AGC objects to 18 Malaysian youths’ Undi18 lawsuit, argues ‘premature’

Ida Lim
·5-min read
Malaysian youths who filed a lawsuit to push for their right to vote by July 2021 are seen with their lawyers at the Kuala Lumpur Court Complex April 19, 2021. — Picture by Firdaus Latif
Malaysian youths who filed a lawsuit to push for their right to vote by July 2021 are seen with their lawyers at the Kuala Lumpur Court Complex April 19, 2021. — Picture by Firdaus Latif

KUALA LUMPUR, April 19 — The Attorney General's Chambers (AGC) is objecting to a lawsuit by 18 Malaysian youths aged 18 to 20 against the prime minister, the government of Malaysia and the Election Commission (EC) to push for their right to vote by July 2021, instead of only after September 2022 as stated by the EC.

Senior federal counsels Shamsul Bolhassan and Azizan Md Arshad, who represented the AGC today, confirmed to reporters that the AGC is raising a preliminary objection against the 18 youths’ application for their case to be heard by the High Court.

According to the AGC, this is based on the AGC’s arguments that the youths’ lawsuit is allegedly “premature”, and based on its arguments that the implementation of a constitutional amendment — that lowered the voting age in Malaysia from 21 to 18 — must be done together with the implementation of another constitutional amendment — to enable automatic voter registration to replace the current system of manual registration.

The 18 youths in the court papers for their lawsuit argued that the Malaysian government could implement the lowering of the voting age from 21 to 18 earlier and separately from the implementation of the automatic voter registration, arguing that both matters are different, unrelated and do not have to be enforced at the same time.

In raising a preliminary objection, the AGC is arguing that leave should not be granted to the 18 youths for their lawsuit to be heard by the High Court.

The AGC’s preliminary objection to the youths’ lawsuit will be heard before High Court judge Datuk Ahmad Kamal Md Shahid on May 6 at noon.

When met outside the courtroom, the youths’ lawyer Datuk Ambiga Sreenevasan confirmed today was initially scheduled for hearing of the youths’ application for leave for judicial review.

(In lawsuits filed via judicial review application where the courts are asked to review the actions or decisions of a public body or the government, the applicants of the judicial review have to seek leave for judicial review or to seek permission from the courts for their lawsuit to proceed and be heard.)

Ambiga said, however, that the AGC is objecting to the courts’ giving leave or giving the nod for the youths’ lawsuit to proceed, and that the AGC’s written submissions on the objection were only sent to the youths’ lawyers today at 1am.

“So we needed time to respond to that and we asked for adjournment. It’s now adjourned to May 6, 12pm,” she told reporters, adding that the AGC was objecting to the youths’ lawsuit on “points of law” and “legal issues”.

Other lawyers who represented the 18 youths today are Datuk Gurdial Singh Nijar, Lim Wei Jiet and Abraham Au.

Two of the lawsuit’s 18 youths — Nurul Rifayah Muhammad Iqbal and Muhammad Rifqi Faisal Alvin —- and the Undi18 movement’s co-founders Qyira Yusri and Tharma Pillai were also present at the courts today.

Prior to the filing of the lawsuit, both the Dewan Rakyat and Dewan Negara had in 2019 approved amendments to the Federal Constitution for various matters, including to enable Malaysians aged 18 to 20 to also be able to vote.

In the Constitution (Amendment) Act 2019, Section 3(a) amends the Federal Constitution’s Article 119(1)(a) to lower the voting age from 21 to 18, while Section 3(b) amends the Federal Constitution’s Article 119(4)(b) to allow for automatic voter registration to replace the current system where Malaysians have to apply to be registered as voters.

But both these two constitutional amendments — Section 3(a) and 3(b) — have not come into force in Malaysia yet, as they will only come into operation on a date to be appointed by the Yang di-Pertuan Agong via a notification to the public through a government gazette.

While the EC and the Malaysian government had repeatedly said previously that the implementation of the lowering of the voting age to 18 and the automatic voter registration was expected to be done by July 2021, the EC had on March 25 said that both matters could only be implemented after September 1, 2022. This then led to the filing of the court challenge by the 18 youths.

On April 2, the 18 youths — who are of various ethnic backgrounds and come from several states including Johor, Sarawak and Kelantan — filed their lawsuit via a judicial review application at the High Court in Kuala Lumpur.

In the lawsuit filed by the 18 youths, they are seeking for 14 court declarations and orders, including a certiorari order to quash the prime minister and Malaysian government’s entire decision of not enforcing Section 3(a) —- the constitutional amendment to lower the voting age from 21 to 18 —- immediately or on or before July 2021.

They are also seeking a mandamus order from the courts to order the prime minister and the Malaysian government to enforce Section 3(a) — the constitutional amendment of lowering the voting age to 18 —- within a reasonable period of time and on or before July 2021.

The court declarations that the 18 youths are seeking include declarations that the decision by the prime minister and the Malaysian government to bind the enforcement of the lowering of voting age to 18 and automatic voter registration together is unreasonable, wrong in law, and disproportionate.

In the same lawsuit, the 18 youths also want the courts to declare that they have a legitimate expectation that Section 3(a) —- the constitutional amendment which lowers the voting age to 18 — will come into force on or before July 2021, and a declaration that the delay in implementation of Section 3(a) is a form of voter suppression on those aged 18 to 20 years old.

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