Kuching High Court orders federal govt to lower voting age by year end

KUALA LUMPUR : The Kuching High Court via a judicial review today (Sept 3) ordered the federal government to lower the voting age to 18 years of age by Dec 31 this year.

Judicial Commissioner Alexander Siew How Wai said in his judgement today that Section 3(a) of the Federal Constitution, which is part of the constitutional amendment to lower the voting age in Malaysia from 21 to 18 years old, would have to come into operation as soon as possible.

He also quashed the government’s decision to defer its implementation to after September 2022.

This means the Election Commission (EC) has to expedite steps to implement the lowered voting age which will enable Malaysians aged at least 18 years to vote in the upcoming elections instead of waiting till they turn 21, otherwise known as Undi18.

The judicial commissioner in his ruling today said the government was “irrational” in its decision to delay the Undi18 implementation to September 2022 and had also acted “illegally” in doing so. The government had initially promised to implement the lowered voting age by July this year.

The initial legal action was brought by five affected youths from the Sarawak NGO Undi Sarawak.

The five youths are Ivan Alexander Ong, Viviyen Desi George, Tiffany Wee Ke Ying, Chang Swee Ern and Sharifah Maheerah Syed Haizir, all of whom are between the ages of 18 to 20.

They had brought the legal action against then prime minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, the EC and the government.

The constitutional amendment had been passed in 2019 and was gazetted.

(Photo by Shahrin Yahya/The Edge)
(Photo by Shahrin Yahya/The Edge)

The judicial commissioner also noted that statements made by ministers in Parliament last year had confirmed that they would implement Undi18 by July this year at the latest, while the deputy chairman of the EC had on March 10 this year also said that they were on track to implement the measure by July this year.

He said the subsequent issues the EC faced in implementing the new minimum voting age had in fact been known from the outset.

“The fact remains that the respondents knew of these issues from the outset, the respondents knew of these issues when they set the implementation date of July 2021.

“July 2021 would also mean that they had two whole years to implement this and they knew or must have known when they repeatedly affirmed the date of implementation every few months right up to March 2021 (when they announced that they could not meet the July 2021 implementation date),” he said.

“The court finds that from 2019 to 2021 the respondents (the EC and government) have maintained that this can be implemented by July 2021, then turn around and said it can only be done by September 2022.

“This is not only manifestly irrational but also illegal and is against the need to implement it at a convenient speed… The court finds that the respondents failed to act at a convenient speed to implement this,” he said.

He also said former de facto law minister Datuk Seri Datuk Takiyuddin Hassan, who had made public pronouncements between April and May that this could be implemented by July this year, had undermined the government’s case.

“No doubt that the respondents’ case had been undermined by the former minister, and the respondents have not disputed his remarks in their affidavits,” he said, adding that the sudden change (to Sept 2022, at the earliest) was unexplained, even when questioned by the court.

He said there must be reasons for the delay and labelled the move as “inordinate, irrational and unreasonable”.

There is also another similar challenge to the government brought by 18 Malaysian youths in the Kuala Lumpur High Court.

In June, the youths were allowed a judicial review against the government delay to implement Undi18, similar to today’s judicial review which is set for decision on Oct 21.

They also named Muhyiddin and the EC as respondents.

In a statement after the judgment, Undi Sarawak said the decision is monumental and significant for Malaysian youths to exercise their constitutional right.

“The implementation of lowering the voting age will allow approximately 125,000 to 135,000 Sarawakians aged 18 to 20 [to vote], as Sarawak State Elections ought to be held once the Sarawak State Assembly eventually dissolves with the eventual lifting of the Emergency Ordinance,” the statement read.

Undi Sarawak also hoped that today’s decision will set a precedent for the ruling on Oct 21 and set a precedent 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 statement read.

By : Timothy Achariam – THE EDGE MARKETS

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