Taiwan’s constitutional referendum to lower the voting age to 18 failed as the number of votes in favor of the motion fell short of the threshold that would allow it to take effect.

Half the electorate – more than 9.65 million voters – needs to vote “yes” to amend the article in the constitution that establishes the voting age at 20. The referendum was held alongside midterm elections, which tend to have a lower turnout than general elections.

Live results revealed that the topic remained largely divisive in Taiwan. Around 5.6 million voted “yes,” while 5 million rejected the constitutional change. Civic organizations had said the referendum would be short of at least 2 million votes to be approved.

Experts have said the referendum is unlikely to pass due to the high threshold and a relatively low turnout in local elections. In 2020, President Tsai Ing-wen won 8.17 million votes, the highest number of votes in Taiwan’s history of democracy for her reelection, but it was still insufficient for a constitutional referendum.

In Asia, most countries have allowed voting from the age of 18. In Japan and South Korea, 18-year-olds voted in elections for the first time in 2016 and 2020. Only Singapore has a higher voting age than Taiwan, at 21 years old.

Taiwan’s electorate would expand by approximately 410,000 if the voting age was lowered to 18. Currently, 18-year-olds aren’t given the right to elect the president and representatives to the parliament, but they can vote in the national referendum held every year.

Both main parties, the DPP and KMT, support the constitutional change. In March, the Legislative Yuan unanimously approved lowering the voting age, voting by 109 to 0. It’s Taiwan’s first proposed revision to the constitution to clear the legislature and to be submitted to a national referendum.

President Tsai has backed the referendum in many campaign rallies for local elections. “Taiwan must follow the footsteps of countries around the world to allow voting from the age of 18,” she said.

On the other hand, the KMT has a history of blocking attempts to lower the voting age, as young Taiwanese voters are more likely to prefer the DPP to KMT. Legislators of the KMT have in the past sought to trade their support for lowering the voting age to measures permitting absentee voting, which would allow a million Taiwanese citizens living and working in China to vote, a constituency the KMT believes it would win.

KMT voters have also shown more opposition to lowering the voting age than DPP voters. In an August poll commissioned by non-profit organizations Taiwan Youth Association for Democracy and Forward Alliance, 62.4% of KMT supporters were against the policy, while 73.6% of DPP supporters approved.

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TNL Editor: Nicholas Haggerty (@thenewslensintl)

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