Voting rights for the young

(Speech by the Parliamentary Leader, DAP Secretary-General and Member of Parliament for Petaling, Lim Kit Siang, in the Dewan Rakyat when moving a motion to introduce a private members’ bill to introduce legislation to lower the voting age from 21 years to 18 years on October 16, 1978)

I rise under Standing Orders 49 to move a motion to seek leave of the House to introduce a private member’s bill intituled the People’s Representation Act 1978 to lower the voting age from 21 years to 18 years.

At present, under Article 119 of the Malaysian Constitution, a citizen is eligible to be a voter only when he reaches 21 years of age. The Constitution was drafted 21 years ago, when there was considerable distrust of youth.

Great changes have taken place in Malaysia and around the world in the last decade. In Malaysia, the legal age of majority has been reduced to 18, and if a person at 18 can hold property, and be asked to lay down his life in the armed forces, there is no reason why he should be denied the right to cast his vote to help decide the type of nation he wants to build.

A quick survey of the Parliamentary institutions of the world show that the majority allow their citizens to vote at the age of 18.These countries include Australia, Canada, Finland, France, Federal Republic of Germany, Netherlands, Pakistan, United Kingdom, the United States, Sri Lanka, Zambia and Sweden.

Even in the communist countries, their citizens at 18 are allowed to participate in the voting process to determine their representative institutions. The relevant point here is that youths in communist countries at 18 are treated as adult citizens, and share the same political rights as adults.

I am aware that there are those who think that giving the vote to eighteen-year-old Malaysians is not a wise move, who think the 18 year-olds are too young and immature.

I do not agree. I believe that a person at 18 years has become quite knowledgeable about things around him, his aspirations and expectations and there is no better way to educate our youths about their political rights and responsibilities at a young age.

This is not a controversial issue, and I hope that on such a non controversial matter, MPs can freely express their views and preference.