Taipei, Sept. 19 (CNA) The winner of the Tang Prize in Rule of Law in 2022, Cheryl Saunders, believes that if Taiwan’s upcoming referendum on a proposed constitution amendment to lower the voting age from 20 to 18 is successful, this will encourage more young people to get engaged in constitutional change.
“I understand the difficulty of the turnout, that’s obviously significant in the Taiwanese context, but if you could just get it over the line, it would be a wonderful precedent,” Saunders said via online livestream at the opening day of the 2022 Tang Prize Forum series at National Taiwan University on Monday.
“It will energize and engage young people in constitutional change, which is very hard to do in many parts of the world,” said Saunders, a laureate professor emeritus at the University of Melbourne and constitutional law expert.
The success of the referendum will make young people aware of the constitution and the processes for change, Saunders added.
“It would have to be done in a way where apparently the political parties are both supportive which is also not a bad culture to be setting,” Saunders said.
The 113-seat Legislative Yuan voted 109-0 in favor of the revision on March 25, sending the issue to a national referendum, which will be held in conjunction with nationwide elections for local offices on Nov. 26.
The referendum will require the support of at least half of all eligible voters to come into effect.
Defended holding the referendum on the same day as the local elections, the Central Election Commission (CEC) has said that because the proposed amendment reflects a high degree of consensus from the ruling and opposition parties in the Legislative Yuan, the fixing of the referendum date “should take into consideration the effect of civic participation in constitutional reform.”
The CEC also said the local election day will be a public holiday, making it more convenient for businesses to organize shifts for their workers to go and vote.
“So, there is more at stake than just age limits I think in this coming referendum in Taiwan and I very much hope it is successful,” Saunders said.
Speaking on the age limit for voting, Saunders said 18 is a fairly normal age limit for the exercise of political rights.
“And that if anything, the pressure is downwards. So, there is now beginning to be discussion about dropping the age limit to 17 or 16 in countries around the world,” Saunders said.
Earlier in June, Saunders received the Tang Prize in Rule of Law for her “pioneering contributions to comparative public law, in particular, her work on constitution-building in the Asia-Pacific region,” according to the Tang Prize Foundation, which has organized the biennial award since 2012.
Born in 1944 in Quetta, British India, Saunders moved with her family to Melbourne at the age of 5 and has called the city home ever since.
Saunders has taught at her alma mater, the University of Melbourne, for more than three decades, and served as the founding director of the university’s Centre for Comparative Constitutional Studies.
She began her academic career in Australian constitutional law but later expanded her expertise to comparative public law, including comparative constitutional law and methods, intergovernmental relations, and constitutional design and change.
The 78-year-old scholar and educator received the Officer of the Order of Australia in 1994 for her services to the law and public administration, and was honored with the Australian government’s Centenary Medal in 2003 for her “service to constitutional law and as President of the Administrative Review Council.”
She is the editor of the legal journal, Public Law Review, and published “The Australian Constitution: A Contextual Analysis” in 2011.
Saunders is the fourth individual laureate of the Tang Prize in Rule of Law, following South African lawyer and activist Albie Sachs in 2014, former United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and former justice of the Canadian Supreme Court Louise Arbour in 2016, and the late Israeli legal and political philosopher Joseph Raz in 2018.
In 2020, the rule-of-law prize was jointly won by the Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association (BELA), Colombia-based Dejusticia: The Center for Law, Justice and Society, and The Legal Agenda of Lebanon.
The Tang Prize was established in 2012 by Taiwanese entrepreneur Samuel Yin (尹衍樑), who is chairman of the Ruentex Group, to honor individuals or organizations that have made significant contributions to human society in four categories — sustainable development, biopharmaceutical science, Sinology, and the rule of law.
The winners in each category share a cash award of NT$40 million (US$1.27 million) and an additional NT$10 million in research funding, along with a gold medal and a certificate.
(By William Yen)
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