How The #Undi18 Bill Went From A "Crazy Idea" To Being Passed In Parliament

"(We were) literally two kids with a crazy idea."

Cover image via Qyira Yusri

The Dewan Rakyat unanimously voted in favour of the 'Undi 18' Bill yesterday, 16 July – making it the first law to be passed by all Members of Parliament (MPs)

Image via Malay Mail

Malaysiakini reported that all 211 present MPs voted in favour of the Bill, and there were zero nays and abstentions. 

"It didn't happen before. I have been in this Parliament for a long time, but this is the first time where a law was passed by all members of Parliament. Not even a vote objected to it, far higher than the two-third majority that we needed," Prime Minister Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad said yesterday, according to The Edge Markets

'Undi 18' became the first constitutional amendment to have support from both sides of the political spectrum

On top of lowering the voting age to 18 years old, the Bill also includes: 

- Automatic voter registration for 18-year-old Malaysians, and
- Lowering the minimum age for elected representatives to 18 years old.

Malay Mail reported that these amendments are to be made to Article 47 and 119 of the Federal Constitution, which cover qualifications to become an MP and a voter.

According to theSun, while the Bill is still pending passage in the Dewan Negara, the Prime Minister confirmed that a two-third majority in the Senate will not be necessary.

The 'Undi 18' Bill has been three years in the making prior to the historic vote. SAYS spoke to its founders, Qyira Yusri and Tharma Pillai, to learn about the long journey of the significant movement.

1. The inspiration

"We were student leaders in the Malaysian Students Global Alliance (Coalition of Malaysian student organisations worldwide). It was also the same year Donald Trump was elected and Brexit happened," 24-year-old Qyira, who was a student at Western Michigan University at the time, told SAYS.

"Bernie Sanders (former US presidential candidate) even came to my university to campaign at the time (2016). Debates were happening, and professors encouraged the discourse... We realised that this doesn't happen in Malaysia," she said.

Qyira, who was 21 years old then, added that there was a lack of political discourse in Malaysia.

"We realised it was because of two things: the Universities and University Colleges Act 1971 (UUCA), and the voting age requirement. Hence, we came up with a campaign to lower it for our country," she said.

(From left) Qyira and Tharma

Image via Qyira Yusri

For 26-year-old Tharma, the 'Undi 18' campaign was needed to solve the root cause of the problem.

"Malaysia accepted UUCA because we view university students as children where their main job is to study. Policymakers do not view them as rational, responsible adults who have opinions about national issues and want to contribute to nation building," he told SAYS. 

"By lowering the voting age, we force the nation to rethink how they view youths. Young people are voting adults now, and it's much harder to justify the silencing and oppression of young voters," he added. 

2. The challenges

Qyira revealed that the duo had difficulty in building the initial momentum for the movement.

"We didn't have any political connections. We weren't political interns with access to policymakers. We weren't kids of Datuk's and Tan Sri's. (We were) literally two kids with a crazy idea," she said.

The 24-year-old also spoke about criticisms of 'Undi 18'.

"The most common one was the notion that 18-year-olds were too young and not mature enough. We tried to combat that narrative by making a decision to constantly feature youths doing awesome things like organising forums with students and student leaders," Qyira said.

Image via Qyira Yusri

Despite hardships, Qyira and Tharma continued working on lobbying support for 'Undi 18'.

"We lobbied 16 student groups around the world to support our initial petition, started recruiting volunteers and stuff... We had an open call and a bunch of teenagers joined us," Qyira said.

(From left) Senator Khairul Azwan, PKR Permatang Pauh Deputy Chief Dr. Afif Bahardin, Tharma, and US lecturer Dr. Richard Vogel during a forum held by 'Undi 18' and the US embassy in Malaysia.

Image via Qyira Yusri

However, the duo did not meet success under the Barisan Nasional (BN) administration.

"We came back to Malaysia in 2017, and started to meet politicians. We were rejected by every BN person we met except for Senator Khairul Azwan who wrote us a supporting letter to submit our idea to the TN50 canvas. That got rejected too!" she added.

3. The collaboration with Youth and Sports Minister Syed Saddiq

(From left) Tharma, Saddiq, and Qyira after the Dewan Rakyat's vote on 'Undi 18' yesterday, 16 July.

Image via Qyira Yusri

The Muar MP had discovered the 'Undi 18' movement on social media long before he was running for the 14th General Election (GE14), according to Qyira. 

"He was a champion from the start... When he became a minister, his officer reached out to us to discuss properly," the co-founder revealed.

4. The inclusion in Pakatan Harapan's (PH) election manifesto

"We lobbied PH politicians, the key people were Saddiq and (Setiawangsa MP) Nik Nazmi Nik Ahmad. We managed to meet many of the PH youth members, and persistently went to as many events as possible where PH people were speaking," Qyira told SAYS. 

"(We were) quite shameless la, but what to do, (have to be) a little thick-faced," she said. 

"We believed that politicians were willing to listen, we just needed to get the right, unbiased facts to them. And we did that with both sides of the political parties," she added. 

'Undi 18' eventually gained its place in PH's election manifesto, but the work did not end there.

5. Post-GE14 effort to put 'Undi 18' in Parliament

Image via Qyira Yusri

"After the elections, we worked a lot more on both sides to ensure that the Opposition would also see the value in expanding their youth block," Qyira said. 

She also credited Saddiq for lobbying the key party whips on both ends of the political spectrum.

"(He) also worked intensely to lobby them, and we collaborated with the (Youth and Sports) ministry on the campaign front as well," the 24-year-old added. 

Following the duo's three year-long advocacy, Qyira and Tharma finally witnessed 'Undi 18' come true in the Dewan Rakyat yesterday

"When Datuk (Mohamad) Ariff (Parliament speaker) announced that the votes were '211 sokong', I was looking at Tharma and asked, 'what the f**k is that enough?'... Then someone said 'oh my God it's everyone!', and I was like 'what'," Qyira recounted. 

"I teared up la... We went outside the gallery and people started to celebrate. It felt really surreal. For the first time, it was so heartwarming to hear every single politician say they support empowering young Malaysians, and that they recognise voting is a basic human right," she said. 

"We started this three years ago, and it feels bizarre that we were actually in Parliament seeing it come true," she added.

Image via Qyira Yusri

While history was made, Tharma acknowledged that there is still work to be done.

"I'm very happy that we've managed to get this far. It feels a bit surreal that a small youth movement made it this far," he said.

"But at the same time, I realise the work doesn't stop. We'll still have to engage with Senators over the next two weeks to ensure we succeed in Dewan Negara. And we're also discussing and debating our next advocacy plans," the 26-year-old added. 

Congratulations, Qyira and Tharma!

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