicants and I are beyond jubilant by the outcome of the ruling today.

“Now, in the upcoming general elections, there will be approximately eight million new voters, which is a significant figure that can change the course of an election,” said Ong.

“As far as law reform is concerned, the Cabinet members who form the government must themselves have a conviction for reform.”

The four other youth who filed the judicial review together with Ong were Sharifah Maheerah Syed Haizir, Chang Swee Ern, Viviyen Desi Geoge and Tiffany Wee Ke Ying.

In a statement welcoming the decision, pressure group Undi Sarawak said it hoped the same ruling would be issued by the Kuala Lumpur High Court next month, in a similar suit by 18 applicants.

“We hope the verdict made today will set a precedent for the ruling for the Kuala Lumpur chapter and become a hallmark achievement for Malaysian youth.

“With that, Malaysian youths can finally exercise their fundamental constitutional rights bestowed upon them by the Federal Constitution, in creating a much more prosperous Malaysia,” the group said.

The voting age for Malaysians was lowered from 21 to 18 after the Constitution (Amendment) Bill 2019 was passed by the Dewan Rakyat on July 16, 2019, and by Dewan Negara on July 25 the same year.

However, the Election Commission (EC) said in March that Undi 18 and automatic voter registration could only be implemented after Sept 1 next year due to various constraints and issues.

EC chairman Abdul Ghani Salleh said that while preparations were on track, current developments and the Covid-19 restrictions had affected its plans.

This sparked a backlash including among ministers, with Khairy Jamaluddin who was science, technology and innovation minister at the time saying then-law minister Takiyuddin Hassan had said in Parliament last November that the July 2021 target would remain for both the lowering of voting age and implementation of automatic voter registration.

Khairy also cited another statement on June 7 last year in which the EC chairman had said that preparations including for amendments to existing laws and regulations and the provision of systems and infrastructure would be complete by July this year.