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Retirement age for politicians

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By Kang Seung-woo

Recently, there is a growing sentiment that elderly motorists should be banned from driving as fatal crashes involving older adult drivers are on a sharp rise in Korea.

Proponents of the ban are claiming that, those who are advanced in years, experience faster declines in cognitive function and physical health compared to previous decades.

By the same logic, there is an increasing awareness of the need for certain measures to check aging politicians' fitness for office through, for example, a cognitive test or even by enacting legislation to specify maximum age limits for their retirement. The reason is that their decision-making can change the direction of the country despite their cognitive decline, which prompts many to reach a consensus that it is necessary to take a more serious approach to the matter.

Coincidentally, the issue of aging politicians is resurfacing in the United States.

According to U.S. media outlets, U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, 81, suddenly froze for over 20 seconds during a press conference late last month and was walked away ― although later, he returned to take questions. Another case came from Sen. Dianne Feinstein, 90, who had to be corrected and told to vote for the military budget, also in July.

The two episodes have brought up former U.N. Ambassador and presidential hopeful Nikki Haley, who called for mandatory mental competency tests for politicians over 75 years old earlier this year, which would include current and former Presidents Joe Biden and Donald Trump if administered.

Biden, 80, the oldest U.S. president in history, has faced questions about his age and mental acuity for his physical and verbal slip-ups while seeking re-election next year.

In Korea, there was a move from the National Assembly to set a maximum age limit for elected politicians in the past.

Pyo Chang-won, a former lawmaker of the Democratic Party of Korea (DPK), claimed in 2017 that the retirement age for elected officials should be set at 65.

"Elderly officials should step back from the front line so that they can arbitrate different interest groups more objectively and stabilize the society," he said at the time.

Although his argument took flak for allegedly keeping former United Nations Secretary-General and potential presidential candidate Ban Ki-moon in check, there were quite a few voices supporting his call for the introduction of the retirement age, in that it would pave the way for younger generations to participate in politics.

Among the 299 lawmakers, National Assembly Speaker Rep. Kim Jin-pyo of the DPK is the oldest assemblyman at 76, followed by Rep. Hong Moon-pyo of the People Power Party. There are 11 lawmakers over the age of 70, accounting for 3.68 percent. The average age of the lawmakers is 54.9.

Former President Kim Dae-jung was elected in 1997 at the age of 75 and he is still the lone head of state who took office after celebrating a 70th birth anniversary.

However, imposing an age limit for the president or lawmakers may not be as easy as expected. It could even be unconstitutional. The criterion for good politics is not necessarily youth, but as the world is changing rapidly, there are an increasing number of areas where young people can and need to do good politics.

The writer is editor of politics and city desk.

Kang Seung-woo


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