Malaysia is facing a general election in the next few months as stipulated by the country’s constitution. There has been amped up efforts by the Election Commission, through its Election Academy, to get more youths to register as voters. These are all good measures in a democratic country. However, for years, there has been rumblings especially by the opposition, to make registration and voting compulsory.
While it sounds like common sense, there is a good argument against making voting compulsory. Firstly, in a liberal-democracy, the people should have the right to vote for the incumbent, the opposition, or not to vote at all. Usually, voters go out to vote as an expression of their political will. However, there may be a section of the population that is disillusioned by the political scene that their sense of political efficacy is affected. As a result, they could not even make up their mind who to vote for.
Of course, one can argue that as a citizen, it is their responsibility to decide on the future leader of our country. But another way to see it is that they may not feel that the opposition can do much anyway, so why bother rocking the boat. In this sense, by not voting, they are showing their support for the status quo. On another hand, if they truly want the current government to continue leading the country, the argument goes, they should make their voices heard. However, as disillusioned youths, maybe it does not matter to them who rules. Maybe, that should not be blown into a bigger issue.
These youths who do not have an established political attitude, may not make informed decision if they are forced to vote. Without interest in politics or the sense of political efficacy, they may vote based on the voting behaviour of their peers. How is that much better?
Voting should not be made compulsory. Let those who are politically aware do the hard work of comparing parties to choose the lesser of evils. If the youths feels their voices are not acknowledged, they may rise on their own, without mandatory registration or voting as it did in 2013 when 84% of voters went out to vote. This is relatively high among countries that do not have compulsory voting.
If we want the youths to vote, do not force them. Encourage them by letting them know that they are being heard. When the youths band together, they can move mountains. Or at the least, vote for young leaders as they did in Canada, France, Austria, and more recently New Zealand.