With so many political issues competing on the forefront of the headlines, little attention is being given to the on-going debate of whether or not to lower the legal age to vote. At present, Koreans can vote from Korean age 20 or 21 whether their birthday has passed or not. And it means Koreans can vote from age 19 as the International age allows. In this situation, people want to lower the legal age to vote from 19 to 18 years of age as the new International age. In the past, Korea has been the scene of many student rallies where participants demanded a change in voting age policy. This topic seems to emerge every election year, yet nobody has championed this cause in government. However, recent influential student activism has triggered the renewed debate to reconsider the nation’s voting age.
Politicians disagree on the matter. Those who support lowering the voting age, say that it can generate more interest in teenagers about politics and that they are mature enough to make decisions and handle the responsibility of the vote. They point to several instances where young Koreans have expressed their political opinions and it led to constructive change. Despite these positive points, Korea remains the only OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) country to not permit citizens as young as 18, the right to vote. In Korea, voting eligibility starts at the age of 19. The median age for voting around the world is also 18. Korea’s youth can give their opinions and ideas, but without the right to vote, they have little impact on policy and government administration.
There are also those who object to any changes to the voting age. They argue that voters elect political leaders who make crucial decisions for our country. This is an enormous responsibility and citizens under the age of 19 do not have a fully developed sense of responsibility. As a result, they are incapable of exercising that responsibility in a reasonable manner. Furthermore, if Korea were to give the right to vote to 18 year-olds, an additional 600,000 voters would be added to the list and this would give rise to the debate over the inequities between the voting and drinking ages as is seen in America.
The Dankook Herald (DKH) interviewed Kim Rae-yeong, Professor at the College of Law. The DKH asked the professor about the possibility of lowering the voting age. “Lowering the voting age has been suggested for a long time. Actually, people who study election law and conservative camps have filed petitions with the court on this matter Basically the ruling party believes that if teenagers get the right to vote, they will choose the Progress Party and they don’t want support for other parties to grow”, he answered. In the country’s first elections in 1948, the voting age was restricted to 21. This was lowered to 20 in 1960 and 19 in 2005. “As we can see, the age criteria in our election law has changed so frequently, it can be easily lowered again to 18.”
While Korean youth are often politically active, the 19 year-old voter restriction remains higher than other in most other nations. In socialist states such as Cuban and North Korean, citizens as young as 16 year can vote. Among OECD countries, the voting age is 18. However, German youth have always actively participated in politics. Before the First World War, German youth founded an outdoor activity group that expressed their virulent patriotism. These types of activities continued well into the Nazi era. Since then, the country’s youth hasn’t stopped voicing their ideas, but their messages have turned to ones of peace. Nowadays German adolescents are posting political messages on internet communities targeting young people. This community is composed of youth aged 14 year to 21 years old and it is a forum where they freely exchange opinions and ideas.
In addition, France also ensures their youth have an opportunity to express their opinion on public policies. Every year since 1994, a panel has selected 500 youth councilors representing each local constituency, to take part in a forum to discuss proposed legislation and choose the best from among them to be sent for further examination to the nation’s parliament. From those bills sent for further review, 4 have been made it into law, through this process.
It is important to note that by lowering the age that a citizen can vote, you are also lowering the age that youth can run for office. In 2005, a 19 year old high school student in the United States successfully ran for mayor and in Germany a 19 year old became the youngest assemblywoman to be elected to office. Lastly, by lowering the voting age to 18, more candidates will propose ideas that address the needs of these young voters, such as better educational policies. For instance, Lee Jae-joung, Superintendent in Gyeonggi Province proposed that students go to school for 9 am.
Voting is one of the most common ways for a person to participate in politics. Teenagers are also citizens, so politicians should pay attention to their opinions and needs. There are some real concerns about lowering the voting age, however with some minor adjustments, Korea can overcome them. “Proper” political education is a solution. Germany has adopted neutral guidelines for political education. These guidelines were made by distinguished scholars who have different political views. Likewise, Korean students should be able to learn more about competing views. And in doing so, students will be able to enhance their ability to critically think and make their own decisions. In addition, they could also look at entering politics as a career at an earlier age.
Every citizen, including the young, should have all the same rights when it comes to participating in politics. It is the responsibility of all of us to check the facts, analyze the competing opinions and suggest the best possible outcome. Both adults, and the youth of Korea, must do their best to improve the growth of our nation. Respecting each other and collecting the best solutions to address the problems we face, will no doubt lead to a more advanced democracy for our nation.
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