With only three days remaining before Saturday’s nine-in-one elections, campaigns are turning white-hot. Voters are on the same day being asked to decide on a referendum to amend the Constitution to lower the voting age and eligibility for standing in elections to 18. However, many voters appear to be apathetic to the proposal, which could significantly affect Taiwan’s development as a democracy.
The referendum is unlikely to pass due to the considerable voter threshold required. The Central Election Commission has said that more than 9.65 million voters need to vote “yes” for the proposal to pass, based upon the Additional Articles of the Constitution (憲法增修條文) requirement that more than 50 percent of the 19.3 million eligible voters nationwide approve the referendum.
The previous four referendums had much lower thresholds, requiring one-quarter of eligible voters to vote in favor and that the “yes” votes surpass the “no” votes. Voter turnout in 2004, 2008 and last year all failed to reach 50 percent, and needless to say, the votes in favor were far below the threshold for a constitutional amendment to pass. Based on the results of the 2018 local elections, with a turnout of 65 percent, the referendum would need votes from at least 77 percent of that turnout.
Another challenge is that, although the amendment had been approved by legislators across party lines, a media survey at the end of last month showed that only about 43 percent of eligible voters expressed a willingness to vote “yes” in the referendum. Another survey found that more than 50 percent of voters have doubts about whether teens are ready to stand for election.
Some say that people under 20 are too young to make political decisions. This is despite 18-year-olds being defined as adults in the Civil Code and the Criminal Code, obliged to complete military service and pay taxes, eligible to work in public office and expected to take full criminal responsibility in legal matters. The Referendum Act (公民投票法) also states that any person who is 18 and not under guardianship has “the right of referendum unless otherwise provided by the Constitution.”
Most candidates running for office are older than 50, and the average age for elected village heads is about 58. Given Taiwan’s aging population, it is only right to allow younger people more participation in politics. In an era of advanced information technology and civic education, young people’s civic literacy is higher than ever. Teenagers are more concerned about public issues such as environmental protection, gender equality and human rights, and are more mature in scrutinizing and making judgements about civic issues.
The CIA’s World Factbook shows that most countries have a voting age of 18 or younger. The New Zealand government this week announced plans to draft legislation to lower the voting age to 16, after the Supreme Court ruled that not allowing people aged 16 or 17 to vote was discriminatory. Fewer than 5 percent of countries still have a voting age of older than 20. Taiwan is the only Asian democracy in which 18-year-olds cannot vote.
Taiwan needs to provide young people with the right to participate in policymaking to ensure generational equality, granting them full civic rights to decide their future and bring the nation in line with international trends. This Saturday should be an opportunity for Taiwan, a country committed to and widely recognized as a model of democracy, to achieve another landmark on its democratic journey.
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