PUTRAJAYA: Malaysians who have not registered to vote should do so now, even though a Bill is being passed to allow for automatic voter registration, says the Election Commission (EC).

Its chairman Azhar Harun said it would take some time before automatic registration and the newly reduced voting age took effect.

He said it could take a year and a half or more.

“From the date the Bill is passed until the law takes effect, registration of voters will still have to be done conventionally. Until then, 18-year-olds are still not eligible to vote.

“The EC has to establish a new system that allows automatic registration, and for this, we need data from the National Registration Department, the Prisons Department and the Health Ministry.

“We have a lot of engagement with various stakeholders that needs to be done.

“We do not want to simply implement this and then face problems later – problems that are bigger than before. We do this, we should do it properly,” said Azhar at a press conference after attending EC’s “Make A Change, Let’s Do It Together” forum.

On Tuesday (July 16), the Dewan Rakyat unanimously passed the Constitutional Amendment Bill 2019, which sought to allow automatic registration of voters, reduce the minimum voting age and the age one can contest in an election to 18.

To a question, Azhar said he doubted the law could take effect before the Sarawak state election, which must be held by June 6, 2021.

“It is a bit tough to say. Although it has to be held by June 6, 2021, the state assembly can be dissolved much earlier.

“It would be good if the new provisions can be implemented by then as a pilot project, but we also don’t want elections to be test grounds.

“We must ensure everything is truly ready first,” said Azhar.

To a suggestion by panellist PAS secretary-general Datuk Takiyuddin Hassan that the government should allocate at least RM1bil for the EC to implement the new changes, Azhar agreed that costs would increase substantially.

“In the 14th General Election, the EC used RM500mil for an election which had 14 million eligible voters. With the new changes, we may see up to 22 million voters.

“The cost will definitely be substantially more,” said Azhar.