KUALA LUMPUR (June 17): The High Court here has granted leave to 18 Malaysian youths to challenge the government's action in delaying the implementation of Undi18, a move to lower the voting age to 18 and to enable automatic voter registration (AVR).

Justice Datuk Ahmad Kamal Md Shahid allowed the judicial review leave application by the youths.

The youths had on behalf of the Undi18 movement filed a judicial review application and named Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, the government and the Election Commission (EC) as respondents.

The judge said the decision by the respondents to delay the implementation of the lowering of the voting age from 21 to 18 years old from July 2021 to after Sept 1, 2022 is amenable to judicial review.  

In lawsuits filed via judicial review application where the courts are asked to review the actions or decisions of a public body or the government, the applicants of the judicial reviews have to seek leave, or permission, from the courts for their suits to proceed and be heard.

The judge also surmised that the decision by the government to delay the implementation had adversely affected the youths.

“On that account, I am in agreement with the applicants’ submission that the respondents’ decision in not bringing into operation Section 3(a) of the Act immediately and/or before July 2021 have adversely affected the applicants,” he said.

Section 3(a) is part of the constitutional amendment to lower the voting age in Malaysia from 21 to 18 years old.

“The applicants cannot register themselves in the electoral roll as voters in the constituencies in which they reside and as a result, the applicants are unable to vote in any elections which are held after July 2021. This includes the possibility of not being able to vote in the 15th General Election,” he said.

Lawyers representing the respondents previously filed a preliminary objection on the grounds that the application brought by the 18 youths was frivolous, vexatious and premature at this stage because no action had been taken relating to the matter.

“It is my view that the applicants’ case is not frivolous nor vexatious. This court should allow the matter to proceed to the substantive stage, and allow the respondents to provide an explanation by affidavit and thereafter only decide on whether a case has been made and what reliefs are appropriate,” he said after giving legal justification.

The judge also set July 1 for case management via e-review for the commencement of the judicial review.

On April 2, the youths filed their legal action seeking several court orders arising from the respondents' delay in implementing Undi18.

In the application, the youths sought a declaration that the government's action to delay the enforcement of lowering the voting age from 21 to 18 was irrational, illegal, and disproportionate and a form of voter suppression.

The applicants want a declaration that those aged 18 to 20 have a legitimate expectation that they will have the right to vote on or before July 2021.

The youths, aged between 18 and 20, were also seeking a declaration that the decision of the respondents to delay the enforcement of Section 3(a) was a form of voter suppression against those aged 18 to 20 years in July 2021.

In a response via a press statement, the Undi18 movement said it is encouraged by the affirming direction of the judicial review.

“We hold firm to our belief that youths between the ages of 18 to 20 are owed their constitutional right to vote. Youth voices matter now more than ever, especially when juxtaposed against the ongoing climate of the pandemic and national emergency, where it has become increasingly pivotal for democratic values to be upheld,” it said.

It also said should the review succeed, approximately 1.2 million Malaysian youth aged between 18 and 20 years old will be given the opportunity to exercise their right to vote for the first time in Malaysian history.

“This is an important step forward in seeking justice and voting rights for millions of Malaysian youths. We want to see this case debated on its merits and for those in power to be compelled to justify their decision to postpone the implementation of Undi18. Let young Malaysians vote. Implement Undi18 now,” remarked the co-founder of the Undi18 movement, Tharma Pillai.

Lawyer New Sin Yew of AmerBON, Advocate shared: “We’re grateful to the High Court judge for granting leave to these youths to review the decision by the government. This is obviously a very important case that needs to be ventilated fully. The government must now explain on oath the exact reason for delaying the lowering of voting age and we look forward to hearing that.”

This leave hearing is also running concurrently with the Undi18 movement’s Kuching counterparts, who recently were granted leave by the High Court of Kuching back on May 29, and will proceed with the hearing for their judicial review on June 30.

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