Legislature passes constitutional bill to lower voting age (update)

Lawmakers across party lines on Friday voted to approve a constitutional amendment to lower the voting age in Taiwan from 20 to 18, making it the first proposed revision to the Constitution to cleared the Legislature since 2005.

Dozens of students and NGO representatives gathered outside the Legislative Yuan building on Friday morning to express their support for the amendment. They shouted such slogans as "I am a high school student; I want my vote!" as the bill was being discussed on the legislative floor.

The proposed amendment to grant a Taiwanese citizen who is 18 years of age and above the right to vote cleared the Legislature after all the 109 legislators in attendance voted unanimously in favor of the revision, sending the issue to a national referendum later this year.

Due to the high thresholds set for revising the Constitution, Taiwan last amended the Republic of China Constitution in 2005, and the bill to lower the voting age was the first to pass the Legislature in 17 years.

Friday's result was described by student and civil society groups that have spent years trying to bring Taiwan's voting age in line with most other democratic countries as "justice long overdue."

Now the amendment has been approved by lawmakers, it must be voted on in a national referendum and be supported by at least half of all eligible voters to come into effect.

Speaking after the bill was passed, New Power Party (NPP) Legislator Chiu Hsien-chih (???) said the success in pushing the bill through the Legislature should be attributed to the students and civil society organizations mobilized outside the Legislature Friday.

South Korea and Japan have lowered the voting age to 18, Chiu went on, while in nations such as Brazil and Austria, the voting age is 16 years old.

"Taiwan has lagged behind most other countries for far too long," Chiu added, urging all the parties to work together to push for the passage of the referendum.

Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Legislator Liu Shyh-fang (???) echoed Chiu's view, saying only if the different parties join forces will it be possible to ensure 9.65 million votes are cast in favor of the proposal, the minimum required for the referendum to pass.

Civil society groups have expressed hope that the referendum will be held on the same day as local elections on Nov. 26, as nationwide elections are more likely to attract higher voter turnouts.

The Central Election Commission said on Friday it would soon convene to decide whether the referendum can be held on the same day as the November elections.

The Kuomintang (KMT) caucus whip Tseng Ming-chung (???) noted that Friday's vote was only the first step toward reforming the country's Constitution.

He called on the ruling party to make more efforts to facilitate other constitutional amendments, such as the protection of animals and changing the structure of government to better meet the needs of the country and its people.

At the same time, those who gathered outside the Legislature cheered the approval of the bill by lawmakers.

"I am very excited and happy," Lee Sheng-ya (???), an 18-year-old high school student, told CNA.

Lee, who is currently head of a student group in New Taipei, said he had advocated lowering the voting age since 2019.

"Both the Civil Code and Criminal Code set the age of majority at 18. If we are obliged to go into military services or pay taxes starting at 18, why can't we vote?"

Taiwan amended the Civil Code to lower the age of majority to 18 at the end of 2020, but it will not take effect until 2023.

Currently, all Taiwanese men between 18 and 36 years old are required to undertake four-months of compulsory military service.

Hsinchu Senior High School student Chang Che-min (???) expressed similar elation, saying he was "glad that lawmakers really heard the voices of high school students."

Chang traveled to Taipei alone on Friday to take part in the gathering outside the Legislature. He said it was important to take action and "let the public know that high school students do care [about the issue]."

The 17-year-old added that he looks forward to seeing the passage of the referendum later this year so that he can cast his vote for the first time in 2024.

In contrast, the 18-year-old Lee acknowledged that he "is not very optimistic" about the plebiscite due to the high bar for its passage.

Nevertheless, Lee said he would not give up and would continue championing the lowering of the voting age with his fellow students.

Meanwhile, Shen Yu-chung (???), a political science professor at Tunghai University, said Friday's vote would work to the ruling party's advantage in the local elections, when voters across the country will elect city mayors, county magistrates, as well as city- and county-level councilors.

Among the four major political parties in Taiwan, people in the 18-19 age group, estimated to be around 600,000 strong, tend to support all but the KMT, according to Shen.

Although young people below the age of 20 are not eligible to cast their ballots in the November elections, their stance on the constitutional amendment and other issues could still impact public opinion, he added.

However, a KMT legislator who spoke on condition of anonymity, held a different view.

Past poll results show that Taiwanese voters have little interest in lowering the voting age, the lawmaker said, adding social issues directly relating to voters remain the decisive factor in the local elections.

Meanwhile, DPP Legislator Lo Chih-cheng (???) observed that the issue regarding the voting age could impact the presidential and mayoral elections scheduled to be held in early 2024, even more so if the referendum passes this year.

Many high school students who support the constitutional amendment will become first-time voters in the 2024 elections, he said.

Source: Focus Taiwan News Channel