TL:DR – Is it that opposition parties don’t know what majority of Singaporeans want? Or they’re deliberately wanting to lower the voting age cos younger people tend to be more liberal and want change?
This is an update of an article we published in August 2019. We’re updating the article as a few political parties have included the lowering voting age from 21 to 18 into their GE2020 manifesto, including the Workers’ Party (WP) and the Singapore’s People Party (SSP).
Strangely, the Progress Singapore Party (PSP) did not include this into their GE2020 manifesto, despite bringing it up when they were first formed last August. Maybe it’s a deliberate choice to keep their manifesto light, or maybe our 80yo but very woke uncle was too busy playing hypebeast on IG that he plain forgot about it.
But back in August last year, one of the things that the PSP had raised at their launch party was about lowering the voting age from 21 to 18 in Singapore. Dr Tan and company highlighted the need to include our young people in the political decision-making process, and mooted the idea of lowering the voting age to 18 from 21. Dr Tan had said,
“At 18, they’re old enough to drive. The girls enter university, and the boys enter into National Service. Since they have a duty to defend our country, these 18-year-olds should also have the right to elect their leaders. They are mature enough.”
And then it’s not in their manifesto. Hmmm… I ask again, does this party have a cogent plan on anything?
So what did the Government say in response back in Aug 2018?
Then Member of Parliament Dr Lim Wee Kiak from Nee Soon GRC had tabled a questions in Parliament asking if there would be a review of the eligible voting age for Singaporeans and what the considerations for retaining the current voting age of 21 are. Dr Lim also asked how many youths would be eligible to vote if the voting age is lowered to 18.
Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing had addressed Dr Lim questions on PM Lee’s behalf in a written reply on 5th August 2018:
- The Government has no plans to lower the voting age to 18 years old.
- The Government adopts a “graduated approach” in setting the various legal ages at which an individual can undertake different responsibilities.
- While the Government has no plans to lower the voting age currently, it recognises that there are many youths who want a voice in national matters.
- There are channels and platforms, such as the SG Youth Action Plan, for youths to express their views and propose policy ideas.
- About 130,000 youths would become eligible to vote if the voting age were lowered.
Minister Chan further explained, “A person’s rights and responsibilities gradually increase as one matures, until the common law age of majority of 21, when a person comes of age to make decisions as an adult and engages in activities that involve significant personal responsibility.”
“Voting in elections involves making serious choices, which requires experience and maturity. Voters elect the President who exercises the custodial and veto powers under the Constitution.”
”Voters also choose their MP and, in so doing, decide on the group of individuals who will eventually form the Government.”
What did ex-NMP Calvin Cheng say back then?
No surprises for guessing what the very-vocal-and-who-has-an-opinion-on-many-things ex-NMP Calvin Cheng has said to this. Depending on which camp you’re on, Calvin Cheng can be your most or least favourite online personality to read, but admit it, if you’re into reading socio-political news, you’d read him. The difference is whether you love or hate what he says.
Well, he says no to lowering the voting age to 18.
In fact, back in August 2018, he was all for raising it to 25!
But the point of sharing his post is to point out that most studies have shown that the human brain is not fully developed until the age of 25.
And this time, Cheng also has a Facebook post in response to these political parties’ proposal to lower voting age to 18. He now pushes it even more and said,
“The voting age thus not only should not be lowered, in my opinion it should be raised to minimum 28.”
What does the average young person think?
I don’t know how every young person feels, but one of them has felt compelled enough to share his thoughts in a Yahoo article.
Long story short, this 24yo undergraduate recalled how not too long ago when he had just completed his O Levels at 17 and trying to decide which JC to choose, most of his friends would just pick whichever JC their friends were going to. Yes, they did not care much about the merits and offerings of the respective JCs and would just go with the herd.
And even when slightly older at 18 or beyond, no matter how well-read, it is still not the same as having skin in the game. As students, perhaps they would be most informed and concerned about education policies, but less so about housing, healthcare, etc.
There’s a very real chance of these youths just voting for whichever party is more popular, or whoever their own friends like. He’d said,
“I am all for young people having a stake in the country to foster a sense of belonging, but seriously – let us keep the minimum voting age at 21 for now.”
“If I had to vote in the last GE, I would have probably gone along with my friends and done whatever was fashionable, because I wouldn’t have known any better.”
But is it fair to shut the young people out from the voting process?
What is interesting and also important to note that is that increasingly, governments of many developed and ageing countries find themselves grappling with inter-generational divide in their societies. In countries such as the United Kingdom and even closer to home, Japan and Hong Kong, we’re witnessing how the demands and wants of the old and the young are so different.
In the United Kingdom, remember how the voters were so split during the European Union (EU) membership referendum based on age? Apparently the youths preferred to remain in the EU, whilst the older folks wanted Brexit.
In Japan, there is also intergenerational conflict where the younger generation are unwilling to pay for social spending on the elderly, and of course, the elderly would, in turn, see the young as selfish and ungrateful.
What about Hong Kong? Well, the fact that the protesters in the large scale protests in recent years, including the one that’s happening right now as I’m typing this, are mostly young people should also tell you something.
It’s not just about the extradition bill, it’s really more of rising housing costs and the general sense of hopelessness for the future that is pushing the youths out to the streets. The older Hong Kongers might regard the youths as ignorant for wanting to pursue political ideals at the expense of economic stability.
So if the young are not allowed to vote or to influence policies, then could this then generate systematic discrimination against the young population? Would youth disenchantment that is happening in some other places happen here in Singapore too?
Today, Singaporeans under 21 years old have no voting rights. I wonder if the younger and the older segments would have materially different views about issues such as healthcare, social spending, job competition, etc. And having only the 21yo-and-above to vote, are we then negating the young people’s voices? And how important are these voices in the whole scheme of effective policy-making?
This could be an issue that can potentially snowball into something bigger as Singapore faces an rapidly ageing population. As the median voter ages, we have to be careful of populist policies that pander to the elderly at the expense of the young.
Survey showed 62% of Singaporeans are against lowering voting age to 18
According to a Milieu survey done last year, most of the 5,000 Singaporean respondents also indicated that they’re not ready to lower the voting age.
What do the young people say during the heat of GE2020 fever?
During this election fever, would the young people themselves think otherwise and want the voting age to be lowered? I haven’t come across any latest polls on this.
Netizen @SohChris has been uploading GE2020-related stories on his Instagram account. They’re great, by the way, so go see!
Since he’s a millennial and his following is largely young people, I think it’s useful to steal one of his poll results on this voting age issue, hehe!
This surprised me! I wasn’t expecting this many young people to be against lowering the voting age to 18!
Chris also shared his personal views on this.
So where does this leave us?
I suppose nothing will change for now, since the Government has made it quite clear that they will not be lowering the voting age from 21 to 18.
And that’s OK, cos that’s what the majority of Singaporeans want too.