What started as a student movement, became one of the most successful advocacy organisations in Malaysia. UNDI18 made history when it succeeded in implementing a new ruling to lower the voting age from 21 to 18, paving the way for over 7.8 million young people to vote in the next general election. Now that UNDI18 has succeeded in its primary goal, this Malaysia Day, we met up with Tharma Pillai, who co-founded UNDI18 with fellow student Qyira Yusri to find out what other plans are in line for the organisation.
“The US presidential elections were a big inspiration for me. Seeing how my younger housemates had the right to vote and the vibrancy of discussions on campus made me think of how I could bring this back to Malaysia.”
“Malaysia was one of the few countries in the entire world with a voting age of 21 and above. So we immediately thought that this was an issue. If you want to change the culture, you have to start by giving (the youth) the responsibility and the rights. That was the idea for UNDI18.”
“Political parties have shifted massively in response to UNDI18. Many parties, such as UMNO, have put out younger candidates and this was pretty much unheard of before. The impact is immediate and visible and hopefully, in the next general elections, we will have a similar effect. But the big question we hope to answer now is what are young people mobilising towards? What policies are we demanding as a large group?”
“UNDI18 is fundamentally just the beginning because you would not only want to give the youth the right to vote, but you’d also want to be able to shape the next generation. For these new voters, it is a huge cultural change. It puts pressure on political parties to rethink what exactly is a young person.”
“A young person is no longer just someone who is supposed to go out and find a job and pay taxes. A young person must also be a holistic person, in the sense that while you’re paying taxes, you’re also challenging the government and calling for better policies. You’re engaged with the community and that is what a citizen should be.”
“A citizen-centric education is something that we want to achieve going forward and that’s part of the work that we want to do with UNDI18.”
Location: EQ Hotel Kuala Lumpur