Not the most original proposal or even new. 18 year olds in America have been for 37 years already. Probably time for Malaysia too.
There are no real arguments against 18 year olds voting. If as a society we are quite happy to see them serve prison sentences for committing crimes then they should be allowed to vote for the laws that might put them in prison.
Let me take the issue in logical sequence.
The number tangent
If we oppose 21, then 18 is just another number. So where is the basis?
As I alluded to earlier – in reference to criminal adult prosecution age being 18 – all types of ultimate responsibilities are handed to you at that age, so there is universal consensus that 18 is the magic number where you have to earn your keep. Most parents are still voluntarily responsible for their children at this age, but they can choose to not be responsible and face no criminal prosecution.
If a 14 year old is picked up for any transgression then authorities would quiz the parents, since they are ultimately responsible for them. A twenty year old – even if he or she is living with the parents or living off them – is liable with no extensions made to the parents.
The same applies to financing for education ( In Malaysia parents are required by law to keep their kids in school only up to 15, and even this is not necessarily heeded), travel, meals and security.
You are – in an existentialists angst statement, ‘ All alone in your universe, crossing and coursing through the emptiness of others.’
And if that is your reality then you have to have to right to shape your society, for you pay the price of that shaping. The American thinking to that anathema of disallowing 18 year olds vote was amplified by the Vietnam War draft. The killer point was, if you can be forced to go to war and die, but not be party to the electoral process which decides who makes the laws, made forcefully by the body bags returning from South-east Asia.
The cultural objection prevalent is that the young do not participate in politics since they are young. Politics is the game of elders.
This is reflected by the repressive University and University Colleges Act (1974) or AUKU in its Malay acronym. AUKU disallows students from being in politics.
The argument collapses somewhat as we still hold our 18 year olds as responsible as most 18 years old in countries that do allow them to vote. If age is vital, then the many responsibilities we enforce on our 18 years have to be abrogated until they are 21, when you think they are old enough to vote.
The demographic rationale
At the start and end of the series of climaxes that saw the end of Suharto and start of modern democracy in Indonesia – there were students. They pretty much held the momentum for the change.
The young tend to be less locked in by their past and they do believe. As they put it, ” If you are not a socialist when you are young, you have no heart. If you are still a socialist when you are old, you have no brain.”
Despite my own socialist inclinations, the point is made well. The young tend to be able to afford their principles. It becomes harder when you have a second mortgage on an overpriced home in Damansara Perdana.
And that makes them more likely to not be cowed by the, be with us or pay the price, approach of Umno in any given election. They’d probably not vote for the bully.
With a slight edge in the current political landscape, if we instituted two things, a) the 18 age vote clause b) automatic registration of voters based on their identity cards, BN will not win a general elections today.
They know it. And they fear it.