Society & Politics

Hong Kong's election age limit: ageist or practical?

By Christy Leung

 

William Lloyd, formerly a British Conservative member of parliament, was elected at the age of 18 in 2007, a year after the eligible age for candidacy was lowered from 21.

"The simple fact of the matter is that no one has life experience completely, no one knows everything," Mr Lloyd told BBC.

In Hong Kong, the age limit for running in both the District Council or Legislative Council election is 21, though the age limit for voting is 18.
Joshua Wong Chi-fung said the age limit ignores 18 to 20-year-olds' right to stand for election.

The 19-year-old Scholarism convenor filed a judicial review to challenge the age ceiling on his birthday this month in hope to run in the LegCo election next year.

"It is quite ironic. For anyone running for the election of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress, the age limit is just 18 years old," said Mr Wong.

Responses are split, with critics arguing that young people below 21 lack life as well as political experience.

Albert Ho Chun-yan of the Democratic Party said Mr Wong's proposal lacks insight. "He could run for the election and criticise us, but legislators are elected. It's the voters' decisions," he said.

He said it is unfair to say older legislators in council elections constitute an ageing problem in Hong Kong politics. "Hillary Clinton is 68, Joe Biden is 72. Can you say there is an ageing problem in the US?" Mr Ho said.

"Of course we lack experiences, because we are still young," said 25-year-old Hsueh Cheng-yi, the youngest councillor in Taiwan. "But experiences can be accumulated when I am serving the community."

An environmental activist who is involved in several NGOs, Ms Hsueh said the Sunflower Student Movement -- a student-led protest against a trade treaty between Taiwan and China that failed to overturn the legislature's decision -- inspired her to make a change through the system.

"The experience made me realise we need somebody to step into the council and make a change while there are already enough NGOs catching public attention on different issues," she said.

In Taiwan, only residents aged 23 or above can stand for elections whilst the average age of the Legislative Yuan, Taiwan's legislature, is 52. To protest against the age limit, Taiwanese under the age of 23 applied to run for the election last year but were all rejected.

"The more experienced the councillors are, the less willing they are in taking part in discussion of controversial topics," said Ms Hsueh. "Because they don't want to offend anybody at the cost of losing their seats."

Mr Wong of Scholarism also criticised the "severe ageing problem" in the Legislative Council during a radio show. The average age now for the Hong Kong's Legislative Council is 57 whilst that in District Council is 46.3.

Chung Kim-wah, associate professor in Social Sciences at Hong Kong Polytechnic University, said the age ceiling reflects society's perception of rights and responsibilities.

"Countries with higher age limits regard experience as a vital factor of considering if the candidate is suitable. But some consider that citizens have to bear their own legal responsibilities at the age of 18, which is a recognition of maturity," said Dr Chung.

He said young politicians, for example 20-year-old British MP Mhairi Black of the Scottish National Party, can deliver strong messages and therefore, society should not jump to the conclusion that young people cannot bear political responsibilities.

However, Dr Chung said he questions how much young politicians can actually change if on the council.

"You should not expect drastic changes if only one or a few young candidates are elected. But at least, there is youth representation voice in the council," said Dr Chung.

 

(Edited by Crystal Tse.)

 

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