After months of planning, years of trying and decades of debate, the Legislative Yuan on Friday unanimously passed a bill paving the way to lowering the voting age from 20 to 18. Now all eyes are on an upcoming referendum — the final hurdle to changing the Constitution.
While its passage might seem certain, the last bar is a high one. To pass, at least half of the electorate must vote in its favor, meaning that turnout is essential. If the most recent referendum is any indication, this might be a tall order: In December last year, only about 41 percent of eligible voters went to the polls.
The Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) has been vocal about this challenge to finally granting suffrage to young adults. Its solution is to hold the referendum concurrently with the nine-in-one local elections on Nov. 26, meaning it was essential that the legislature passed the bill this month.
With that goal cleared, it is up to the independent Central Election Commission to decide when to hold the vote. Rules state that the referendum must be held within three months after a six-month buffer period, making any time between October and the end of the year eligible. In this case, Nov. 26 is a natural fit, easier on both polling staff and voters than holding another vote so soon before or after the election.
Still, the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) is not happy. Over the weekend, KMT Chairman Eric Chu (朱立倫) demanded that another date be found, while accusing the DPP of contradicting itself. The claim does have some standing. The DPP just three months ago argued against holding referendums alongside elections for logistical reasons, and rallied voters to turn down a KMT-proposed referendum calling for concurrent voting.
Yet there also comes a time when common sense should win out against arbitrary rulemaking. The voters did not say that referendums should never be held alongside elections, only that it should not be mandated. In this case, holding just one referendum at the same time as the local elections makes sense for everyone involved, and is a vastly different situation from the debacle seen in 2018, when 10 confusing referendums were held alongside local elections.
If the KMT is sincere in its desire to lower the voting age, it should support anything that could increase its chances. After all, this is not the only time politicking has blocked such a proposal. In 2015, it also seemed that lowering the voting age was imminent. The legislature was poised to pass a bill approving the amendment, but deadlock seized the chamber after the KMT demanded that absentee voting and granting the legislature power to approve the premiership be passed at the same time. After 13 hours of heated debate, the parties could not reach a consensus.
While the KMT as an opposition party is correct to hold the government to account, it is terrible at picking its battles. It is possible for the KMT to point out hypocrisy within the DPP while still supporting policies that will make people’s lives better. Lowering the voting age is the right thing to do for innumerable reasons. At 18, people are eligible for military service and criminally liable. Other democracies almost as a rule allow 18 and 19-year-olds to vote. They are also able to vote in referendums, following a 2017 amendment to the Referendum Act (公民投票法).
After waiting for so long, young people will finally have the right to vote — it would be a disgrace if political one-upmanship ruined their chances once again.
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