Lawyer: Repeal UUCA then talk about lowering voting age

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KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 28 – Former president of the Malaysian Bar, Ragunath Kesavan has called out Youth and Sports Minister Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman over his recent claim that the Cabinet is seriously considering lowering the voting age to 18, as it was pointless without taking other necessary measures to give youths a voice.

Referring to the Universities and University Colleges Act 1971 (UUCA), Ragunath said it was a contradiction if the law is not repealed first, Malaysiakini reported.

“You can’t have a situation where you amend the voting age to 18 but you still have the Universities and University Colleges Act 1971 (UUCA) in place.

“It is very difficult to talk about reducing the voting age in a vacuum without creating an environment for youths to develop, to speak out, to get involved in the politics of this country,” Ragunath said during a debate entitled “Voting at 18 – Are we ready?” in Universiti Malaya, which was also attended by the minister.

Syed Saddiq seemed to take on a defensive stance to the remarks by Ragunath saying he would not stand by and allow such a situation.

“I will be the last person to see UUCA continue to strangle our young ones. However, there are lots of things we want to do but at the same time, we can’t bulldoze it through Parliament.

“In general, there is an agreement that reforms must be made and all these reforms are of equal importance,” the minister was quoted as saying by the news portal.

Landslide of reforms in Dewan Rakyat next year

The minister later told a press conference following the debate that the Pakatan Harapan government will be repealing the UUCA during the first sitting of the Dewan Rakyat in 2019.

“That Dewan Rakyat session will be for a landslide of reforms which we would like to focus on, such as the UUCA and other existing laws. We are very keen to do so and we will do so because that is our promise to the people,” he said, according to Mkini.

The other laws that PH had promised to repeal in its manifesto included the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act 2012 (Sosma), the Sedition Act,  the Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984.

The new government had previously tried to repeal the Anti-Fake News Act 2018. Though the repeal was passed by the Dewan Rakyat, the Dewan Negara later voted against the repeal.

High school students should be open to politics

He added that the freedom of expression, including political discourse should not be just limited to those in tertiary institutions but also at the high school level.

“This is because we want to ensure our young ones become informed voters and critical thinkers,” Syed Saddiq said, according to Mkini.

His thoughts seemed to echo that of another former Bar chief, Ambiga Sreenevasan in another event earlier yesterday.

Mkini reported her as saying that political education in school can start small to inculcate good values for better understanding by the students.

“I think education can start much younger. Maybe what we need to do is to look at local council elections, start small to get children involved even in schools,” she was quoted as saying.

This is especially so, with those who are in Form 1 today, at 13 years of age, likely being eligible to vote in five years, when the next general election is scheduled to be held.

Voter age not linked to maturity

On that note, Syed Saddiq, who is the Muar MP, said that allowing an 18-year-old to vote should only be based on their right, being considered an adult at that age and legally allowed to drive and get married, and also to be held criminally-liable.

“There is no room for arbitrary assessments of maturity. How does one make that personal assessment?

“The right to vote should never be based on a presumption of immaturity or intellect. It is degrading to simply label young people as immature or as not having the same level of immaturity or intellect as those who are older,” he was quoted as saying by Mkini.

– NMT