The lowered voting age in Malaysia could benefit the country's two biggest Malay Muslim political parties at the next general election, giving both parties greater incentive to cooperate, a political researcher has suggested.
Malaysia lowered the country's voting age from 21 to 18 in July 2019, and this is expected to increase the voter base by 52.3 per cent to 22.7 million voters by 2023, when elections must be held, Dr Cassey Lee, coordinator and senior fellow at the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute said in a report.
However, Dr Lee noted that the actual number of voters may be lower given that voting is not compulsory in Malaysia. Regardless, he believes it will have a "very significant impact" on the next general election (GE15).
He said cited data showing that the bumiputera’s share of new voters who will reach voting age by 2023 will be larger at 72.8 per cent, compared with 19.5 percent and 6.6 percent for Chinese and Indian, respectively. This is a long-term consequence of differences in birth rate between the ethnic groups, he said.
This could benefit Barisan Nasional (BN) and Parti Islam Se Malaysia (PAS), Dr Lee said, as "statistical evidence" indicates that BN’s share of total votes is positively correlated with bumiputera’s share of voters in the past three general elections.
He also said research has indicated that voter turnout is often lower amongst newly-franchised and younger voters, but such effects are mitigated when such voters live with their parents.
In the case of Malaysia, the majority of new voters, who would be 20 to 25 years old during GE15, are not likely to be living with parents - thus indicating a possible lower voter turnout, Dr Lee said.
He noted that in previous elections, lower voter turnout tended to be advantageous to incumbent politicians from BN, although this is the first time Malaysia has a new incumbent party in the form of Pakatan Harapan (PH).
Meanwhile, the increase in new voters could intensify political competition, Dr Lee said, and there is no guarantee that parties can protect the parliamentary seats they had won in the previous election.
"The impact on safe parliamentary seats in GE15 can be estimated by comparing the election margin in GE14 and the increase in the number of voters in each parliamentary constituency in GE15," Dr Lee said, adding that a seat is no longer deemed "safe" if the total number of new voters exceeds the margin of victory in GE14.
According to Dr Lee's estimates, in a three-cornered fight, PH's safe seats would fall from 95.9 per cent in GE14 to 66.3 per cent in GE15; BN's from 81.6 per cent to 30.6 per cent; and PAS's from 94.4 per cent to 27.8 per cent.
In a two-cornered fight, PH's safe seats would fall from 94.2 per cent to 63.8 per cent, while an alliance of BN and PAS would see their safe seats from from 99 per cent to 67.7 per cent.
"Who will benefit more from increased political competition will depend on whether GE15 is a two- or three-cornered competition," Dr Lee said. "In a two-cornered fight, in which BN and PAS jointly agree to field one candidate in each constituency, the margin of victory will be slimmer in more parliamentary constituencies."
Given that all political parties will see a decrease in their number of safe seats, Dr Lee believes both BN and PAS will have greater incentive to cooperate in GE15 given the new landscape.
He added that the lowering of voting age will incentivise political parties to initiate early interventions and programmes to endear themselves to the new voters before the general election. This could include promises related to the education system, youth employment and youth mobility.