The Malta Independent 23 July 2019, Tuesday

Legislative overhaul 'will be required if 16 or 17-year-olds are elected mayors'

Joanna Demarco Monday, 11 September 2017, 09:44 Last update: about 3 years ago

In the hypothetical situation that a 16 or 17-year-old is elected as a local council mayor, changes will be required to existing legislation, according to Vote 16 committee chairperson Andrew Debattista.

Yesterday morning,   Parliamentary Secretary for Reform Julia Farrugia Portelli launched a consultation document on voting rights for 16-year-olds, called ‘Vote 16; Empowering Youth’.

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In the previous legislature, 16-year-olds voted in local council elections, and now there are plans to extend these rights to general elections and those for the European Parliament. The document also questions whether such youngsters could be allowed to contest local elections, with the possibility of becoming mayors if they have the highest number of votes.

In an opinion piece sent to The Malta Independent on Sunday (see page 16), Debattista spoke about the consultation document.

“We need to have faith in the educational system, which is bringing up the young people of today and thinking that they can contribute more,” he wrote. “Our country, which is being exposed to unprecedented economic growth, needs to use all its human resources.

“This is why the consultation document launched last Saturday is also testing the waters and asking whether 16 and 17-year-olds should contest local council elections and possibly be elected as mayors,” he continued, adding “one understands that, in the latter scenario, a legislative overhaul will be required.”

Debattista goes on to say that he believes the initiative should work alongside an educational campaign. “Vote 16 should be an initiative built side-by-side with an educational campaign to inspire young people who have never had any support to take an active part in politics,” he said. “This would not only benefit the young people but ultimately the country.”

The discussion paper for the public consultation process states that, if introduced, and according to the October 2016 electoral register, the initiative will affect approximately 8,500 citizens, who would be added to the electorate.

Giving the vote to 16 and 17-year-olds was pledged by the Labour Party in their Election Manifesto for 2017-2022 at the last election. Currently, 16 and 17-year-olds are able to vote in local council elections.

“Figures published by the Electoral Commission show that in 2015, of the 4,485 young people eligible to vote, 62.3 per cent cast their the vote and thus contributed to the election outcome in their localities,” the discussion paper states regarding local elections.

The discussion paper for public consultation states that there is “active participation and agreement” towards the introduction of such a change of people as young as 16 voting from the youth of different parties, including Forum Żgħażagħ Laburisti, Alternattiva Demokratika Żgħażagh, Moviment Żgħażagħ Partit Nazzjonalista, Studenti Demokristjani Maltin and Pulse.

It also states that the Commissioner for Children supports such ‘empowerment’ for young people.

“Following an exchange of correspondence, the Office of the Commissioner for Children has argued that it is important to empower the young generation by facilitating the involvement in decisions that directly affect them and society at large,” it said.

Speaking at the launch, Farrugia Portelli highlighted the fact that the consultation document had been launched within the first 100 days of the administration, telling those present that she was not in a rush to change the law, but does not want the process to ‘drag on’.

Parliamentary Secretary Clifton Grima said the document demonstrates the confidence of the government in young people.

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