Singapore netizens have been abuzz with speculation as to when the next general election will be held. With the Merdeka Generation Package and Bicentennial bonus being announced, some pundits have taken this as a sign that the next election will be held this year. Speculation aside, I wish to address the elephant in the room – the need for electoral reform.
All Singapore citizens not less than 21 years old on the cut-off date for the registration of electors (1 January of a particular year), and ordinarily resident in the country, are entitled to vote in both parliamentary and presidential elections. This puts Singapore in the bottom 11 countries of the world when it comes to legal voting age.
Since the 1960s, many countries including the United States, Australia, and many European countries have lowered their voting age from 21 to 18. Among the 10 ASEAN countries, only Malaysia and Singapore have not lowered the voting age. Even in Malaysia, the Malaysian Cabinet made the decision to lower the voting age from 21 to 18 in September 2018, and work on amending the Federal Constitution has begun. This leaves Singapore as the sole ASEAN country that has retained the 21-year-old voting age for the indefinite future.
There are many compelling reasons why we should lower the voting age to 18.
First, it is odd that 18-year-old Singaporean males are considered “old enough” to take up arms, serve national service and possibly lay down their lives for Singapore, and yet, they cannot participate in the democratic process.
Second, lowering the voting age to 18 will encourage politicians to pay more attention to the salient interests and needs of the youth. This will result in a more representative electoral base.
Third, lowering the voting age to 18 will encourage more youth to be politically involved, which in turn fosters a more vibrant democracy.
Fourth, there are many Singaporeans who are below 21 who already pay taxes and contribute to the economy, yet, their voices are not represented in the democratic process. This is in effect, taxation without representation.
Fifth, it is only logical that youth, who have a far bigger stake in the future of Singapore than any other generation, ought to have a voice and a right to vote to determine the course of Singapore’s future.
Sixth, lowering the voting age to 18 will bring Singapore into the league of over 186 nations of the world with a voting age of 18 or lower.
With all that being said, it’s time we address this apparent gap in our democratic process. If we can entrust the youth of Singapore with key responsibilities like national service, while investing billions of dollars in their education, we ought to give them a say on how this nation should be run.