Should the 15th general election (GE15) be held after July this year, Malaysia will see a flood of new young voters as the voting age gets lowered to 18 thanks to an amendment in 2019 dubbed “Undi18”, and automatic voter registration.
But with no previous data on them available, these young and new voters remain unpredictable to both political divide in how they would cast their ballots — leading many parties previously endorsing and calling for a general election earlier before July instead, even as the country still grapples with Covid-19.
Prior to the Emergency being announced, several sources within Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia, had told Malay Mail that the party had been gearing up for an election as early as the first half of the year, in order to take advantage of the unknown factor.
One source in the party with connections to a senior minister had echoed the sentiment, saying its “data team” is currently churning the numbers to determine seat negotiations between PN and its allies.
“The negotiations are being made and the data team is ready. The problem with new voters is that the data is yet to be available on them.
“Better to have an early election as most of the parties and supporters will be ready now,” said the source.
But PN and Bersatu now seems to be unconvinced with new voters set to come into fray, with Dewan Negara president Tan Sri Rais Yatim recently claiming that the decision to lower the voting age to 18-years-old starting this July was one made hastily and teenagers are still not ready to commit to the democratic process.
The remarks and rumours that the voting age change may be countermanded has led to the Undi18 movement, which was pushing for the law amendment, to demand Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin to reiterate his commitment towards the matter.
The group also reminded Rais that the decision to amend Article 119(1) on the voting age limit was a bi-partisan decision which was unanimously agreed upon by all MPs on July 16, 2019.
Is the young in Pakatan’s sights?
Pakatan Harapan (PH) parties were also preparing for an early election pointing at the possibility and tendency of PN to not only avoid the new voters, but also exploiting the supposed weakness of the Opposition and banking on the feel-good factor of the Covid-19 vaccine supply.
“When PH failed to stop the Budget 2021 votes, Bersatu would want to take advantages of that.
“They will be using the narrative that the Opposition don’t have a clear leader and used the vaccines as a campaign to get ready for the election,” said a source from PKR.
Meanwhile, a source from Parti Amanah Negara accused PN of not wanting to risk the votes held by younger generations, which he claimed are vocally criticising the government in the social media.
“If you have more voters from the younger generation, it might not benefit PN and Umno at all,” said the source.
In November last year, the minister in charge of Parliament and law Datuk Takiyuddin Hassan said the implementation of the 18-year-old voting age and automatic voter registration is expected to commence at the latest by July this year.
Replying to a Dewan Rakyat question, Takiyuddin added that the Election Commission (EC) was currently working with the National Registration Department to make preparations to implement automatic voter registration and other related matters.
In July 2019, the amendment was passed by all 211 lawmakers present in the Lower House of Parliament, marking the first Bill in Parliament to receive multi-partisan support since the PH took power in 2018.
The amendment also included provisions for voters to be automatically registered on electoral rolls and for candidates to be eligible to stand for election from 18 years of age.
Then prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad said as many as 7.8 millions of new voters will be eligible to vote at the next general election once these changes are implemented.
Who will the young vote for?
But Tharma Pillai, the co-founder of Undi18, said that the huge influx of young new voters may not actually benefit any particular political parties, and perhaps not like what the parties have expected.
He told Malay Mail that the young voters tend to vote on established trends and existing status quo.
“It doesn’t seem that there will be a massive change from established norms ever unless if there is a signification movement. You see in GE14, there was a massive movement for change, with the anti-Najib sentiment for example,’’ referring to the 1MDB global financial scandal that implicated now-convicted former prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak
“Even those who were typical won’t vote for the opposition, typically would only vote based on racial lines or based on loyalty to political parties, had voted for PH,’’ he said.
Tharma added that geography and demography will still play a major role for the young voters.
“There is also a religious and racial element to it, so when it comes to new voters they are not completely unknown factors because there is still consistency in terms of geography, race and religion that help you determine whether or not this person will vote for DAP or perhaps Umno or perhaps Bersatu or perhaps PAS, so these are established things.
“So for example, a young person in Kelantan has a very high probability to vote for PAS, I think these are not unknown factors, it’s something that we already understand.
“Only if there is massive movement then young voters could surprise us,’’ said Tharma, although conceding that PH still has an advantage with support from many young voters nationwide.
Political analyst Azmi Hassan also echoed Tharma’s sentiments that new voters are still likely to stick with the status quo.
“Alas, these new voters don’t have that luxury of choice if today’s political scenario is taken into account.
“It’s again Bersatu, Umno, PAS and PH in the forefront which is not much of change since GE14,” the Universiti Teknologi Malaysia geostrategist told Malay Mail, referring to the dearth of new political choice.
“As it is as of now, I don’t foresee any new political party will crop up, that can entice these new voters. Even these voters are first-timers, I can safely bet they are also looking for well established and tested parties when making their choice at the ballot box,’’ he added.
Although some in the government had been raring for an early snap election, the state of Emergency until August 1 announced by Muhyiddin last month has put the issue on the backburner.
With the Parliament and state assemblies currently suspended, Muhyiddin has reiterated that he is keen to seek for the dissolution of Parliament and hold a snap general election as soon as Covid-19 comes under control and the Emergency is rescinded. MM