Undi 18 is a social enterprise founded by Qyira Yusri and Tharma Pillai, which aims to educate and empower voters in Malaysia.

When our colleagues reached out to the vivacious duo, congratulating them for their efforts in pushing through the colloquially named Undi 18 bill, which sought to lower the minimum age of voters and elected representatives in federal and state elections to 18 years old, and automatic registration to citizens of voting age, Qyira was still a programme and marketing executive at Yayasan Tunku Abdul Rahman, while Tharma was earning a living as an engineer.

Today, Undi 18 is a full-fledged social enterprise where Qyira and Tharma serve as education director and advocacy director respectively. In this discourse, they open up on the future of democracy in Malaysia, how the influx of new voters will alter the dynamics and their plans on educating youth about democratic processes.

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Qyira Yusri of Undi 18
Tell us what has changed for you on the career front.
Qyira: We’ve established Undi 18 as its own social enterprise and are now focusing 100% of our efforts into planning and creating innovative democracy and citizenship education programs for Malaysian youth. In the past year, we’ve organised Parlimen Digital, an event that garnered half a million viewers on livestream and also Undi Ketiga, a simulation initiative of local council elections.
What is Undi 18 up to these days? What has Undi 18 achieved in the past two years and what are your plans going forward?

Qyira: This 2021, we’re learning from the past year in terms of how to engage the public. The pandemic has made it harder to engage Malaysian youth on a larger scale, and we need to be creative. We spent almost two months hunkering down thinking how we can best strategise for 2021, knowing that it’s unlikely that we can hold physical events. We’re launching two leadership development programmes this year, focusing on community activism and policy making respectively.

Since the bill lowering the voting age from 21 to 18 and the automatic registration has been passed, what have you observed in the political education and development among youth?

Qyira: I’ve noticed that young people are much more curious nowadays, especially in understanding the power and influence that they have in the national narrative. Young people also understand that there are many avenues to raise awareness on issues they care about, which we can see through the variety of Instagram accounts that are attempting to raise awareness about important issues since the pandemic.

As the emergency is enforced till August 2021, will the lowering of voting ages and automatic registration still be going ahead as scheduled?

Qyira: As far we know, there have been no delays in ensuring that the Undi 18 bill will be gazetted. The emergency has put Parliament on pause, which certainly hinders politicians from both sides to hold the government accountable, however the government is still continuing to function as usual.

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Tharma Pillai of Undi 18
When do you predict the next general elections will be held?

Tharma: That’s the million-dollar question, isn’t it? The government has promised that it will dissolve Parliament and call for snap elections at the end of the emergency, which is supposed to be in August. Theoretically, the government has the power to extend the emergency for as long as it wants and therefore postpone elections.

However, I suspect that elections might come much sooner than expected. It is clear that the government is already preparing for their election campaign even now; with the printing of party posters and raising the profiles of potential candidates in key constituencies.

There are talks about voters getting disenfranchised by the political uncertainty caused by party hopping and faction realigning, where the voice of the voters no longer matters it seems. How do you think voters, especially young voters will vote?

Tharma: It is clear that there is a lot of anger and disappointment at politicians across the political divide. I wouldn’t be surprised if many voters, not just younger voters, choose to stay home due to political frustration, compounded by the fears of Covid-19 spread during an election. However, general elections typically have a spirit of their own.

People tend to become energised by the political rhetoric and the general hype around elections. So I cannot predict which way young voters will lean towards or how they will vote. But my hope is that more of us will voice out in support of legislative reforms to stop or minimise party hopping and political instability.

How much power do youth hold in this upcoming general election in terms of deciding or at least have a huge say in the direction of this country?

Tharma: Once the Undi 18 bill has been gazetted, which is supposed to be mid-2021, we will see an additional few million young voters being added into the voter roll. Just by sheer numbers, voters under 40 years old will form about half of the electorate. Therefore it is not wrong to say that the youth can be the kingmakers of the elections, as long as we turn up to vote and demand the right policies from our elected representatives.

Your advice for young voters?

Qyira & Tharma: Never forget that democracy begins at the ballot box, but it does not end there. We need to be a generation that is willing to push and pressure our elected representatives to deliver on promises and legislate better policies for all Malaysians.


This article first appeared in Prestige Online Malaysia

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