Election age Lowered, Democratic power up1)
On December 27, 2019, a revision to the Public Official Election Act was passed at the plenary session of the National Assembly of the Republic of Korea. The bill includes semi-interlocking type proportional representation and lowering the voting eligibility age from 19 to 18. Currently, the National Assembly has 253 district seats and 47 proportional representatives. The bill calls for semi-interlocking type proportional representation and a reduction to 30 proportional representatives, while still maintaining the current parliamentary structure. The bill will enter into effect starting with general elections in April. As a result, about 140,000 high school students who were born before April 16, 2002, will be eligible to vote. This new regulation comes after 14 years of initially lowering the voting age from 20 to 19 in 2005. All OECD countries, except Korea, allowed its citizens to vote at 18 years old, so the lowering of the voting age makes Korean comparable to other countries. However, education on a mock election is given to students much later than in other countries. Schools in many countries including the United States, Germany, and Denmark hold mock elections and implement direct elections at schools. In South Korea, however, education on mock general elections will be conducted by the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education from this year. With this first step, Korea is making an effort to raise students’ knowledge and understanding of democratic citizenship.
Revision to the election law has led to various reactions from Korean youth, educators, and political parties. Park Chaerin, born on February 19, 2002, who now has the right to vote said, “I don’t consider myself as an adult. Therefore, I’m not sure about my ability to vote, and this is likely for others like me.” Actual high school students are worried about voting unprepared. Also, some educators share this idea. The Korea Federation of Teachers’ Associations has opposed the decision to allow 18-year-old the right to vote, citing fears of political problems in classrooms and violations of the right to study as third-year high school students. However, the Parents’ Association for True Education expressed a positive view and said it is an opportunity to realize the sovereignty of students, which will be taught in democratic civic education as a result of the revision to the election law. The educational community is divided, which will surely influence young minds. Bae Sanghoon, a professor in the College of Education at Sungkyunkwan University, said, “Students will grow into true democratic citizens as a result of the new learning and will be able to express their mind with a proper understanding of political views. Politicians should actively develop youth pledges.” The revised bill, ahead of general elections, has been met with both positive and negative opinions. Through this process, Korea will move forward to a better democracy.
1) Lee Jinho, Kim Jahyun, “‘Atmosphere in the Classroom Will Be Broken’ vs ‘Students Can Practice Democratic Education’ 18-Year-Old’ Right to Vote ‘Pros and Cons’”, News 1, January 11, 2020