Wednesday April 18, 2007 (THE STAR)
By SHARMILA NAIR
The right to vote is precious, but many young people seem blasé about the importance of upholding their civic duty
HARICHANDRAN Raj has not registered as a voter but that is going to change as soon as he returns home this year. Raj has been away studying in the Ukraine for the past six years, and has not had a chance to register as a voter during his short trips home.
“But this time, it’s going to be different as I’ve made up my mind to register as soon as I get home and exercise my rights to vote in the next election,” said the 26-year-old student, who will be coming home for good this July.
It is encouraging to know that youths like Raj want to perform their civic duty. The Election Commission (EC) recently revealed that as of early 2006, almost four million eligible voters – who can make a major difference in the results of an election – have not registered with the committee. Two-thirds of them are aged between 22 and 30. EC chairman, Tan Sri Abdul Rashid Abdul Rahman, described the trend as upsetting while a political scientist added that the huge number was disconcerting.
Abdul Rashid was also concerned that there will be fewer voters in the next election if these four million eligible voters do not register, as the electoral roll had shrunk after it was updated.
He also added that only around 10 million citizens had registered despite various campaigns to make it easier for those eligible to become registered voters.
Umno Youth members have been going to the ground to encourage voter registration, but counted 150,000 unregistered voters among themselves. Its chief Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Tun Hussein had instructed all his division chiefs to ensure that Umno Youth members register as voters by June.
“One reason for this phenomenon may be because some of the members had only reached the voting age of 21 and are only now eligible to register as voters,” said Hishammuddin in recent reports.
A study conducted by Universiti Teknologi Malaysia researchers unearthed some of the reasons why youths fail to register as voters. Among the reasons they cited were long queues at registration centre, being too busy and disinterest in politics.
“I think that there shouldn’t be a need to register as it is a time-consuming hassle,” said 23- year-old Jason Kong, a public relations trainee.
Although he is already eligible to register, Jason is refraining from doing so because he fears the unknown world of politics. Jason considers himself relatively young to be dabbling in something as serious as politics and wishes to learn more about the system before voting. “I am unsure how voting works,” said Jason who hopes that the Government will run campaigns to educate the public on how and why they should register to vote. Fresh graduate Mohd Hafiz Abdul Ghani feels that the Government has not done enough in its part to teach the public on the importance of election in a democratic nation.
“I guess the reason why we have so many unregistered eligible voters is because of their ‘tidak apa’ attitude,” stressed the 22-year-old Marketing Communications executive.
Hafiz, who has not registered himself, feels that he’s too young to decide on the fate of the country now. Besides, he is unmotivated to go through the trouble of registering just to cast a vote.
He even went further to suggest that voters’ registration is not necessary in the voting process. “Why not have thumbprint readers at voting booths that verifies the voters eligibility?” he suggested, smiling at his own bright idea.
Hafiz pointed out that this would save the voters from unnecessary hassle.
Maybe that innovation could allow Malaysians like Harichandran to cast their votes even when they are abroad.
“I turned 21 when I was in Ukraine, and it was too bad that I couldn’t vote in the last General Elections because I hadn’t registered yet.
But how could I have registered when I was underaged while in Malaysia?” asked Harichandran who also suggested automatic registration of voters at 21.
The EC had already considered such an option, but was not keen because many have moved from their registered addresses on their identity card without notifying the National Registration Department (NRD). Abdul Rashid had said that people have to be persuaded to update their addresses with the NRD before this alternative could be considered.
Furthermore, registering voters would be pointless if they do not turn up to vote.
Making voting compulsory, such as in Australia, may not prove fruitful either because only 80% of Australians show up to cast their ballots, as compared to the 74% of Malaysians who do it on free will.
Shahrial Taufan Nerawi, 25, is the only one among his friends who had cast a vote. He believes it is his responsibility to do so if he wants to “part of the change in this country.”
“Every vote counts towards making a difference, however little it may seem,” said Shahrial. He suggested that the Government make use of young personalities to get the people interested in registering as voters.
“They should get people like Mawi or Datuk Siti Nurhaliza to organise a free concert where you need to register as an elector to gain admission.”
Many have also not registered to vote simply because they rue the inconvenience of making the trip to the registration centres and queuing up. Malaysians, after all, even had to be cajoled with incentives like lucky draws and threatened by the possibility of fines, to meet the deadline for making their MyKad. Incidentally, 270,000 applicants have yet to collect their MyKad.
Johanna Renisa Mohad Sani and Harish J. Hariraj suggested that the Government bring the voter registration campaign closer to youths.
“Stop the dull campaigns, and bring something more vibrant and unique to the colleges. Bring the registration booths to places where young people hang out,” said Johanna.
Harish, on the other hand, believes that these campaigns should include a crash course on civic awareness.
“The Government should include a compulsory course for college students on democracy and voting.”