an electoral reform law that passed the National Assembly last year sparked controversy over the eligibility of 18-year-olds for suffrage
South Korea is gearing up for general elections in April, which will see 18 year olds casting ballots for the first time in the country's history.
It is a major change that's been hotly debated, with some saying it has been a long time coming, while others are concerned teens aren't yet prepared to handle their new political power.
In this week's Voices of Seoul, our Jenna Lee takes at look at the level of political engagement for youth in other countries, and what it could mean for young voters in Korea.
High school seniors in Korea will be able to vote for the first time, after the National Assembly passed an electoral reform bill at the end of last year, lowering the legal voting age from 19 to 18.
It's a big change that comes just ahead of the parliamentary elections set to be held on April 15.
Calls to lower the voting age were first pushed 23 years ago by former President Kim Dae-jung, who made it one of his campaign pledges.
But supporters and critics continue to be locked in passionate debate about whether giving minors the right to vote will lead to politicization of the classroom and other problems.
Some educators are looking abroad for benchmarks, like Japan, which started allowing 18-year-olds to vote in political elections in 2015 to increase civic participation among the young generation.
The Japanese government released election education materials to high schools nationwide, and even implemented mock elections to better inform young voters.
Some regional education offices in Korea are looking at Germany's "Beutelsbach consensus," as an example.
It is a guideline on political education that exists for all organizations and it mainly states three principles, which are prohibition of manipulation, the need for debate and diversity, and empowerment of participants.
tbs talked to foreigners living in Korea about the minimum voting in their home countries, ranging from 18 to 25, and what they think about the change for local youth.
[Clip: Foreign Resident: 00:18]
"I'm from United Arab Emirates, Dubai. I think it makes sense to make it at 18. This generation is more aware of their surroundings. They are better at analyzing the situations than the previous generations."
[Clip: Foreign Resident: 00:26]
"I am from Germany. I honestly always think that people should be a tiny bit older. If you're very young, you're usually very sporadic, and one day you mean this, and next day you mean that. In some sense, I think lowering from 19 to 18 doesn't make too much of a difference, but honestly, I don't think someone is actually grown up in their heads before they're 25 or 26."
In an era when information spreads at a rapid pace, and younger generations have a lot of zest for civic change, following the trend of lowering the voting age to 18 seems to be a practical measure for South Korea.
Perhaps the most significant change this will trigger is the introduction of election education, which is indispensable to expanding voting rights to minors and political engagement across all ages.
Jenna Lee, eFM News.■
<Photo: Yonhap News>
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