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Malaysia: Bill Reducing Voting Age to 18 Passed

(July 18, 2019) On July 16, 2019, the Dewan Rakyat, the lower house of the Parliament of Malaysia, passed the Constitution (Amendment) Bill 2019, which reduces the voting age in national and state elections from the current 21 years to 18 years. The Bill received 211 votes—the number of members present for the vote—surpassing the two-thirds majority required for constitutional amendments in the 222-member house.

The Bill amends article 119(1)(a) of the Federal Constitution of Malaysia by substituting “eighteen years” for “twenty-one years” as the voting age for elections to the Dewan Rakyat and to any state legislative assembly. It also amends article 47 to reduce the age at which a person can stand for election to the Dewan Rakyat to 18 years, and similarly amends section 5 of the Eighth Schedule of the Constitution to allow persons aged 18 and over to stand for election to the legislative assembly of the state in which they reside.

A further amendment in the Bill, to article 119(4)(b), substitutes the words “is registered” for “applies for registration” as an elector in the definition of the term “qualifying date” used in other parts of the article. This amendment allows for the automatic registration of persons as electors upon their reaching the age of 18 years. It will come into force only on a date appointed by the Yang di-Pertuan Agong (head of state of Malaysia), whereas the other amendments above will come into force the day after they are published in the Federal Gazette.

When introducing the Bill, Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad said that several amendments need to be made to the Election Offences Act 1954, Elections (Conduct of Elections) Regulations 1981, and Elections (Registration of Electors) Regulations 2002 to implement automatic voter registration of persons when they turn 18. During the debate on the Bill, he said that automatic registration would also apply to persons aged 21 years who have not registered as voters. He further said that “[i]t must be remembered that the implementation of the automatic voter registration would result in an estimated 7.8 million new voters to be registered in the electoral roll for the next five years. This is not an easy task as it involved cost, time, locality determination and the correct election division.”

It appears that automatic registration would be based on the register of the National Registration Department, and that it would also involve data integration with the “Malaysian Prisons Department, the Malaysian Health Ministry, the Royal Malaysia Police, Malaysian Armed Forces and other related agencies” in order to identify any disqualifications to registration. Article 119(3) of the Constitution disqualifies a person from voting in an election if

(a) on the qualifying date he is detained as a person of unsound mind or is serving a sentence of imprisonment; or
(b) having before the qualifying date been convicted in any part of the Commonwealth of an offence and sentenced to death or imprisonment for a term exceeding twelve months, he remains liable on the qualifying date to suffer any punishment for that offence.