Teen contestants in local races in South Korea reveal the power of the youth vote


SEOUL, June 1 (Reuters) – After political science student Noh Seo-jin finished her classes on Tuesday, the 19-year-old went to a campaign event for the last time wearing a campaign jacket yellow in her backpack and the ambition to become the youngest member of the Seoul City Council.

Noh is one of seven teenagers contesting Wednesday’s local elections in South Korea, the first since the minimum age for local government members and leaders was lowered in December from 25 to 18.

Both major parties are fielding teenage candidates, eager to curry favor with the volatile youth vote, though most are from smaller parties like the Noh Justice Party, where she has been active since she was 15 year.

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“I have a longer political career than President Yoon Suk-yeol’s,” Noh said, pointing to the new South Korean leader’s lack of political experience when he entered politics in June last year. and won his election in March. Read more

When the government of Yoon’s predecessor, Moon Jae-in, lowered the voting age by one year to 18, young voters were expected to be a boon to his liberal party. They had, after all, figured prominently in the protests and vigils that helped topple the scandal-ridden previous administration.

Instead, the youth vote emerged as a volatile oscillating block. Disillusionment with political and corporate elitism, high housing costs, concerns over job opportunities and a division over gender issues led many young men to vote for Yoon’s conservative party. rather than for the Moon Democrats.

Yoon won 58% of men in his twenties, while liberal Lee Jae-myung won the same percentage of women, according to exit polls. Yoon won the election by a margin of only 0.7%. Read more

The battle to retain young people continues, with the Democratic Party, now in opposition, appointing Park Ji-hyun, 26, as interim co-director after their defeat.

Noh, who has been wearing a suit for his classes at Soongsil University in Seoul since launching his candidacy, joined the Progressive Justice Party in 2018 as an honorary member and now heads its youth committee.

She is committed to becoming an advocate for adolescents, who she says have been underrepresented in decisions about education and other policies that directly affect their daily lives.

His campaign promises include addressing climate change issues and ensuring vegetarian options for school meals.

Park Won-ho, a political science professor at Seoul National University, said teenage candidates were generally not well-positioned to win their races on Wednesday, but their presence indicated a growing role for young voters and politicians.

“The main question is whether they will be able to gain experience here and progress on the main political stage of the country,” he said.

In a country where the average MP is 55, his youth can also be welcome.

“Teenagers may be inexperienced, but they can see the world from this whole new perspective,” Jung Ji-hoon, 29, a Seoul resident, said as he walked to work.

On election day, Noh said she would vote and then take courses remotely, before heading to the party office to watch the voting results.

What if she fails to grab a seat on the city council?

“It will be back to business as usual. I will continue my political career as a member of the Justice Party,” she said.

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Reporting by Soo-hyang Choi; Additional reporting by Yeni Seo and Daewoung Kim; Editing by Edmund Klamann

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