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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on Jan. 6)

All Headlines 07:20 January 06, 2017

Allow 18-year-olds to vote
Extension of suffrage needs to be top priority

The newly created New Conservative Party for Reform (NCPR) has revoked its earlier decision to support lowering the minimum voting age to 18 and decided Thursday to discuss the matter again. So it's unclear if the election law will be revised during the ongoing extraordinary session of the National Assembly to allow 18-year-olds to vote in the upcoming presidential election.

Why the new party, consisting of lawmakers who had left the ruling Saenuri Party amid the snowballing Choi Soon-sil scandal, changed its position is understandable. If the voting age is lowered, about 630,000 new voters ― mostly high school students ― will be able to vote in the election. Given that young voters usually support liberal opposition parties, the revision might alter the outcome of the presidential poll. Conservative legislators are sure to recall that their contender Lee Hoi-chang was beaten by Kim Dae-jung, the liberal candidate, by only 370,000 votes in the 1997 presidential election. It's for this reason that the parties have been engaged in a futile debate over the matter during the last 20 years since the voting age was lowered to 19 in 2005.

There are plenty of reasons to lower the voting age this time.

Foremost, the change could satisfy the need to balance generational voting demographics at a time when older voters, who are often conservative, outnumber young voters amid the rapid aging of the population. Korea is the only OECD member to have the age limit of 19 instead of 18. Most OECD members set the voting age at 18, with Japan lowering it to 18 from 20 in 2015.

More important, given the level of political awareness and maturity of our teens, which was displayed in the recent candlelit vigils, allowing 18-year-olds to vote sounds more convincing, although a recent poll shows a close contest. It is a vague conjecture that lowering the voting age would tip the balance in favor of the liberal parties. Also many young people have become conservative as far as national security is concerned.

Of course, there are concerns that teenagers are not mature enough to vote and even high schools could be shaken by the wind of politics. We might have to worry that irresponsible politicians will pollute the ''young voters'' with all kinds of sweet talk. This is why the parties should wake up and show respectable politics.

There is no doubt that lowering the voting age is a global trend and is in line with our democratic principles ― the extension of suffrage. The parties must give up their blind pursuit of partisan interests and cooperate to make this a law without fail.
(END)

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