Younger voices should be heard
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