Wed, Apr 11, 2018 - Page 8 News List

EDITORIAL: Time to lower Taiwan’s voting age

After decades of attempts to lower the voting age in Taiwan, it was almost like a major victory when the Legislative Yuan lowered the voting age for referendums from 20 to 18 in December last year. However, such optimism is misleading, as 18-year-olds still cannot vote in elections, which are governed by a separate set of laws. Taiwan remains one of a handful of nations with such a high voting age.

The Taiwan Alliance for Advancement of Youth Rights and Welfare and the New Power Party on Monday called for the government to speed up the process to lower the voting age, noting that none of the eight proposals now before the legislature have passed a second reading.

Is this a similar attitude as the government’s “we’ll celebrate the Council of Grand Justices’ ruling on same-sex marriage as a huge achievement, but same-sex couples cannot actually get married and we are not doing anything to hasten the process even though we promised to do so” approach? Only time will tell.

Allowing 18-year-olds to vote is obvious — they are legally adults, they are eligible for military service, and a nation benefits from having its young people more engaged socially and politically — it is not that hard to understand. This is especially important in Taiwan, which needs as many people to care about the nation’s future as possible.

Previously, high-school students were supposed to live in a bubble and as long as they studied hard, they would have a good future. This is no longer the case, and the government is placing more emphasis on practical education — what can be better education than real-world political participation?

It is always a good sign to see university students becoming involved in social and political movements, but it is ironic that some of these young activists cannot vote.

With optimism for democracy over the next decade among 20-to-39-year-olds dropping from 58 percent in 2001 to 41.1 percent this year, according to a poll commissioned by the Taiwan Foundation for Democracy, getting more young people to feel their voices are heard is crucial for Taiwan to move forward.

However, every attempt has failed since the issue was first brought up in 1994. It seems that even the public is divided on the issue, as a poll last month by news Web site ET Today found that only 52.9 percent of respondents were in favor of a lower voting age.

Other polls have found more or less the same numbers, which is perhaps why it has taken so long for this change to get off the ground.

Yes, there will always be overly immature young people, which seems to be the main argument against letting 18-year-olds vote — but there are plenty of immature older people. Age does not matter when it comes to character, political knowledge and motivation. We cannot continue to shut out an entire age group just because of their lack of experience.

What the government should stop doing is treating the issue as a bargaining chip. An amendment was almost passed in 2015, but the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and Democratic Progressive Party could not come to an agreement after 13 hours of tense debate, even though they were both in favor of the proposal. The two parties seemed to care more about their agendas and rivalries than the nation’s interests.

However, the work will not be done even once the voting age is lowered. Look at Japan, where 18-year-olds were able to vote for the first time in 2016, but early opinion polls found a low willingness to actually vote among that demographic.

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