OCTOBER 23, 2004

Seriously, don't mock us!

Young PAP members out to stir debate with radical 'bill' to lower voting and marriage age

By Josephine Chew

IF this NSman had his way, his 19-year-old cousin would be able to vote in the next general elections.

Said Mr Mervyn Sek, 25: 'If you can use a rifle to kill at this age, then you should have the ability to think and exercise your right to make a choice, and be engaged in your country's future.'

The Mindef officer and Young PAP (YP) member feels so passionately about this that he helped to draft a radical 'parliamentary bill' on behalf of the 'Ministry of Youth'.

Tomorrow, Parliament House will see his 10-member team sparring against 10 'Government Parliamentary Committee (GPC)' members who will speak against the bill, which seeks to lower the voting age to 18.

Its other proposals include compulsory secondary school education and the right to marry without parental consent after 18.

Both groups in this mock 'parliamentary debate' are from the Northwest District YP.

And in the four weeks that they got to prepare for it, the 20 YP members, aged 19 to 32, have worked hard.

Lawyer Nicholas Lazarus, 32, who is on the GPC team, had only less than five hours of sleep on some nights because he had to juggle his career as well as his 'CCA in politics'.

'I've seen my girlfriend maybe once in two weeks, and she has been complaining. But thank goodness she understands that it's important to me even if it is a mock-up,' said the litigator at Justicious Law Corporation.

'It's all part of being politically engaged and responsible to enact positive change.'

When The New Paper asked debate participants about their views on the bill, they all immediately launched into detailed arguments to support their stands.

Said Mr Lazarus: 'There's no doubt that we need to try to get youths more engaged in society - socially, politically and what not, and the spirit of the bill attends to this need for a change in policy.

'However, from my perspective as a lawyer, one must be very careful about enacting legislation because there are very serious consequences, which is why I'm personally against many of the suggestions listed out in the bill.'

On a lighter note, group member Fauzi Maidin, 25, an accounts executive, said the experience itself made it all worthwhile.

'On a personal level, I don't agree with the basis, or possible efficacy of the suggestions proposed. But it's definitely a step in the right direction that we're all thinking about how to engage more people in our age group.'

Mr Sek acknowledged that many of the suggestions were just meant to 'be controversial' and to stir debate.

'It's meant to be a debate, right? So we have to have something to debate,' said the PSC teaching scholar with a laugh.

Material from the session is to be submitted to the Feedback Unit later.

'I think it's a very good platform to get our young people involved. We're all very impressed at the initiative, and the competence. It's definitely a good sign for Singapore's future,' said Mr Joseph Lee, YP Northwest District Chairman.

'The bill-writing group actually wrote an entire bill with the format and legalese intact! We hope to spark a similar interest in other youths out there who may feel that they can't make a difference.'

Copyright @ 2004 Singapore Press Holdings. All rights reserved.