Opinion: Eighteen is not too young or too unorthodox to become an MP

By Wongpun Amarinthewa

Desperation and repression through the last six years of military rule has brought out the young Thai generation to the streets, the largest student protest movement since the 1970s to call for better governance and democracy.

In an attempt to relieve the political tension, the House of Representatives has set up a panel to hear the youth’s views and also plans to propose a quota for students, for the first time in Thai history, to join the Constitution Drafting Assembly (CDA) which seeks to revise the problematic 2017 Constitution.

But that does not seem to be enough to quell the anger of the students.

“To embrace the youth’s voices in the parliament, I propose to change the minimum age of MP candidacy from 25 to 18,” said Tattep “Ford” Ruangprapaikijseree, secretary-general of the Free Youth Movement, during the youth seminar ‘Views towards the 2017 Constitution and its Needs to be Amended’ on Aug 29.

“We can vote at an election, can be prosecuted like the adult, and can be employed according to the labor law, but why can’t we run for MP?” said Tattep.

This proposal has drawn both agreement and disagreement from the greater Thai public. Opponents largely argue that such a move is impossible as 18-year-olds would be too immature and inexperienced to take a role in national politics.

Becoming MPs at the age of 18, nevertheless, is not unheard of.

There are currently 60 countries where the minimum eligible age of being an MP is 18, most of which are Western liberal democracies such as the UK, Australia, Canada, and France.

And despite its unorthodoxy, 18-year-olds have run and won in these countries.

A Swedish activist Anton Abele, for example, was elected to parliament in 2010 when he was 18 making him the youngest ever elected MP.

Turkey, one of the latest countries to reduce the minimum age of MPs to 18 as a result of a 2017 constitutional referendum, has also seen an 18-year-old senior high school girl Elif Nur Bayram voted into office.

Along with Thailand, some countries have witnessed a movement to lower an MP’s minimum age for more inclusive voices of the youth in politics.

Malaysia, which has just successfully amended the Constitution to lessen the voting age from 21 to 18 last year. There are now calls by some local politicians and citizens to consider changing the age requirement for MPs to 18 from the current 21.

Despite already stipulating a minimum age of 18 since 2006, the UK has seen a campaign led by the left-wing Green Party to call for decreasing the age limit to 16.

So not only is the student proposition in Thailand not far-fetched but also realistic.

However, a major obstacle to Thailand is a deep-rooted culture of infantilization. The roles of the Thai youth have been limited only to study and to obey the adult.

As a consequence, the younger generations have always been told to stay away from politics, saying that it is none of the children’s business. They are also labeled by many adults as politically naïve and prone to be brainwashed.

On the contrary, the youth today feel that politics is a matter for everyone. The youth have been impacted by the government’s policies, the same as everyone else, yet they rarely have opportunities to participate in decision-making or forums for expressing their opinions.

One of the popular reasons against the reduction of MPs’ eligible age is that the 18-year-olds have not yet graduated. In other words, it is a fear that those youths may not have sufficient knowledge to serve the nation.

Yet, according to the 2017 Constitution, there are no educational requirements for Thai MPs. Citizens at 18 at least have already completed compulsory education.

One must also realize that the classroom is not the only source of expertise. Many youths may have some extracurricular specializations which can also benefit the country.

If the new generation can prove that they are as qualified as those older than 25 for MP seats, shouldn’t they receive an equal chance to work for the country?

Thailand’s political conflict is no longer just about income or geography, a generational divide has become another significant layer of the conflict.

Pluralism and representation is a good thing, so why not include generational representation as well.

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