IF the bill reducing the voting age from 21 to 18 passes in Parliament, one group of voters for GE15 could be as young as 15 years old today.
If we take some time to let that sink in, we may discover a number of interesting implications.
On the whole, I think moving the voting age lower is generally a very positive thing.
The simplest reason for this is: Political concerns tend to change radically as we go younger and younger along the age spectrum.
It is likely reasonable to assume that the younger the Malaysian, the less they would be inclined to a brand of politics us older Malaysians have seen far too much of: race-based politicking, sex videos, obsession with individual leaders, and so on.
In the same way that younger people sometimes look at platforms like Facebook with disdain, regarding it as passe in comparison to its younger cousins like Instagram or Snapchat, young people likely do not identify with this older brand of Malaysian politics.
In light of this, the lowering of the voting age may force political actors to transform their own approach to politics, in an attempt to secure the younger vote.
The lowering of the voting age may incentivise a shift away from old politics into a fresher, more innovative take on what politics should be concerned with.
Certain bread and butter issues will always be relevant of course: the economy, job opportunities, efficient local government and so on.
Beyond that, however, it may not be hard to imagine younger Malaysians feeling alienated from archaic debates about race and religion, or this constant bickering involving a Team A aligned to one feudal lord, versus a Team B aligned to another.
The world around us is changing far too fast to expect young people to be so beholden to such outdated, old-style concerns.
In its place is likely to be concerns and paradigms that are more pressing to young people. One example might well be climate change.
As old-style Malaysian politics is up to its neck in sex videos and endless speculation about who the next Prime Minister will be, the earth is almost literally burning around us.
The United Nations tells us we have only 11 years left to effect drastic change before we reach the point of no return, where climate change will have reached such destructive levels that it will no longer be reversible.
It’s hard to overstate just how seriously we are actually facing a doomsday scenario, like the movie 2012, which came out when GE15’s presumed new voters were five years old, or the movie The Day after Tomorrow, which came out the year they were born.
Politicians should be trying to unify Malaysians to do their part in this global struggle of life and death, not fearmongering about race or engaging in endless sordid backstabbing.
Here is a very real threat that looms like the White Walkers of Game of Thrones; only we seem to lack a Jon Snow to rally all the disparate warring factions and get them to care about things that really matter.
One example of the young versus the old could be the recent controversy involving a play staged by nine year olds dressed as orangutans, and the overreaction of our Primary Industries Minister to that play.
This may well have been a case of older people being insecure and petty, while young people express serious concern about the destruction of our natural environment.
I think there will be a real market – not just among young voters, but voters of every age and background – for the type of leader or movement that is willing to leave behind divisive old politics, and refocus our shared national consciousness on things that matter, and things that can unite us.
Perhaps we might also find among new voters a generation more ready to leave behind the inherently divisive, zero-sum politics that comes from first past the post electoral systems.
Elections in Malaysia allow for scenarios in which 49% of every constituency vote for Party A, and 51% vote for Party B, resulting in Parliament that consists 100% of elected representatives from Party B and zero from Party A.
This system is not truly representative of Malaysia at all.
In addition, a purely first past the post system incentivises mudslinging and dirty politics, because a candidate stands to gain as much from reducing his opponent’s vote share, as he does from working to gain more votes for himself.
The importance of these political structures in influencing exactly how political conflict is managed cannot be understated.
Rethinking these systems will lead to different incentive structures, which in turn will lead to different types of political behaviour – including the type of political behaviour that is likely to appeal much more to younger voters.
Just as younger Malaysians are long overdue being given the vote, Malaysian politics is long overdue for an overhaul.
The longer we are stuck in political mud in a pointless race to the bottom, the more our hopes for a rejuvenated brand of politics that more accurately reflects our aspirations will slip away.
Give young the Malaysians the vote, recalibrate politics to better suit their view of the world, and all Malaysians – young and old – will benefit.
NATHANIEL TAN is a consultant specialising in impactful communication and navigating public perception.