Opposition parties seek a boost by lowering voting age to 18

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Opposition parties seek a boost by lowering voting age to 18

Opposition parties from both sides of the ideological spectrum are pushing forward plans to lower the voting age to 18.

The new conservative party, tentatively called the New Conservative Party for Reform (NCPR), said Wednesday it will support a plan to lower the voting age from 19 to 18. Lowering the voting age was already promised by three liberal opposition parties - the Minjoo Party of Korea, the People’s Party and the Justice Party.

If the change is made, the voting age will be lowered for the first time since the revision of the election law in 2005. At the time, the voting age was lowered from 20 to 19.

By lowering the voting age to 18, about 630,000 new voters will be able to participate in the elections.

Lowering the voting age is expected to benefit liberal candidates, as the demographics of voters by age groups indicate that older voters, who are often conservative, outnumber younger voters.

In the 2012 presidential election, Moon Jae-in, former head of the Minjoo Party, suffered a narrow defeat by Park Geun-hye of the ruling Saenuri Party, who received just 51.6 percent of the votes.

During the poll, the country had 40.46 million eligible voters. Of these, 21.8 percent were those in their 40s, 19.2 percent were those in their 50s and 20.8 percent were over 60.

By contrast, voters in their 20s only accounted for 16.4 percent, while those in their 30s made up 20.1 percent. Teenage voters comprised 1.7 percent.

“In the 1997 presidential election, Kim Dae-jung beat Lee Hoi-chang by 370,000 votes,” an opposition politician said. “So, the new votes are not an insignificant number.”

The three liberal opposition parties together occupy 165 seats in the 300-member legislature, and the NCPR has 30 members. The conservative ruling Saenuri Party, largely supported by elder voters, currently has 99 members.

Because independent lawmakers have expressed their support for lowering the voting age, revising the election law to accommodate the change is technically possible without the ruling party’s agreement.

The four opposition parties are expected to introduce a revision bill at the upcoming session of the National Assembly later this month.

But Rep. Park Nam-choon, the Minjoo Party’s chief negotiator in the Security and Public Administration Committee, said the opposition parties will not use their majority to set the rules of the game.

“It has been the tradition to pass a political bill based on the agreement of the ruling and opposition parties,” he told the JoongAng Ilbo.

The liberal opposition parties already said they want to apply the new voting age starting with the next presidential election. Rep. Choung Byoung-gug of the new conservative party also told reporters Wednesday that the party wants to make the change as soon as possible.

Korea’s voting age has been continuously lowered over past decades. The voting age was 21 in 1948, and the first change was made to 20 in 1960. In 2005, it was lowered to the current age, 19.

BY SER MYO-JA [ser.myoja@joongang.co.kr]

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