“I am here to make my voice heard,” a teenage girl wearing a school uniform expounds as she states her reason for joining protests demanding President Park Geun-hye’s impeachment. With a look of steely determination, she adds, “It is ludicrous that I stay grounded in the classroom when my country is in such a mess.” During the recent protest, citizens under the legal voting age have rushed out to the streets to bring change to the problematic politics of South Korea. At this point, the idea that politics should be led by adults only seems to be out of date.
In 2014, only 35 percent out of 1007 people stated that they agreed on lowering the legal voting age of Korea, according to a survey conducted by Gallup Korea. However, when examining to a more recent survey held by the same institute, after a string of large-scale protests in 2017, 49 percent expressed favorable sentiments on lowering the voting age to 19, which equals to full 18 years old. Such data reflects how South Korea is now prepared to expand the boundaries of its politics, just as the other 33 countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) have done. The involvement of teenagers in politics has already become an irreversible current of this time. Students have initiated numerous organizations, asking for the right to vote, hoping for a more democratic society, where all interests could be considered.
Unfortunately, however, the other 50 percent of the population who has shown disapproval on the issue is still concerned that teenagers will not be able to make the right decisions, for they are yet immature. However, Jean Piaget, one of the most renowned developmental psychologists in the world, has proposed research stating that the intellectual ability of a teenager older than the age of 15 does not differ greatly from that of an adult, while there may be variations due to the different ranges of experience and knowledge. With that in mind, it is difficult to claim that age should be the sole measure in determining one’s shift from adolescence to adulthood.
Why, then, is it difficult to just let teenagers above 18 years old vote, when they are so craving to take part in politics? The Saenuri party, the ruling party of South Korea, has displayed unease on how lowering voting age could rather foment unrest, for students may sorely be disturbed while they should be devoting all their time to studying. After all, though, voting in the first place exists as a means to deliver one’s opinion in the society. Even setting aside the fact that teenagers should be allowed, or actually urged, to be concerned about political issues as members of the society, teenagers should be given the right to vote when they are so in need of an instrument to express their will.
It is an irony that politicians are hesitant to take action, when the chance to raise participation in voting has finally come. The low voting rate of those in their twenties has always been a concern in Korean politics. The reason that the voting rate has remained so low for the younger generation probably lies in the fact that teenagers have always been somehow left out from politics during their first 19 years of life. The presidential election that is expected to be held this spring is a great chance to rouse the interests of the youths.
Adding variety to its participants, participatory politics in Korea has taken a big leap. This may be the very chance that would take the politics of South Korea to the next level. Since the opportunity has come so close, the development of Korean politics should remain the priority goal, more so than ever before. While it has been a long winter disrupted by incessant politicking and deadlocks, it is time to welcome the spring along with healthy policies and blooming democratic spirits. There is no reason to nullify the progress our youths have made with toil and tears. Now is the time to bring change.