Chen Hui-jie runs a political campaign – at age 16

Chen Hui-jieWhen 16-year-old Chen Hui-jie was asked to run the election campaign of a candidate for city council, she was sure it was not her thing.

Although not shy about trying new opportunities, she told her future boss she was too young to vote and had few contacts in Taiwan’s third largest municipality.

The bigger problem was that, like most Taiwanese teenagers, she had no interest in politics. In fact, most young people here resent the political class and do not believe that government has much to do with their lives. For them, politics is a dirty business.

Yet Hui-jie was impressed by the ideals of Ye Chun-hsing, a pastor’s wife and former schoolteacher who is running for public office for the first time and offering voters a fresh alternative to politics as usual.

Hui-jie took on the challenge.

With more than 11,000 local government posts to be chosen in free elections in late November, Taiwan has been in the midst of one of the largest exercises in grass-roots democracy in East Asia. The voters will choose officials for nine levels of government in the equivalent of a mid-term election before the island republic’s presidential and legislative races in 2016.

Who controls the municipalities, country magistrates, and local council could make a crucial difference when candidates begin their presidential campaigns next year.

Also making a difference could be the younger generation of voters. Hui-jie’s job has been to reach these voters and transform their indifference and cynicism about government into a force for change.

It’s about claiming their future.

After five months on the job, she finds the work exhilarating. “I’ve discovered that politics is a way of doing good things that influences many people,” she said in a burst of words that allowed few doubts about the possibilities ahead.

Political activism among teenagers is unusual in Taiwan. University students may rally in moments of crisis, such as the protesters that occupied Taiwan’s legislature for more than three weeks earlier this year to block the passage of an unpopular trade agreement with China.

Known as the “sunflower movement,” the group was an exceptional instance of civic action that has thwarted the government’s rush to integrate Taiwan’s economy with China’s.
Most people Hui-jie’s age, however, remain stubbornly apolitical and ignore the thousands of candidates in Taiwan now clamoring for attention in the streets and popular media.

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