Ms Sylvia Lim, Workers’ Party Member of Parliament for Aljunied GRC, has called for the lowering of the voting age from 21 to 18 years to empower younger Singaporeans to have a say at national elections.
During the Committee of Supply 2023 on Friday (24 Feb), Ms Lim argued that Singapore is becoming an outlier in keeping the voting age at 21 years, as the majority of countries have already lowered their voting ages to 18. She pointed out that she had raised this issue 16 years ago during the Committee of Supply debates.
“The answer from the government more recently can be summarized in three points,” Ms Lim said. “First, voting requires ‘experience and maturity’; only at 21 does a person ‘come of age’ to make adult decisions and engage in activities that ‘involve significant personal responsibility’. Secondly, voting involves the election of the President, who exercises custodial and veto powers, and the election of the government. Thirdly, youths aged 18 to 21 are able to express their views through other platforms.”
Ms Lim argued that the reasons provided by the government for keeping the voting age at 21 years are inadequate. She questioned the government’s rationale that only at 21 does a person come of age to make adult decisions and engage in activities that involve significant personal responsibility. She also questioned the government’s argument that youths aged 18 to 21 are able to express their views through other platforms.
“To the first point about only coming of age at 21: we already require those under 21 to engage in some very serious undertakings,” she said.
“Boys are enlisted into National Service by 18 years, required to carry weapons and vow to defend Singapore with their lives. As far as taking significant personal responsibility for actions is concerned – today, if a young person above 18 commits a capital crime, he is liable to suffer capital punishment and be hanged. Since our policies treat them as adults for these undertakings, how do we justify depriving these youths of a say at national elections?”
In response, Minister Chan Chun Sing, who was answering on behalf of the Prime Minister, acknowledged that both sides of the House have previously raised the suggestion to lower the voting age.
“A number of countries have lowered their voting age, some to increased voter turnout. Others, perhaps for perceived political advantage. We don’t have the first problem and we should certainly not do for the second reason. Some of them regret doing so when the political outcomes were not as they have expected, although they would not say so publicly for political reasons. Yet others were not clear if all these have led to a better government,” Minister Chan said.
He argued that various government agencies engage youths regularly on national and societal issues.
“However, if you ask me, and if we take a step back, the evergreen challenges for any democracy is how do we deliver good governance and good government? And the key to that lies in two things. First, how do we have good people with the right values and right capabilities standing to serve? Second, how do we encourage every voter to not just think about his or her individual interests for the here and now, but also for the interests, the wider interests of our society and future generations?”
Ms Lim followed up with a clarification to Mr Chan’s reply, where she highlighted that some countries link the age of conscription to the voting age, citing the example of the US in the 1960s when the voting age was lowered from 21 to 18 because teenagers were being conscripted to fight in the Vietnam War.
She asked Minister Chan to explain, “why [Singaporean youths] are old enough to fight and defend Singapore with their lives, but they’re not old enough to vote?”
Mr Chan replied, “If I may just remind the House if you look at the rights and responsibilities of all our people from the age of 16 until 21, there is a gradation of skills at different ages; they have different rights and different responsibilities,”
He then concluded his response by referring Ms Lim to his earlier parliamentary reply in 2019.
However, if one were to look at the response in 2019, it is no different from what he had just said to Ms Lim during the debate.
Singapore’s neighbouring country, Malaysia, passed a Constitution (Amendment) Bill on 16 July 2019, which reduced the voting age in national and state elections from the voting age from 21 years to 18 years. The amendment saw an increase of 5.8 million voters added to the pools of voters in the 15th Malaysia General Election in 2022.