Do we really want to lower the voting age in Singapore?

By August 13, 2019Current

TL:DR – 62 percent of  Singaporeans don’t think the voting age should be lowered. 

Those of you who are more politically aware must know by now that the ex-PAP man Tan Cheng Bock has (finally!) made an official comeback.

Dr Tan was an MP for over two decades from 1980 to 2006 as a member of the ruling party. He apparently remained a party member until 2011 when he resigned to stand as a candidate in the 2011 Presidential Election. Yes, that Tan vs Tan vs Tan vs Tan election, hurhur. He missed really narrowly and Tony Tan eventually became our President from that election.

Dr Tan never really left the political scene since then, at least not online. On and off, he would appear and sprout some wise words or he would be seen strumming his ukulele and singing.

He finally launched his very own political party, Progress Singapore Party (PSP) in early August. So why am I talking about Dr Tan?

Tan Cheng Bock’s Progress Singapore Party proposed to lower voting age

Tan Cheng Bock and company at the launch party of Progress Singapore Party in Aug 2019 (via)

 

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 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.”

What does the Government say to that?

Voting at the Singapore General Election on Polling Day (via)

 

We didn’t have to wait long for a response. 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 Aug:

  • 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.
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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 does Calvin Cheng say?

No surprises for guessing what the very vocal 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, he’s 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.

You can read this, this, this, this or this which he has shared in his post for more information.

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.

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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.

Hong Kong protesters clashed with police (via)

 

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.

So how now? Do we want to lower the voting age and give them a voice?

The thing is can we really trust that a 18yo knows to vote rationally? I like what this Singaporean, Keegan Kang, said on Quora,

“Intellectually, I “knew” what would be right policies to make. Then I started working (or rather ; having to make decisions that could affect other people), and I realized that hard tradeoffs have to be made (and that you cannot please everyone).

I was that kind of person who used to think: “Hey, I like {one of the fringe political party}’s manifesto, because if everyone was idealistic / altruistic, and that no pitfalls / black swans occur, this could work!”

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Then I realized that:

  • if you always plan for “the best” to happen, eg, you believe everyone will make the right decisions ; you’ll be unprepared when the worst happens
  • few people are altruistic ; the majority are selfish
  • black swans happen

in real life.

But – I only realized this after 18 years old. I think the majority of Singaporeans also realize this after 18 years old.”

Here’s one more post that echoed the above,

“At 18, I thought I was a genius, but realise now that I was an idiot. I would never have allowed my 18-year-old self to vote, why should I enfranchise any other 18-year-old?”

And here’s one more that said,

“Personally, I would not want the voting age to be reduced to 18. I knew how rebellious some people could be when young (me included) and how they can be easily influenced (not that they cannot be easily influenced after 21) but after 21 I feel they would have completed NS and a better perspective on the country and more responsible for their actions. Hate to put Singapore future in the hands of rebellious youth like I once was.”

I’d say quite many people are not entirely comfortable about lowering the voting age, myself included.

Could Demeny Voting be an alternative approach?

Dr Paul Demeny is a renowned demographer and economist whose research on population decline and demographic policy have been extremely influential internationally. One of his more unorthodox proposals included “voting for children, not by children”.

President János Áder awarded demographer Dr. Paul Demény with the prestigious honor of the Hungarian Order of St. Stephen (via)

 

Demeny voting is basically about giving parents proxy votes on behalf of their children. The essence  of this argument is that parents care deeply about their children and want the best for them and for their future. On that premise, the parents can be expected to use their proxy votes in the interest of their children.

Very interesting!

Our late Lee Kuan Yew probably liked this idea too!

So in 1994, the late Mr Lee suggested giving two votes to citizens aged 35 to 60, married with children. I’d imagine he might have been inspired by the Demeny voting. But of course, that suggestion did not go down too well as it was seen to violate the basic principle of democracy – one man, one vote.

Hey, maybe he should have “packaged” it under Demeny voting, then the additional votes would actually be for the children.

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.

That’s not a bad thing since according to this recent Milieu survey of over 5,000 Singaporeans, most of us are also not ready to lower the voting age. The survey shows that 62 percent of Singaporeans are against lowering the voting age.

Milieu’s survey on whether Singaporeans want a lowering of the voting age (via)

 

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Qiqi

Author Qiqi

Hello, I'm probably your most socially awkward cave-woman this part of town. In the day, I work to put bah-chor-mee on the table and chocolate ice-cream in the fridge. At night, I read a lot and write a little.

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