Lowering S'pore's voting age to 18 among ideas discussed in a conference on youth & politics

They also talked about whether NS could help young men be more politically informed.

Daniel Seow | January 29, 2024, 08:22 PM



Should the voting age in Singapore be lowered so youths can be more politically engaged?

That was one of the issues discussed by a panel of two academics and a journalist at the Institute of Policy Studies' (IPS) flagship Singapore Perspectives 2024 conference on the theme of youth on Jan. 29.

The three panelists were speaking in a panel on "Youth and Politics", with the two academics raising the issue of lowering the voting age.

Currently, Singaporeans need to be 21 and above to vote.

However, this status quo could lead to some dissatisfaction due to lack of political representation, noted Elvin Ong, an assistant political science professor at the National University of Singapore (NUS).

To give youths a stronger voice in Parliament

Ong said that based on a 2020 World Values survey and IPS survey, respondents aged 21 to 35 were generally less satisfied with the political and electoral system, compared to respondents above 35.

He also noted that within this age group, the 21-25 group was the most left-leaning, followed by the 26-30 group and the 31-35 group.

Ong hypothesised that this could be because youths are unhappy with lack of political attention to youth issues, like climate change and mental health, or that they might feel underrepresented.

“Lowering the voting age to 18 can make youths a larger share of the voting electorate and give them a stronger voice in Parliament,” he said.

Ong also suggested other solutions to increase youth satisfaction with Singapore's political system.

For example, the electoral system could be tweaked ensure that opposition votes were more proportionally translated into opposition seats in Parliament, or increase the number of Members of Parliament (MPs) to reduce their workload, so they could better engage with their constituents, including youth.

"Only a matter of time before voting age lowered to 18"

The second panellist, Mustafa Izzuddin, a Fellow at NUS's Residential College 4 and Adjunct Senior Lecturer at NUS College, echoed Ong's sentiments about lowering the voting age.

Mustafa opined that the lowering of the voting age was inevitable given the Singapore Cabinet's transition from the 3G to 4G leadership team, and with the trend of parliamentarians getting younger.

"It's only a matter of time before the voting age is lowered from 21 to 18," he suggested.

He cited some advantages of lowering the voting age, such as strengthening social cohesion, increasing participation, and enhancing good governance.

However, he added as a caveat that studies should be undertaken beforehand to gauge the appetite towards such a measure.

Mustafa also suggested alternatives such as the voting age being lowered to 19 or 20 years old instead, or making voting optional for those between 18 to 20 years old.

But youths may not be politically mature

Ng Soon Kiat, an associate editor from Lianhe Zaobao, sought to bring the discussion to the topic of political maturity of voters, instead of whether the voting age should be lowered.

He shared his opinion of what constituted political maturity, suggesting that a politically mature electorate is "one that is not emotional, short-term, or myopic."

Ng said political maturity could be cultivated through better communication with younger would-be voters.

For example, youths would benefit from having knowledge about the workings of Singapore's political system, the constitution, as well as the trade-offs considered when making political decisions.

What about those serving NS?

The issue of lowering the voting age to 18 also came up during the Question-and-Answer segment.

One such question raised by a United World College student was about whether enlisting in National Service (NS) — typically at age 18 or so — would affect the political exposure of young Singaporean men, and their ability to make rational political decisions.

Ng pointed out that those serving NS can still be attuned to what's going on in Singapore's social and political scene through social media.

Mustafa opined that NS would help young Singaporean men mature and become better at processing information.

And for those who are passionate about politics, it could help them to become more politically informed.

Ong went one step further, suggesting that servicemen entrusted with the security of Singapore would take voting more seriously.

"[It] probably builds within them a greater sense of the gravity of this country we call home, and give them a more serious consideration of what their vote entails," he said.

Issues such as work and family also explored

The conference also explored other issues such as work and family through a youth-centric lens.

In a panel discussion on work, speakers engaged on the qualities that young Singaporeans valued in their jobs, and what the future of work might look like for them.

And for the panel on family, one key topic was how to make it easier for youths who wish to start families, given cost-of-living pressures, work-life tensions and other stressors.

The panellists discussed solutions such as policies to reduce the opportunity cost for parenting, considering alternative definitions of family, and better community support for young couples to manage the transition.

Top image by Jacky Ho, for the Institute of Policy Studies, NUS.