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Going beyond the voting age

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OpinionsNewsUser Contributed

A youth considers if we are ready to vote in the wake of Malaysia’s decision to allow 18-year-olds to do so.

Most of my peers are eligible to vote in the next General Elections (GE). Naturally, our conversations have gone further into electoral issues, such as the recent news of Malaysia lowering its minimum voting age to 18. 

Views on this topic are split. Some think Singapore should do the same, while others think the time is not right yet for youth to vote

Considerations over Singapore's institutional arrangements should also not be isolated from its broader social context, such as education and culture. 

Hence, even if lowering the minimum voting age works for Malaysia,  it may not necessarily work for Singapore.  

Voting requires tools and experiences 

Reducing the minimum voting age seems to be a good idea, bringing about a more inclusive electoral process.  

On second thought however, a younger electoral profile runs the risk of introducing inexperienced youths into the political fold.   

Beyond-voting-age-good-bad
Youths must possess the capacity to engage in civic discourse and form their own opinions.  
PHOTO CREDIT: UNSPLASH/FATHROMI RAMDLON 

Perhaps what is more crucial than the vote is the requisite youth capacity to grasp national issues and discern political truths. And these "tools" are developed through a combination of experiences at home, schools and workplaces. 

The immediate years after 18 marks a transformative stage in Singapore - National Service (NS) for males and the transition to university or working life for females. 

Some netizens have argued that if our Government allows 18-year old males to carry arms and defend the nation, then they should also be considered responsible enough to vote. 

I am less convinced for two reasons.  

First, the skill-sets required of military training and voting are different. Becoming a marksman or attaining a gold for IPPT does not necessarily make an NSF knowledgeable to vote.  

Second, the same persuasion does not apply to 18-year old females. Should we then only expand suffrage to 18-year old males? Surely not.  

Asking 18-year-old Singaporeans to vote without first letting them go through the transformative stage of NS, university and initial work exposure therefore means that they potentially do so without adequate appreciation for issues such as income, jobs, taxes, which usually surface during elections. 

More urgent to build a consultative approach to engage youths 

Instead of debating Singapore's minimum voting age, I believe it is more urgent that the Government create opportunities for youths to participate in building Singapore's future. 

A consultative approach will provide greater opportunities for youths to participate in national discussions, which would be useful for two main reasons. 

First, greater interactions between the Government and youths can encourage our youth to engage the society in diverse and meaningful ways beyond the individual.  

Second, this approach creates more opportunities for youths to engage in policy feedback processes and spearhead new youth initiatives, resulting in a more "hands-on" experience on political engagement.  

I volunteer as a REACH Youth Ambassador and the diverse engagement sessions have enabled me to build better rapport with other like-minded youths and engage with different communities in society. It has also empowered me with a greater appreciation for policy issues and challenges. 

As information becomes more accessible and prone to distortion, the ability to discern political truths and process information objectively and coherently is crucial. 

Before youths go to the ballot box, both the Government and society should consider how to better integrate and involve youths in the nation's political and social processes. By cultivating in our youth a motivation to create change, we empower our youths to become effective agents of positive change.  

Beyond-voting-age-ballot-box
Besides voting, we must involve our youth in other processes that are formative to our country. 
PHOTO CREDIT: PIXABAY/MOHAMED HASSAN 

As we strive to make our democracy more participatory, we should also ensure that it becomes more dynamic and constructive too.

WRITTEN BY: MICHAEL ZHOU

BANNER AND TEASER IMAGE CREDIT: PIXABAY/GERD ALTMANN

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