Younger voices should be heard

The China Post - - COMMENTARY -

South Kore­ans tend to show a keen in­ter­est in their coun­try’s po­si­tion in var­i­ous com­par­isons among the 34 mem­ber states of the Or­ga­ni­za­tion for Eco­nomic Co­op­er­a­tion and Devel­op­ment (OECD).

Pol­i­cy­mak­ers, leg­is­la­tors, re­searchers and com­men­ta­tors here nearly ha­bit­u­ally cite OECD data in their ar­gu­ment on what should be done to make South Korea a more ad­vanced na­tion.

How­ever, they have paid lit­tle at­ten­tion to the fact that, of the OECD mem­bers, only South Korea and Ja­pan keep the vot­ing age above 18. Ja­pan re­vised a law last year to lower it from 20 to 18, with the amend­ment set to be put into prac­tice in 2018. It cer­tainly con­tra­dicts South Korea’s de­sire to be on par with OECD stan­dards in all fields that the coun­try con­tin­ues to be left with the high­est vot­ing age of 19.

Look­ing around the world, more than 90 per­cent of the 232 na­tions give votes to 18-year-olds, with some ad­vanced states mov­ing to fur­ther lower the age thresh­old.

It would not make sense to ar­gue that South Korea’s youths lag be­hind their peers else­where in the globe in terms of in­tel­lec­tual abil­ity and judg­ment. Many South Kore­ans would even be­come in­dig­nant at this ar­gu­ment.

Turn­ing 18, all peo­ple in the coun­try are en­ti­tled to serve the manda­tory mil­i­tary ser­vice, ap­ply for civil ser­vice ex­ams and get mar­ried of their own free will. There can be no rea­son to pre­vent 18-year-old South Kore­ans from cast­ing votes in na­tional elec­tions.

Low­er­ing the vot­ing age is all the more nec­es­sary to en­sure bal­ance be­tween younger and el­der con­stituents. South Korea’s low birthrate and the rapid aging of its pop­u­la­tion are ex­pand­ing the pro­por­tion of se­nior vot­ers.

Ac­cord­ing to fig­ures from the Na­tional Elec­tion Com­mis­sion, vot­ers in their 50s and 60s ac­counted for 39.2 per­cent of the elec­torate in 2012, when the last pres­i­dent elec­tion was held, up from 29.3 per­cent in 2002. To the con­trary, the pro­por­tion of 20-some­thing and 30-some­thing vot­ers shrank from 48.3 per­cent to 38.8 per­cent over the cited pe­riod. The gap be­tween the size of the dif­fer­ent age groups is set to grow in line with changes in the coun­try’s de­mo­graphic struc­ture.

El­derly vot­ers usu­ally show a higher turnout than younger vot­ers, fur­ther in­creas­ing their in­flu­ence on elec­tion re­sults.

Un­der th­ese cir­cum­stances, politi­cians and po­lit­i­cal par­ties tend to pay more heed to el­derly cit­i­zens’ voices and com­pete to win their hearts by pledg­ing ben­e­fit pro­grams de­signed to meet their needs. The shrink­ing pres­ence of younger con­stituents might be a rea­son for the stalled work on over­haul­ing the un­sus­tain­able public pen­sion sys­tem and cre­at­ing more jobs for youths.

Some lib­eral op­po­si­tion law­mak­ers have sought to re­duce the vot­ing age to 18 in re­cent years. But their at­tempt has drawn lit­tle sup­port from other leg­is­la­tors, par­tic­u­larly those from the con­ser­va­tive rul­ing Saenuri Party, who be­lieve the widen­ing pro­por­tion of el­derly vot­ers will cre­ate more fa­vor­able con­di­tions for them in fu­ture elec­tions.

But low­er­ing the vot­ing age is not a mat­ter that can be sub­ject to po­lit­i­cal cal­cu­la­tions and par­ti­san in­ter­ests. It is a duty for all politi­cians — and el­der gen­er­a­tions as a whole — to al­low more youths to par­tic­i­pate in de­cid­ing on the fu­ture course of the coun­try, through which they will as­sume an in­creas­ingly im­por­tant role. Be­ing given the right to vote would help make them act as a more re­spon­si­ble mem­ber of so­ci­ety.

A spe­cial par­lia­men­tary com­mit­tee on po­lit­i­cal re­form, which be­gan work last week, should change the elec­tion law to make the voices of younger cit­i­zens louder in South Korean pol­i­tics. This would have a more pos­i­tive ef­fect on the coun­try’s fu­ture than in­creas­ing the num­ber of law­mak­ers as de­manded by some politi­cians. This is an ed­i­to­rial pub­lished by The Korea Her­ald on April 9

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