“Democracy means the belief that humanistic culture should prevail.”
– John Dewey –
The right to vote is historically one of the most important rights citizens of a country have advocated for. For the youth, being given a chance to be a part of the decision-making that affects their future is an empowering and fulfilling experience.
In 2019, the Malaysian Parliament agreed to lower the voting age from 21 to 18. The bill was supposed to be in force by July this year, but for some reason, it was announced the implementation of the said bill will now be delayed and pushed to September 2022 instead. The situation deteriorated when rumours about an impending general election surfaced. Many believe that an election would most probably be called after the state of emergency is lifted in August. The 27th of March 2021 saw a number of Malaysian youths marched to the Parliament to protest the delay of the implementation of the bill.
However, they did not stop at mere protests and online campaigns. Instead, the youth have now gone one step forward and brought an action against the government. In layman terms, the youth are suing the government.
On the 2nd of April 2021, 18 youth leaders and activists representing the Undi18 group filed a judicial review against the government and the Election Commission (EC) over the delay in lowering the voting age to 18 and establishing automatic registration. The crux of the argument was that the government’s act of delaying the implementation of the lowered age was irrational and was a form of voter suppression.
The Attorney General’s counsel has already filed a preliminary objection on behalf of the government to prevent this matter from being heard in court. A preliminary objection is basically an objection taken by one of the parties to show to the court that there is a good reason why the case should not be heard in the first place.
Senior federal counsel Shamsul Bolhassan, representing the AGC, told reporters that they filed a preliminary objection today on the grounds that the application brought by the 18 youths was frivolous, vexatious and premature in this stage because no action had been taken relating to the matter.
Senior federal council, Azizan Md Arshad said that;
“…with the Constitutional amendment, there is no longer any application as automatic voter registration kicks in. It is the argument of the applicants that the enforcement and implementation of Section 3(a) and Section 3(b) of the Constitution (Amendment) Act 2019 can be done separately. However, we will submit that the enforcement and implementation to the Constitutional amendments cannot be done in isolation and have to be done together.”
The idea of youth suing governments is not a new one as many nations like US, Canada and Korea have in fact seen teenagers bringing action against governments but for different reasons from what the 18 Malaysian youths are doing.
For instance, in Juliana v United States, 21 youth filed a suit against the US government where they asserted that the government had knowingly violated their rights of life, liberty, and property and also breached its own duty to protect public grounds by encouraging and permitting the combustion of fossil fuels. It is a credible effort, but more often than not, this effort has been easily suppressed by governments and those in power. Even in the above-mentioned case of Juliana v United States, parties are still waiting for justice as courts have till today not given them a proper answer.
Of course, there have been certain instances where youths have succeeded in holding the government accountable for their actions. For instance, in Colombia, where 25 young people won their lawsuit against the government for failing to protect the Colombian Amazon rainforest. The court concluded that deforestation violated the rights of both the youths and the rainforest and ordered the government to reduce it to net zero by 2020.
Coming back to the Malaysian context, the pivotal question to ask is whether the youth will win the battle this time. The answer depends highly on the arguments raised by the legal team during the hearing which is now scheduled for 6th May 2021.
Lim Wei Jiet, one of the advocates in the legal team representing the youth group argues that;
“The action of the government delaying the implementation of the said bill is unconstitutional as it goes against Section 3(a) of the Constitutional (Amendment) Act 2019 and can in fact be challenged.”
If the youth win, then this would be a victory not only for them, but also for the nation. It would prove that democracy is not dead in the country.
Photo: Twitter amirxabdhadi