ELECTIONS 2022/Referendum on lowering voting age to 18 fails to pass

11/26/2022 09:04 PM
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CNA photo Nov. 26, 2022
CNA photo Nov. 26, 2022

*The story was updated at 11:55p.m. with final vote count. 

Taipei, Nov. 26 (CNA) A referendum on a proposed constitutional amendment to lower the voting age from 20 to 18 fell short of the threshold needed to pass Saturday, dealing a blow to groups pushing to bring Taiwan's voting age in line with that of most other democracies.

The referendum, which asked voters to approve an amendment granting voting rights to citizens aged 18 and over and the right to run for office, pending changes to existing laws, to those 18 and over, was held in conjunction with local government elections on Saturday.

To pass, it required a "yes" vote from half of all eligible voters in Taiwan, meaning that 9,619,697 "yes" votes from among 19,239,392 eligible voters were needed, according to the Central Election Commission (CEC).

Instead, 5,647,102 voters backed the proposed revision, versus 5,016,427 opposing it, with 11,345,932 votes cast and 682,403 invalid votes, according to figures from the CEC.

Had the amendment passed, it would have eliminated Article 130 of the existing Constitution of the Republic of China (Taiwan's official name) and been added to Article 1 of the Additional Articles of the Constitution.

Student groups and other advocacy organizations had previously described Saturday's vote as the last mile of their decades-long efforts to bring down the voting age in Taiwan to 18 through a constitutional amendment.

They argued that if people face such obligations as paying taxes or serving compulsory military service when they turn 18, they should be given the right to vote at that same age.

Starting in 2023, the age of majority in the Civil Code will be 18, in accordance with the Criminal Code based on an amendment passed in December 2020.

The Taiwan Youth Association for Democracy (TYAD), which had campaigned for a "yes" vote since March when the Legislature cleared the proposed amendment and put it to voters to decide, said it had never been so close to success.

Taiwan is one of very few democratic countries to have maintained the voting age at 20, TYAD Managing Director Alvin Chang (張育萌) said, adding that neighboring countries, such as South Korea and Japan, had in recent years lowered the voting age to 18.

Advocacy groups began calling for a constitutional revision to lower the voting age in Taiwan in 2005, and the issue had gradually gained momentum since then.

Civic groups pushing for lowering the voting age from 20 to 18 wear face masks reflecting their regrets over the failed referendum on a proposed constitutional amendment in Taipei Saturday evening. CNA photo Nov. 26, 2022
Civic groups pushing for lowering the voting age from 20 to 18 wear face masks reflecting their regrets over the failed referendum on a proposed constitutional amendment in Taipei Saturday evening. CNA photo Nov. 26, 2022

In 2015, the Legislature formed an ad-hoc committee to discuss the voting age and other constitutional issues, but it failed to pass any measures -- a result the TYAD and other NGOs attributed to partisan wrangling between the then-Kuomintang (KMT) government and the opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).

The two major parties, along with the Taiwan People's Party (TPP) and the New Power Party (NPP), finally came to an agreement over the issue earlier this year, with the proposed amendment clearing the Legislature on March 25 in a 109-0 vote.

The proposed constitutional revision would have allowed approximately 411,200 people who are currently in the 18-19 age group to vote in elections held shortly after the referendum, including the Chiayi mayoral election postponed to Dec. 18, according to the CEC.

In addition, it would have lowered the age at which Taiwanese citizens can run for office from the current 23 years old to 18, pending changes to the Constitution or other existing laws.

Over the past few months, the ruling DPP and TPP have tried to rally support for passage of the referendum as they campaigned in the local government elections.

President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文), who also serves as the DPP chairwoman, and other politicians also took to social media to share photos of themselves at the age of 18 to raise awareness of the issue.

Those efforts were largely drowned out, however, by the campaigning for local offices as parties jockeyed for power, and they ultimately proved insufficient to mobilize enough voters to back the proposed amendment in the referendum.

Member of student groups hold banner to seek support for the approval of the referendum in Saturday
Member of student groups hold banner to seek support for the approval of the referendum in Saturday's elections, outside Taipei Main Station Friday evening. CNA photo Nov. 25, 2022

Liao Da-chi (廖達琪), a political science professor at National Sun Yat-sen University (NSYSU), observed that Taiwan had put in place the strictest rules for constitutional amendments compared to major democratic nations.

To amend the Constitution, legislators must first pass a proposed amendment with at least three-quarters of all lawmakers present and a minimum of three-quarters of those present supporting the measure.

The proposed amendment must then be endorsed in a national referendum with the support of half of the nation's eligible voters to come into effect.

These rules were enshrined in the Additional Articles of the Constitution of the Republic of China in 2005, when Taiwan last made a constitutional revision.

Shen Yu-chung (沈有忠), a political science professor at Tunghai University, said the strict rules set in 2005 were intended to prevent people from easily passing an amendment to push for de-jure Taiwan independence.

But that has also meant that subsequent attempts to amend the Constitution have hit a "dead end" because of how unlikely it is for any proposals to get the backing of half of Taiwan's eligible voters, Shen argued.

While acknowledging the high bar for amending the Constitution, NSYSU's Liao warned of any measure to lower that standard, saying such a move could trigger a "strong reaction" from Beijing, which has threatened to take military action should Taiwan declare independence.

President Tsai Ing-wen (center) calls for support for the referendum on a proposed constitutional amendment to lower the voting age from 20 to 18, at a news conference in Taipei on Oct. 26, 2022. File photo courtesy of Democratic Progressive Party
President Tsai Ing-wen (center) calls for support for the referendum on a proposed constitutional amendment to lower the voting age from 20 to 18, at a news conference in Taipei on Oct. 26, 2022. File photo courtesy of Democratic Progressive Party

In China, authorities there had expressed opposition to Saturday's referendum.

At a press briefing on Oct. 26, China's Taiwan Affairs Office (TAO) spokesman Ma Xiaoguang (馬曉光) accused the DPP of championing the proposed revision with the goal of ultimately embarking on a constitutional process to push for Taiwan independence.

Ma urged people in Taiwan to not subscribe to the DPP's "treacherous intentions" and take "concrete action" to safeguard peace and stability of the Taiwan Strait.

The proposed amendment also sparked concern in Taiwan, with You Ying-lung (游盈隆), chairman of the Taiwanese Public Opinion Foundation, arguing that passage of the referendum would also bring down the age at which people could run for office in Taiwan to 18.

The CEC said, however, that even if the referendum passed, the minimum age for becoming a candidate in an election would still be subject to the Constitution, the Civil Servants Election and Recall Act, and other laws.

The Constitution sets the minimum age for the president and vice-president at 40, and other laws set the minimum age to run for the lowest-tier local offices at 23, and those standards would not have had to be revised even if the amendment had passed.

(By Teng Pei-ju)

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