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S. Korea poised to let teenagers run for office next year

Bill to lower age bar for electoral posts on the verge of final approval

A session for the parliamentary Special Committee on Political Reform is held Wednesday at the National Assembly. (Joint Press Corps)
A session for the parliamentary Special Committee on Political Reform is held Wednesday at the National Assembly. (Joint Press Corps)
South Korea’s legislators are on track to grant final approval on lowering the age limit for people to run for office, with both ruling and opposition parties backing the bill that aims for better representation and diversity in local politics.

The proposed revision to the Public Official Election Act asks the age requirement for electoral eligibility to be lowered from the current 25 to 18 when running to be a lawmaker, local council member or head of local government.

While the country grants voting rights to people aged 18 or older, the right to run for office has been barred for those under 25, which has drawn protests and petitions from progressive civic groups in the past.

The idea has been a traditional ask from the liberal bloc that have demanded more rights for younger generations to engage in politics, but the conservative side joined the move, recognizing the need to better appeal to young voters with policies of which they could be in favor.

Both the ruling Democratic Party of Korea and main opposition People Power Party consider appealing to young voters in their 20s and 30s, which would be beneficial to achieving success in key elections slated for next year, starting with the presidential election in March.

There are two more steps before the age limit can be lowered.

The bill earned approval from the parliamentary Special Committee on Political Reform on Wednesday, and it now needs two more approvals from the Legislation and Judiciary Committee, and the general floor.

Given the unity of lawmakers on the bill, official enactment is highly likely, and the process could be finalized as early as Friday. The bill is expected to be passed no later than early next month.

If passed as planned, South Korea could see some high school seniors running for public official posts in regional elections on June 1, 2021. Parties could introduce them to run for posts as a means to gain support from young voters.

The outcome of the bill is also expected to help South Korea lower the age bar set on who can run for presidency.

Yoon Suk-yeol, presidential nominee of the People Power Party, made a campaign promise earlier to lower the age requirement for the top job from the current 40 or above to 25 or above, so that younger generations can maximize their political power on key issues centering their lives.

By Ko Jun-tae (ko.juntae@heraldcorp.com)
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