by Brian Hioe

Photo Credit: Brian Hioe

AFTER REFORM measures passed in Japan this summer to lower the voting age to eighteen, among Asia-Pacific countries, Taiwan will remain as having a relatively high voting age. Like Japan’s voting age before recent reform measures, Taiwan’s voting age is twenty.  Taiwan’s voting age of twenty compares to a voting age of eighteen in most countries that surround Taiwan.

Voting age is eighteen in the Philippines, Vietnam, Cambodia, Hong Kong, and China, seeing as elections for local government exists in China. Notable exceptions include South Korea, whose voting age is set at nineteen and Malaysia and Singapore, whose voting ages remains prohibitively high at twenty-one. Statistically, eighteen is the most common voting age for countries across the world, with 90% of 190 countries having a voting age of eighteen. The highest minimum voting age in democracies the world over is, in fact, in most cases twenty-one, which places Taiwan at the high end of the spectrum where voting age is concerned. Why is it that Taiwan’s voting age remains so high?

With the entrance of a new generation of young into participation in Taiwanese politics, there have been calls for lowering the voting age. Namely, the Sunflower Movement in 2014 marked the entrance of largely college students into political participation through activism. Many of the younger participants were, in fact, not of voting age.

But after the high school-led movement to oppose textbook changes that culminated in the Ministry of Education occupation in August, we see even more clearly that large tracts of young people who are unable to vote have become involved in civic activism nonetheless—and that in such cases, civic activism may be their only way of influencing government policy. Statistics cited by the Taiwan Alliance for Advancement of Youth Rights and Welfare suggest that 81% of Taiwanese youths between 16 and 20 want the voting age lowered, the poll cited having a sampling of 13,027 respondents.

Who would oppose the young entering politics? Perhaps those afraid of the youth vote. Though there are in fact some KMT politicians in favor of lowering the voting age, such as the somewhat unorthodox KMT politician Ting Shou-Chung and Ministry of the Interior Chen Wei-zen, the KMT has stymied attempts to lower the voting age. A proposal for lowering the voting age was put to a premature end by KMT caucus whip Lai Shyh-bao in May by attaching the proposal to other draft proposals about other longstanding voting issues such as that of absentee issue, making it impossible for the proposal to advance.

Ma Ying-Jeou and the KMT raised in June last year that the Taiwanese public does not support lowering the voting age, as based on research conducted by the KMT’s research center. But surprisingly enough, polling by Taiwan Indicators Survey Research and National Development Committee suggest this actually may be correct. Why would this be so? Perhaps it is that paternalistic attitudes about the irresponsibility of youth persist, even after the Sunflower Movement.

Nevertheless, the patent absurdity of the high voting age in Taiwan means that one can drink, join the army, or face capital punishment at age eighteen yet still be deprived of the means to vote. And it appears that because the KMT is, as a whole, afraid of the youth vote turning against them, under a KMT government, lowering the voting age seems unlikely to occur. This is yet another way in which youth are denied their rights by the KMT for fear of losing political power.

Certainly, it would be that the DPP would probably like to see a lowering of the voting age for it’s own political interest because youth are more likely to vote for it than the KMT. But in this way, it will depend on the make-up of the legislature after elections to see whether reform measures could be passed or not.

Japan’s lowering of their voting age was a relatively uncontroversial measure but, as we see in Taiwan, this is hardly so. It will require more to push the issue. In America, it was controversy about the Vietnam War which led to a lowering of the voting age. Perhaps along such lines, with the Sunflower Movement in 2014 and the Ministry of Education occupation this summer as evidence of an increasingly politicized generation of Taiwanese youth, we will see more calls for lowering the voting age in the near future.

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