Lately, there has been much talk about the PAP calling a General Election soon. In light of this matter, I think it is important to once more discuss the issue of the age of suffrage. As a youth, I personally think that the current voting age at twenty-one is too high and should be lowered, perhaps to around eighteen years of age, as it typically is in other polities.
The Scottish independence referendum saw people as young as sixteen years old playing a part in deciding the future of their nation, clearly showing that youths are recognised as having adequate acumen to make such a choice of historical import. Moreover, Eighteen-year-olds are recognised by law as being able to wield significant autonomy and responsibility over themselves.
Under Singapore statutes, an eighteen-year-old has the autonomy to learn to drive, consume alcohol, smoke tobacco, have sexual relations legally and even marry. In 2008, those under eighteen were even given the power to contract in their own name.
Furthermore, it is at the age of 18 where individuals who commit capital crimes are liable for the death penalty as opposed to being detained at the president’s pleasure. They are also liable for full judicial caning with a maximum of 24 strokes rather than a modified version with a maximum of 10 strokes for younger individuals.
It stands to logic, therefore, that an individual at this age is regarded by law to have sufficient maturity to have a greater autonomy and responsibility over himself. Seeing that this is the case, why is it that youths are not considered mature enough for the vote?
The Ministry of Law’s answer in 2008 was that adulthood was that at twenty-one years of age, youths would be in a better position to vote as they would have undergone National Service or have had some experience in the workplace with which to help them make a more informed decision.
I respectfully disagree that their absence constitutes the inability to make an informed and considered judgement. In order to exercise the right to vote, one only needs to be mature enough to understand issues of national importance and make a fair decision. Vesting considerable rights in youth at the age of eighteen recognises this fact. Whether a youth has undergone work or National Service experience has no bearing on whether he has sufficient capability to do this. This is hence no barrier in giving youths the vote.
Youths are also becoming increasingly aware of socio-economic and political issues, joining civil society movements and participating more actively in social discourse. The 2011 General Election showed accounts of youths taking a much stronger interest in politics. Young people have begun participating in civil discourse by attending the increasing number of forums and events, as well as starting various civil society groups to make a difference in society. This proves that youths are engaged and interested enough to be included in the voting process. Considering the vibrancy and initiative of youths, it is a pity that our voices are not considered in deciding Singapore’s future.
A lower age of suffrage will also allow for greater focus to be placed on youth issues (e.g. education). By increasing the vote share of young people, politicians will have a greater incentive to have a dialogue on youth issues, enabling more improvement in this area. This also means that youths, as the direct beneficiaries of these policies, will be able to hold politicians to greater account, giving young people greater influence and voice to shape policies, hence making national discourse more representative of the Singapore population.
Singapore’s youth have become more politically aware and engaged with social issues. We are, I feel, more than mature enough to undertake the important right and responsibility of suffrage. I hope that in 2016, I will have the opportunity to step up to the ballot box alongside my fellow young people to help decide the future of this country that we love.