by Darryl Goh
When the Progress Singapore Party recently proposed to lower the voting age for elections from 21 to 18, it generated significant online buzz, resulting in the question being raised in parliament. As of 2019, the Government has no plans to lower the voting age.
Singapore is joined by only 7 other nations which have a minimum voting age of 21, including other islands like Samoa and Tuvalu. Considering that many other countries that have mandatory military service (ie. Taiwan, South Korea, Israel) have a minimum voting age of 18, the lowering of the minimum age in Singapore should be reconsidered, and here are some reasons why:
If a young person does not keep up with current affairs, the only time when he has learned about our political system was in O Level Social Studies. The knowledge that we acquired at age 16/17 (for most of us) would not even be needed for at least another 4 years. Since there is no participation in the election process, it might be interpreted as unimportant, when it is in fact a cornerstone of our democracy.
Op-eds supporting the current voting age law argue that at age 21, we would have a better grasp of understanding policies and how they can severely impact current affairs. This point is only valid if these young adults care about current affairs. Age is not a definitive factor in determining how knowledgeable one is about political issues; a person who chooses not to care would continue to be uninformed, regardless of age.
Knowledge is best retained when applied. When youths are given a responsibility to express their views in a vote, they can truly understand the importance of the election process, as well as the importance of following current affairs which will influence who they vote for.
The Maturity Question
A common misconception about our youth is that we are “not mature enough” to be involved in the political process at age 18. Supporters of lowering the voting age would say that maturity is needed in carrying out National Service (NS) duties, which can involve the handling of weapons. Furthermore, with the SAF pledge stating every NSF’s allegiance to the President, it is a valid question to ask why youths are not allowed to vote for who they want to serve and protect with their lives.
A recent Yahoo opinion piece implied that our young men only have the maturity to see what is in Singapore’s best interests after NS. This does not make sense: NS teaches discipline, but not necessarily critical thinking and promoting the understanding of policies affecting Singaporeans.
As for women, to say that they mature during entering university life is less believable as it is not compulsory to take modules relating to the studies of current affairs. Compare this to the situation in a junior college, where students have to take the General Paper subject.
The belief that maturity is developed in a short span of 4 years is false; most of our experiences at this age may be vastly different than before, but it does not guarantee a political awakening unlike the opportunity at age 18.
Maturity stems from responsibility, and the responsibility is choosing the government to represent us.
The Helicopter Parent
Many Asian children can relate to helicopter parenting. The micromanagement of our childhood may shelter us from worrying too much, but it also increases the chances of us being woefully uninformed about things which the youth in other countries are becoming increasingly aware of.
A common critique of our Government is that their conservative policies are similar to helicopter parenting. It is puzzling as to why our country, which has one of the highest youth education rates in the world, would only allow its youth to have their voices heard at 21.
Without trusting our young that they are mature enough to vote, and without allowing them to participate in the practical process while educating them about its importance at youth, we run the risk of breeding an unhealthy culture of apathy for the election process, resulting in them not being mature enough – what the current law supporters talk about.
This chicken-and-egg problem will only be resolved when our young are given a voice.