2020 ELECTIONS/2020 Elections: Hong Kong on the minds of first-time voters

12/22/2019 08:32 AM
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Taipei, Dec. 22 (CNA) The months-long democracy movement in Hong Kong will likely encourage more young Taiwanese first-time voters to cast ballots in January's presidential and legislative elections, scholars and students told CNA recently.

Twenty-two-year-old Tsai Yi-kai (蔡一愷), head of the student association at National Cheng Kung University (NCKU) in Tainan, said students there are normally not that involved or interested in politics and see voting as a hassle.

Taiwan does not have absentee ballots, forcing college students who attend schools far from their homes to spend time returning to their hometowns if they want to vote.

"It's not that we don't want to vote, but it is too time-consuming and costly to cast ballots," said Huang Yen-cheng (黃彥誠), a 22-year-old student at Soochow University in Taipei and a member of the National Students' Union of Taiwan.

The ongoing protests in Hong Kong and the increasing violence used by Hong Kong authorities against the demonstrators could change that mindset, however, according to Tsai and Huang, who will both vote in a presidential election for the first time on Jan. 11, 2020.

Huang said many students told him they intend to vote following the huge victory of pro-democracy candidates in Hong Kong's district council elections last month.

"After seeing the voice of Hong Kong's people being heard, we want our voice to be heard as well," Huang said.

A professor who specializes in voting theory interviewed by CNA agreed that the Hong Kong pro-democracy movement would likely affect the results of January's elections.

They already seem to have boosted support, especially from the younger generation, for President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文), said Wang Yeh-lih (王業立), a professor in National Taiwan University's Department of Political Science.

Tsai, who is seeking a second term, has helped herself with younger voters through her frequent rhetorical support for the democracy protesters in Hong Kong and her stance against China's "bullying" of Taiwan since taking office in 2016, Wang said.

The stakes are high for all candidates because an estimated 1.18 million people aged 20 or above will become eligible to vote in the presidential election for the first time in 2020, accounting for about 6.1 percent of Taiwan's 19.34 million eligible voters.

A recent poll conducted by cable television channel TVBS confirmed Wang's view that Tsai will likely be biggest beneficiary.

The poll, conducted from Nov. 27 to 29, showed that Tsai had a commanding 71 percent to 14 percent margin of support among voters in the 20-29 age bracket over main rival Han Kuo-yu (韓國瑜) of the opposition Kuomintang (KMT).

Among voters of all ages, the poll gave Tsai a 46-31 edge over Han.

Yet the support for Tsai in the presidential race may not translate to votes for Tsai's Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) in the party vote for at-large legislative candidates, according to Wang.

Thirty-four of the Legislature's 113 seats are split proportionally based on the ballots cast for a political party. Voters will also select a lawmaker to represent their electoral district in the legislative race.

Awakening Foundation senior researcher Tseng Chao-yuan (曾昭媛) said that aside from political issues, younger generation voters also care deeply about gender equality, housing justice, and low wage issues.

But few of the legislator candidates nominated by local political parties genuinely care about these issues, she said.

Also, most of the relatively younger candidates the parties have nominated to appeal to young voters come from political families, according to Tseng.

"Political parties need to present more comprehensive platforms to address these issues if they really care about winning young voters' hearts," Tseng said.

At the same time, political parties also need to make better use of social media and the internet to draw the attention of younger voters, said Lai Cheng-chang (賴振昌), a former lawmaker and the former head of the Taiwan Association of University Professors.

Instead of using traditional electioneering tools, Lai said, candidates "need to speak the language (of their young voters) to win their hearts."

Regardless of the candidates or party they vote for, many first-time voters feel that simply casting a ballot is part of taking on more responsibility as they become adults.

Lai Wei-yu (賴威佑), a sophomore at Kun Shan University in Tainan, said he has been looking forward for a long time to vote for the first time next year.

"Voting is like a rite of passage the government is presenting to us, and I am definitely going back to my home in Changhua to cast ballots," he said.

(By Chang Rong-hsiang, Yang Sz-ruei, Hsu Chih-wei, Chen Chih-chung and Joseph Yeh)

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